Three Southwest Washington women were honored with Distinguished Woman of the Year awards for making a difference in the lives of others at Washington State University Vancouver’s 11th annual Women of Distinction celebration. Held March 28, the event wrapped up Women’s History Month at the university.

2019 awardees include:

WSU VANCOUVER STUDENT

Ana Betancourt
Ana Betancourt

Ana Betancourt Macias, a junior majoring in sociology. She is the director of legislative affairs, president of WSU Vancouver Collegiate LULAC, and a member of the WSU Vancouver Council on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. She inspires Latinas to use their struggles as strengths. Betancourt Macias is positively changing lives through her message and her work.

Two honorable mentions were given in this category to Mikaela Bolds, a junior majoring in strategic communication, who advocates for girls and empowers them to be smart, strong and unique; and Natalie Ewing, a senior majoring in psychology, who encourages others to strive for the best in themselves and look on the bright side.

WSU VANCOUVER FACULTY OR STAFF

Rakha Shameem profile
Rakha Shameem

Shameem Rakha is a clinical assistant professor in the College of Education. She works to provide equitable opportunities for everyone both on campus and in our community. She advocates and supports marginalized, underrepresented and diverse individuals with true passion.

Honorable mentions were given to Michelle Eccles, academic services manager for Vancouver IT, who has served on numerous committees and workgroups to improve access, diversity and technology adoption on campus; and Jeanette Morales, a faculty member in the College of Education, who mentors her students to be not only great teachers, but great human beings.

COMMUNITY MEMBER

Ruby Sowder profile
Ruby Sowder

Ruby Sowder is the owner of Belly Grams Singing Telegrams and Clown-A-Round. She has taught Middle Eastern dance (belly dance) for Vancouver Parks and Recreation for more than 35 years and is the director of the award-winning Al-Ghawazee Dance Troup. Sowder supports women of every shape, size, age and ability, and helps them grow as dancers and as effective women who meaningfully contribute to our community.

Honorable mentions were given to Kirsten Benko, an elementary school teacher at Cornerstone Christian Academy, who is a genuine problem solver and an instinctual helper of others; and Tanisha Harris, a CASA program specialist for YWCA Clark County, who advocates for children in foster care.

The awards have been given in concordance with Women’s History Month since 2009 to recognize women in Southwest Washington for inspiring, mentoring and empowering others. Nominations are accepted for women in three categories: WSU Vancouver student, WSU Vancouver faculty or staff, and community member. Winners are selected by a committee that includes faculty, staff, students and community members.