Six exceptional Washington State University women were honored for their accomplishments, service, and commitment to student success at the Women of Distinction awards ceremony on April 16. The annual event, now in its 15th year, recognizes the incredible achievements of women in the WSU community.

This year’s award recipients represent a range of campuses, colleges, and academic and professional pursuits, but they all have one thing in common: a dedication to making their campuses and communities better places.

“Acknowledging the achievements of women leaders across the WSU system is the easy part – the hardest part is selecting just six women out of the large number of applications we received this year,” said Davi Kallman, Women of Distinction co-chair and Commission on the State of Women public relations officer. “We received more applications than ever before, and we are so thankful to our amazing reviews for helping us through this process. It is amazing to see what all of these women accomplished over the past year, and we are truly in awe of their dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Erica Crespi | Woman of the Year

Closeup of Erica Crespi
Erica Crespi

As an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences (SBS), 2021 Woman of the Year Erica Crespi is committed to excellence in research and teaching, but it’s her “commitment to promoting the success of diverse students,” her nomination letter said, that makes her truly exceptional. She is a tireless advocate for under-represented groups in the sciences – particularly women. She mentors and advises female students, co-advises the Scientista group, serves on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, regularly speaks on panels about women in science, and recently secured a grant to support a maternal-child health collaborative that will bring together female researchers from across WSU.

In addition to her advocacy work, Crespi is an engaging teacher who received the Smith Teaching and Learning Award in 2017 and was inducted into the WSU Teaching Academy in 2020. She has had several projects funded by the National Science Foundation and recently received a $900K Murdock Trust grant to build an Aquatics Phenomics Research Center at WSU. “While there are many important women leaders at WSU,” her nomination letter read, “Erica is unique in that her leadership is changing the landscape of research at WSU for so many faculty while also innovating graduate and undergraduate training and education.”

Vicki McCracken | Faculty Woman of Distinction

Closeup of Vicki McCracken
Vicki McCracken

Faculty Woman of Distinction Vicki McCracken has accomplished a great deal during her 37 years at WSU. She has “significantly distinguished herself in her academic work,” her nomination letter said, by producing over 80 peer-reviewed publications, securing over $21 million in research grants, consistently receiving excellent teaching evaluations from her students, and creating an internship program that resulted in increased job opportunities for women in the economic sciences. McCracken has held a variety of leadership roles within the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), including her current position as associate dean and director of extension, and received the WSU Sahlin Leadership Award in 2015. She has also held leadership roles on number of boards and committees at the college, university, regional, and national levels. Her nominator described her as a “perfect example of an all-around researcher, scholar, teacher, leader, and pioneer” who has created “positive social change, increased equality for all, and helped build community through service.”

Jeannette Hurt | Staff Woman of Distinction

Closeup of Jeannette Hurt
Jeannette Hurt

Staff Woman of Distinction Jeannette Hurt is dedicated to serving her community. As the Community-Oriented Policing officer with WSU Vancouver Public Safety and Police Services, she promotes campus and public safety through regular positive interactions with the community. “In addition to performing her job as a campus police officer at an exemplary level, Jeannette demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to the campus community, public neighbors, and visitors,” her nomination letter said. Hurt regularly gives presentations to campus groups on Title IX, the Clery Act, and self-defense, and she is known around the Vancouver campus for encouraging students who are having a difficult day. Hurt is also committed to education – she earned a master’s in public administration while working as a WSU police officer and is currently pursuing a certificate in emergency management. Her nominator said that over her 23 years of service to WSU, “Jeannette has made a positive and profound difference to the university by positively impacting clients, visitors, and staff with her thoughtful and upbeat interactions.”

Misty Lefler | Graduate Student Woman of Distinction

Closeup of Misty Lefler
Misty Lefler

This year’s Graduate Student Woman of Distinction, third-year pharmacy student Misty Lefler, is passionate about helping others. She “encompasses what it means to be a servant leader and is an exemplary woman worth recognizing,” her nominator said. As the president of the WSU Spokane American Pharmacists Association – Academy of Student Pharmacists chapter, Lefler helps her fellow students network, develop professionally, and find opportunities to serve their community. During COVID-19, she has promoted student mental health and well-being by facilitating connection sessions and workshops with pharmacy faculty and students. She regularly volunteers her time at health fairs, flu clinics, drug take-back events, and wellness education events, and she is actively involved in Pharmacy Legislative Day at the Capitol. Lefler is also dedicated to providing equitable and inclusive health care and has published several articles on the ways pharmacists can promote equitable health care for all patients.

Michelle Lee | Undergraduate Student Woman of Distinction

Closeup of Michelle Lee
Michelle Lee

After COVID-19 caused many of Michelle Lee’s fellow pre-law classmates to lose summer internships and jobs last year, she contacted courthouses around the state to find them new opportunities. While searching for her own opportunity, Lee – this year’s Undergraduate Student Woman of Distinction – decided to found the Student Legal Research Association (SLRA), a registered student organization that conducts research for policy reform and advocacy. Through SLRA, Lee examined data from WSU’s police department in an effort to address racial disparity in arrests on the Pullman campus. The outcome of the research, her nomination letter said, was “profound” and highlighted “both the issue at hand and the adaptation of suggested policy change.” In addition to her work with SLRA, Lee is a senior peer mentor for pre-law students and an intern at the Pre-Law Resource Center, where she has identified ways law education can reach all students, regardless or income or location. “[She] has distinguished herself as a woman of exceptional courage, leadership, and service,” her nominator said.

Linhda Sagen | Alumna Woman of Distinction

Closeup of Linhda Sagen
Linhda Sagen

In this challenging year, WSU Alumna of Distinction Linhda Sagen has created a bright spot for many in the Pullman community through her work with the Pullman Schools Pantry Program (PSPP). Food insecurity has increased dramatically during the pandemic as many families lost jobs and schools shifted to remote learning, making school breakfasts and lunches unavailable. As president of the PSPP, Sagen worked with the organization’s leadership and the community to increase PSPP’s capacity to provide meals to local children. As a result of her efforts, PSPP has been able to provide 350 bags of food each week to Pullman families in need. Sagen also worked with local restaurants to consistently provide 60 families with meals. “Her work creating and leading the board of the Pullman Schools Pantry Program is commendable in an ordinary year, but this past year has been anything but ordinary,” her nomination letter said. “Linhda’s work with the Pullman Schools Pantry Program was integral to alleviating food insecurity in the Palouse area.”

“It is an honor to recognize the extraordinary work of women at WSU; it is especially important during a global pandemic that has had a disproportionate impact on women,” said Season Hoard, Women of Distinction co-chair and Commission on the Status of Women Institutional Climate Committee co-chair. “Our nominees and winners show that women continue to strive and thrive at WSU and within our communities, and it is humbling to be a part of the process in recognizing these important efforts.”