A distinguished group of people and programs from across the Washington State University system were recently honored with Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Awards during the Annual MLK Celebration on the Pullman campus.

“These individuals, groups, and programs are doing cutting edge and impactful work around equity and inclusion with many populations and communities throughout the state of Washington,” said Allen Sutton, executive director for outreach and education in Community, Equity and Inclusive Excellence and chair of the MLK Planning Committee. “They are utilizing best practices, and in some cases, creating best practices, to advance an environment of equity and inclusion systemwide and within their surrounding communities.”

The awards were bestowed in three different categories.


Education and Inclusion


  • Chioma Heim

    Heim, an undergraduate advisor in the Department of Psychology at WSU Pullman, found her calling to work as a student services practitioner over a decade ago when earning a degree while simultaneously overcoming personal struggles as an underrepresented student. Her experiences provided perspective on overcoming struggles that students face as they strive to develop a sense of identity within an educational landscape that does not always provide enough resources for non‑traditional students.

  • Cougs Rise

    Cougs Rise is an initiative in the Office of Academic Engagement at WSU Pullman that works with low‑income and first‑generation students from five Washington high schools, serving 180 participants annually. Preparation programming and mentorship is designed to build a network of resources for the student, develop a sense of belonging, and allow engagement in high‑impact educational experiences that support their long‑term success.


Altruism and Community Service


  • Trymaine Gaither

    Trymaine Gaither is currently the recruitment and career coordinator for the WSU Honors College. He is also the coordinator for the Mindfulness-Based Emotional and Social Intelligence (MESI) Certificate that trains students in mindfulness, self‑awareness, self‑management, empathy and compassion. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Gaither has been an activist and community leader for over 15 years. He founded Making Men Mentoring, a program that matched young men in at‑risk areas to quality mentors.

  • Aydan Garland‑Miner

    Always driven to help people, WSU Pullman student Aydan Garland‑Miner, a broadcast production and women’s studies major, founded a WSU chapter of PERIOD, a global non‑profit that celebrates menstruation and provides menstrual products to those in need, including homeless and low‑income people. PERIOD works to educate the community about the need and lack of access to menstrual products, advocate to abolish the tampon tax, and provides menstrual products to those in need.


Advancement in Diversity


  • David Garcia

    As an assistant dean for pathway programs and inclusion in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine at WSU Spokane, Garcia works to increase access to education and social services for underserved populations. Raised in Eastern Washington, he serves in a variety of capacities on local and national organizations including the National Advisory Council (NAC) and the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE).

  • Francene Watson

    Watson is a clinical assistant professor for cultural studies and social thought in the College of Education on the Pullman campus. She engages in purpose-driven, participatory action research, and builds relationships with local schools and indigenous communities aligned with WSU’s land‑grant mission and the Memorandum of Understanding with regional tribal nations. Watson’s collaborative pre‑service teacher education and in‑service professional development projects stem from the need to establish culturally responsive, socially just, and enlivened learning spaces in schools from a community-based approach.

  • Building a Community of Equity

    Building a Community of Equity (BaCE) is a professional development program at WSU Vancouver that provides 12‑hours of cultural competency, responsiveness, and enrichment to build advocates and change agents of equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout the campus and WSU system. Since 2018, more than 50% of WSU Vancouver faculty, staff and administration have participated in it.

Sutton said that despite Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of inclusion and equality, many people of the United States remain divided by issues of race and racism, economic inequality, as well as unequal access to justice.

“This year’s MLK Distinguished Service Award winners are blazing a trail through these issues with their creativity, hard work, and compassion for others,” he said. “Each winner, in some way, advances Dr. King’s dream of a just society for all people.