Six Washington State University women were honored for their professional accomplishments and contributions to their communities at the Women* of Distinction Awards on April 19.
These prestigious awards are given annually to members of the WSU community who have distinguished themselves professionally, contributed to the personal and professional success of women, and created positive social change and increased equity on their campus and in their community.
“At WSU, we’re blessed with women leaders that excel in many, many fields while balancing an awful lot of challenges,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said at the awards ceremony. “All our awardees have created positive social change, increased equality for all, and helped build community through service. They’ve distinguished themselves in a variety of fields and contributed to the growth and success of other women at WSU. It’s really stunning that we have such talented women at WSU.”
Jan Dasgupta: Woman* of the Year
Boeing Distinguished Professor of Math and Sciences Nairanjana (Jan) Dasgupta was named Woman of the Year for her tireless work in advancing statistics and increasing opportunities for women in the field. Dasgupta has an impressive professional record: she is a fellow in the American Statistical Association, has co-authored more than 60 papers, organized WSU’s Center for Interdisciplinary Statistical Education and Research (CISER), serves as the director of WSU’s multidisciplinary and multi-campus Data Analytics program, and has advised more than 70 graduate students in her career – more than half of whom are women.
Dasgupta is passionate about advancing women in the field and currently serves as the president of the Caucus for Women in Statistics and is a member of the American Statistical Association’s Council of Women in Statistics. She is also dedicated to increasing data and statistical literacy in historically underserved communities and is developing a series of summer camps to increase data literacy among children and families from those communities.
“I have worked closely with Jan for several years, and throughout I have been impressed with not only her individual achievements but also the depth of her commitment toward advancing women and others not served well by academia and society,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Todd Butler, who nominated Dasgupta for the award. “Animating all this work is an indefatigable commitment to justice paired with a hopeful ambition that together we can indeed build a better world.”
Olivia Yang: Staff Woman of Distinction
Staff Woman of Distinction Olivia Yang is a “transformative leader who encourages collaboration and dialogue,” a nominator said. As associate vice president for facilities services and university architect, Yang has transformed the capital budgeting and facilities operations processes for the WSU system, instituted a facilities liaison group that provides important feedback on facilities projects, and won multiple awards for her work on projects such as the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center, the Spark, and Todd Hall.
Yang’s exceptional work has been recognized outside of WSU: she was appointed by the governor to Washington’s Capital Projects Advisory Review Board, which advises the state legislature on public works procurement, and she authored a change to the state’s capital works procurement statute to create a pilot project at WSU that increases opportunities for small and diverse businesses to compete for contracts. She is also the founding director and current co-chair of the state Business Equity/Diverse Business Inclusion Committee.
Michelle Carter: Faculty Woman of Distinction
This year’s Faculty Woman of Distinction is dedicated to advancing underrepresented communities in her field. Associate Professor of Management Information Systems Michelle Carter is part of a three-year, $1 million National Science Foundation grant aimed at increasing the number of female faculty in the information systems field, serves as chair of the Association for Information Systems (AIS) Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and is a past president of the AIS Special Interest Group on Social Inclusion.
Her research into information technology’s involvement in identity and social change has appeared in leading journals, she raises awareness of gender equity issues in the field by speaking regularly on the topic, and she participates in the Provost’s Leadership Academy, examining student evaluations from an inclusion perspective. She is a “role model for female scholars in the information systems field and women around the world,” a nominator said, and earned the prestigious AIS Early Career Award in 2016 for her exceptional work in the field.
Amanda Westbrook: Undergraduate Woman of Distinction
As a WSU Global Campus student, Undergraduate Woman of Distinction Amanda Westbrook balances school, work, and a host of extracurricular activities aimed at enhancing the student experience. Westbrook is an anthropology student who maintains a 4.0 GPA while working full-time in the travel industry and serving as the ASWSUG director of communications and compliance. In that role, she creates content for the weekly Global Campus student newsletters, keeping students informed about campus issues and activities.
In August 2021, she was nominated to speak on a prestigious WSU legislative and congressional panel about her experience as a transfer student in Washington state. She also created Coug Tales, a book club open to all WSU students, and hosts diversity movie nights for students to experience films from different cultures and perspectives. She is a “dedicated student, employee, and leader,” her nominator said.
Ayumi Manawadu: Graduate Woman of Distinction
Going above and beyond is the norm for Ayumi Manawadu, this year’s Graduate Woman of Distinction. Manawadu, a civil and environmental engineering (CEE) student, ran WSU’s Society of Women Engineers chapter from 2018-2019, started WSU’s chapter of the Graduate Society of Women Engineers (GradSWE), and serves as the diversity and inclusion team lead in the national GradSWE chapter. She is also a WSU International Student Peer Mentor and represents CEE in the Graduate and Professional Student Association. In addition, she organizes STEM outreach programs that bring elementary school students to the Pullman campus to learn about engineering.
Manawadu is also an accomplished scholar. She maintains a 3.95 GPA, has published five scholarly articles, finished first at the Western Regional Three-Minute Thesis competition, and won the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award for CEE in 2021. She has “significantly contributed to the personal growth of both undergraduate and graduate student women,” a nominator said, and has “created a positive social change and increased equality for underrepresented minorities both in the VCEA and at the national level.”
Michelle Kelly: Alumna Woman of Distinction
WSU alumna Michelle Kelly knows about service. After completing her undergraduate degree and the ROTC program at WSU in 2011, she was commissioned in the Army and served on active duty for seven years. During that time she received multiple awards, including the Army Commendation Medal and the Meritorious Medal. After leaving active duty with the rank of captain, she joined the Washington Army National Guard and is currently an instructor with WSU ROTC, leading and mentoring more than 115 cadets and managing the WSU Army ROTC Recruiting Club. She earned her MBA from WSU in 2020.
Kelly is the owner of Michelle’s Closet, a clothing business in downtown Pullman, and is part of the Downtown Promotions Foundation. She has organized multiple clothing drives in recent years and has donated more than 12,000 pounds of textiles to local shelters, LGBTQ+ programs, and other nonprofit organizations. A nominator said that Kelly’s “service and sacrifice for our country, community, and WSU have been nothing short of exceptional and exemplify the spirit of this award magnificently.”