Alumni to Admire

In 2022, EWU’s Alumni Awards Gala
returned in all its in-person glory. 

Alumni to Admire

In 2022, EWU’s Alumni Awards Gala
returned in all its in-person glory. 

The 2022 EWU Alumni Awards Gala was held on Friday, April 15, at the Pend Oreille Pavilion inside Northern Quest Resort & Casino.

Here are the evening’s award winners, with a brief description of the many, many things this group of alumni do to make an impact in their communities.


Lifetime Achievement

This year’s Lifetime Achievement award went to a pair of amazing Eagles, Karen ’69 and Jon Heimbigner ’70, two very special alumni who, over the course of their 50-year marriage, have tirelessly served both Eastern and the greater Spokane community. 

During her 27 years as a classroom teacher, Karen contributed to the academic and personal success of countless young people. More specifically, her work with a state curriculum development team helped to create a program designed to provide hands-on experience for high school students who envisioned becoming teachers themselves. Even now she continues to give back as a beloved substitute teacher and faculty mentor at her old professional home, North Central High School. 

Karen and Jon Heimbigner
Karen and Jon Heimbigner being presented with their award.

Jon, meanwhile, used his EWU degree in finance and economics to enter the banking industry, where, over the course of a 21-year career he established himself as an expert in helping financial institutions improve customer service. After retiring from banking, Jon, who is hardly the retiring type, immediately formed a successful telecommunications start-up with two partners.

Throughout their busy professional lives and now, in actual retirement, Karen and Jon (along with and the whole Heimbigner family) have been tireless champions of volunteerism. Their leadership and mentoring through their church, the Young Life program, regional athletics associations and EWU Athletics, have made a difference in the lives of countless people. Jon’s work as a leader of the Inland Northwest’s athletics community, for example, is far too extensive to detail here. Suffice it to say that his organizing and advocacy for competitive sport is every bit as energetic and successful as his own style of play.



Alum of Service, Military

You might say it was preordained that Gen. Nikki Griffin Olive ’90, our Alum of Service, Military honoree, would one day serve among our nation’s most senior military leaders. 

Always at the top of her class with Eastern’s ROTC battalion, after her graduation in 1990 she was commissioned into the Army’s Signal Core as a Distinguished Military Graduate. It’s an honor that goes to less than 10 percent of the nation’s ROTC graduates.

Nikki Griffin
Nikki Griffin Olive at the 2022 Alumni Awards.

The Army’s Signal Core is responsible for the information and communication systems that are essential to the command and control of our armed forces – a role that became increasingly important, and complex, as our military advanced into the digital age. At every stage of her career, from her start as a tactical communications platoon leader with the 559th Field Artillery, to her final assignment as the Deputy Commanding General for the 335th Signal Command, Gen. Griffin Olive has succeeded in advancing the capabilities of our armed forces.

It wasn’t always easy. Her 28 years of service coincided with momentous technological changes, communications transformations that brought to the forefront both the promise and peril of defending our nation in a hyper-connected world. Through it all, Gen. Griffin Olive brought to the table a keen intelligence, an openness to change and a particular knack for getting the best out of those under her command.

Such qualities served her particularly well during our nation’s long deployments in the Middle East, where Gen. Griffin Olive played a significant role in successfully coordinating one of the largest and most complex military-operations networks in American history.



Alum of Service, Organizational

For Jeanette Day ’76 the call to service came early. And it has never ended.

As an undergraduate at Eastern, she signed on as a volunteer with VISTA — a federal program that was often described as a “domestic Peace Corps” — and promptly developed a program providing after-school services for “latchkey” kids whose working parents weren’t around to supervise them after school. 

After graduation, she moved back home to Southern California. There, Day’s collegiate support for children evolved into a lifetime calling of service — first as a social worker, then, after earning a law degree, as a legal advocate for “the rights and well-being of young people who haven’t had the benefit of a caring family.”

Jeanette Day
Current EWUAA board member, Leah Horton ’12, left, with Jeanette Day.

One particular area of need in Day’s San Diego-area community involved at-risk young people who, when moved out of California’s foster-care system at age 18, often had nowhere to go but the street. As in her days at Eastern, Day stepped up to offer solutions.

Her “Just in Time for Foster Youth” program, founded in 2003, provides a host of life-skill tools, including intensive career counseling, aimed at helping these young people, especially young women, develop the skill sets and self-confidence they’ll need to succeed.

