‘Get involved’ — WSU Vancouver’s student top award winner of 2020

Winner of the Chancellor’s Award for Student Achievement encourages community involvement in the place he calls home 

VANCOUVER — There won’t be a ceremony this spring. Washington State University Vancouver (WSUV) award winners will receive their honors virtually. Good thing Vince Chavez didn’t do it for the honor. 

He did it to be involved. He did it because he loves what he does.

Vince Chavez Photo courtesy of WSUV
Vince Chavez Photo courtesy of WSUV

WSUV announced its four Chancellor Awards and Students’ Award this week. One of those is the Chancellor’s Award for Student Achievement. That student is Vince Chavez. 

“Involvement doesn’t stop here,” Vince said. “WSU has really prepared me to be an organizer in the community. I don’t want to lose that feeling of community. I have learned so much, and it’s been invaluable.”

Vince grew up with WSUV in his backyard, being born and raised in Vancouver. His mother immigrated from Mexico, and worked exceptionally hard as a single parent for her three sons to have opportunities. Once a family friend took Vince to tour WSUV, those opportunities became very clear. 

“Stepping on to campus, I realized like, how did I not know that this was here this whole time?” Vince said. “What’s always given me hope is my mom. I’ve seen the sacrifices that she has made, and I know that if she can get through that, I can get through this. Things look really rough right now, and it can sometimes feel like you’re maybe, alone, but you’re not.”

After graduating high school through the Running Start program, Vince started his journey at WSUV. He will graduate next month with an extensive list of degree accomplishments and campus involvement. His double major in Biology and Neuroscience comes with minors in Chemistry and Microbiology.

He also was student body president. And student media board chair. And co-authored a published paper with a professor. And helped found a program for first year, first generation students from low-socioeconomic and underrepresented communities, like himself. 

He’s been busy, but he loves it.

“People always think that that’s a lot of work, but it was actually just the two years from Running Start that really helped me be set up for success,” he said. “I started out with biology. Then when I started doing research in the neuroscience department, like stimulating rat brains and recording that activity and just being able to visualize it, it just blew my mind again!”

Vince Chavez (center) poses for a photo with his fellow WSUV student ambassadors from 2018-19. Photo courtesy of WSUV
Vince Chavez (center) poses for a photo with his fellow WSUV student ambassadors from 2018-19. Photo courtesy of WSUV

For Vince, his drive to learn and achieve more comes from a very special place of compassion.

“I always had an interest in psychology because my mom suffered depression,” he said. “It was always just kind of in the back of my mind. I realized that I could combine my love for the sciences, and also think about that cognitive aspect of the human psyche. It dawned on me that neuroscience was another perfect addition on top of the research that I had been conducting.”

As for the award, the other four all go to faculty. Only one is given to a student for “… for academic achievement, overcoming barriers, leadership potential and involvement in campus life.” Chancellor Netzhammer usually hands out medallions in person at the commencement ceremony. Due to COVID-19, the in-person ceremony has been postponed to an undetermined date. 

For Vince, the postponement has caused the moment to lose none of its impact. 

“Receiving this award is definitely a testimony that I belonged there. That I always did,” he said. “When I got the news it was just kind of mind blowing and I feel very honored and humbled. I know that me receiving this would not have been possible without lots of support from my friends and family; my mentors. WSU Vancouver really made me feel like it was a space where I could be real with everybody and just talk about my real life challenges.”

Vince Chavez (third from the right) poses here with the WSUV student ambassadors for 2019-20. Photo courtesy of WSUV
Vince Chavez (third from the right) poses here with the WSUV student ambassadors for 2019-20. Photo courtesy of WSUV

After graduating, Vince hopes to pursue a unique combination of education and work. With the hope of working in policy as well as medicine, he plans to pursue law and medical degrees through a dual enrollment program. That’s a little bit down the road he said, but in the meantime he is looking at a policy associate position with the Washington state government in Olympia.

He also had some encouragement to share with his fellow students.

“Get involved. I feel like half of my learning has taken place inside of the classroom, but half of my learning has also taken place outside of the classroom,” he said. “I just want to make sure that students in the community know that college is a possibility for you. Even though right now is looking really rough and we are graduating to a really poor job market, there is still so much room for us because of our passions, and because of what WSU has equipped us with.”

Vince also explained that he and many of his fellow students from similar backgrounds are graduating to return to the communities from which they came, with the goal of equipping them to be successful. 

“Getting out there and just helping out the community,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s really what this is about.”

The full list of WSUV awardees include:

Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Equity — Luz Rocío Sotomayor, Senior Instructor of Mathematics

Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence — Marcelo Diversi, Interim Academic Director and Professor of Human Development

Chancellor’s Award for Student Achievement — Vince Chavez, B.S., Biology and Neuroscience

Chancellor’s Award for Service to WSU Vancouver — Michael C. Worthy, President and CEO of WW Payment Systems, Inc. and WSU Regent

Students’ Award for Teaching Excellence — Andra Chastain, Assistant Professor of History