Washington State University junior Leo Calderon-Sandoval received the Chosen Coug Award during a special virtual ceremony April 11 honoring him and 50 finalists.

His twin sister, WSU senior Diana Calderon-Sandoval, nominated him for the award, which recognizes individuals who have played a significant role in the success of WSU students.

“The ways in which Leo has always been there to help Diana really pulled at my heartstrings,” said Megan Harre, associate director of the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life and a member of the Chosen Coug Award selection committee. “They have a very special relationship.”

Exemplifying Cougar pride

At age 12, the Calderon-Sandoval siblings moved from Mexico to Washington State to learn English and receive an education that would help them secure a brighter future. With her parents and other siblings still in Mexico, Diana Calderon-Sandoval wrote in her nomination letter that her brother was the only person she could rely on when things got tough.

After graduating from high school, the Calderon-Sandoval twins decided to enroll at WSU Pullman. During her first year at WSU, Diana Calderon-Sandoval was diagnosed with a knee disorder, and during her senior year, she learned she has a heart disorder. Throughout it all, her brother has taken care of her, driving her to doctor and physical therapy appointments and making sure she is managing her studies and her health needs. Leo Calderon-Sandoval also gave her a place to sleep when her housing was in flux and, this year, has been saving money in case she falls behind on her rent.

“Leo really embodies the ‘Coug helping Coug’ spirit that so many of our students have and embrace,” said Harre. “His caring for his sister gives me a lot of Cougar pride.”

Leo Calderon-Sandoval took a year off from his studies due to the pandemic and is planning to resume work toward his kinesiology degree this fall. Diana Calderon-Sandoval will graduate in May with degrees in psychology and Spanish.

“When I learned that Leo was selected [for the Chosen Coug Award], I was so happy and surprised that I cried,” Diana Calderon-Sandoval said. “He has done so much for me, and I wanted him to know how much I appreciate him.”

Cougar family is broad

Kari Sampson, the director of development for the Division of Student Affairs, said the Chosen Coug Award selection committee, consisting of students, faculty, and staff, reviewed nearly 70 nominations before selecting Leo Calderon-Sandoval.

“The nominations speak to the broad nature of the Coug family that includes not only parents, but also brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, step parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends,” Sampson said. “All of them play a very significant role in the success of WSU students by being strong advocates and helping them build resiliency.”

Recognizing that many types of people support students, WSU broadened eligibility for the traditional Mom of the Year and Dad of the Year Awards last fall and gave them a new name: the Chosen Coug Award. It is given twice a year during ceremonies that coincide with WSU’s fall and spring Family Weekends.

Compliments of BECU, all 50 finalists received a Coug swag box and a framed copy of their nomination letter. As the Chosen Coug Award recipient, Leo Calderon-Sandoval was presented with a plaque and a Cougar gift package containing WSU-themed items.