For this and other contributions, Day has been recognized by the San Diego Board of Supervisors for her exemplary efforts to develop public/private partnerships that benefit the citizens of San Diego. She was featured twice in San Diego Magazine’s “50 People to Watch,” has received Kappa Alpha Psi’s Leadership Award, and a 2016 Spirit of Community Award from Junior League of San Diego.



Alum of Service, Education

Judy Blum, one of the nation’s greatest writers for children and young adults, once said that “our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch.” 

Perhaps no profession leaves its imprint on more young lives than teaching, particularly when those young lives are lived out in the face of challenges such as food and housing insecurity, lack of stable access to healthcare, and generally low expectations for academic achievement. Tamra Jackson ’86, ’90, our Alum of Service, Education honoree, has spent her career working to ensure that such barriers don’t get in the way of her students’ path to success.

Tamar Jackson
Tamra Jackson at the 2022 Alumni Awards

Since 1986, Jackson has served as a teacher and administrator at Bridgeport High School, a school in rural Douglas County that serves a mostly agricultural community. Many students at Bridgeport are from households headed up by parents who, given their own struggles, don’t always see higher education as part of their children’s future.

In both the classroom and as Bridgeport’s principal, Jackson has worked to overcome such low expectations, helping both young people and their parents see that, through hard work and persistence, earning a high school diploma and going on to college are achievable goals. Thanks to Jackson’s encouragement, countless students — many first-generation college attendees — have found academic homes in university classrooms across our region.

Her efforts have been recognized both regionally and nationally. In 2009, she was named a Teacher Ambassador Fellow by the U.S. Department of Education, and has been recognized as a White House Champion of Change in Education.



Inspiring Young Alum

Evan Hilberg ’13 received his master’s degree from Eastern less than 10 years ago, but this inspiring young alum has already made his mark with a dizzying array of accomplishments. His achievements check all the boxes, and then some. 

Academic: Since his days in Cheney, Hilberg has earned an additional master’s degree in biostatistics and a doctoral degree in exercise science, both from Oregon State University. Professional: He now works as researcher and policy analyst with a Portland, Oregon-based firm working to make our health-care system more person-focused and economically sustainable. Community Service: While working on his doctorate, Hilberg investigated how children’s physical activity, or lack thereof, might affect health outcomes. He later followed up with work as a statistical consultant to Holt International’s Child Nutrition Program, where he helped advance several important projects related to that organization’s effort to end malnutrition among some of the world’s most vulnerable children. 

Evan Hilberg with Felix, his son.

As if all this weren’t enough, during and since his days at EWU, Hilberg has volunteered his time with a wide range of projects and initiatives that include AmeriCorps, the American Public Health Association, the Western Society for Kinesiology and Wellness, and a program mentoring up-and-coming public health and health-sciences students at OSU.

In his nominating letter, Hilberg’s friend Benton Canaga, himself a science educator, summed up Hilberg’s contributions. His service is an example, the letter said, “of what a young alumnus can do with a drive and passion for serving others and making your community and world a better place.”



Eagle4Life Spirit

At Raynee Miller’s office in the Benton Franklin Juvenile Justice Center in Kennewick, a wall is prominently adorned with an EWU spirit flag, her screen saver displays the iconic image of Swoop atop the university’s water tower, and the counselor herself is more often than not decked out in Eagle red.  

For the young people who spend time in that office with Miller ’92, our Eagle4Life Spirit honoree, these tokens of devoted Eagledom represent more than just an ardent alumna signaling devotion. The swag and memorabilia serve as symbols of the healthier path these often vulnerable, high-risk youth might pursue; a reminder that — with hard work and dedication — a university degree, and a better life, are possible.

Raynee Miller
Raynee Miller at the 2022 Alumni Award winner.

At Eastern, Miller was a standout member of the cheer team, where, in between encouraging the roar of the Eagle faithful, she connected with fellow squad member Kyle Miller ’91, who became her husband.

In the years since, both Raynee and Kyle — especially Raynee — have embodied the Eagle4Life lifestyle. Athletic events, alumni gatherings, mentoring students and potential students, supporting scholarships and other student-centered initiatives: All these and other forms of enthusiastic engagement bring the Millers from the Tri-Cities to Cheney so often that U.S. Route 395 should probably be named for them.

In short, one might say the cheering has never stopped. Eastern Eagles! Go! Fight! Win!



Event Photos

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