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Community Engagement


Addressing Racism with Conversation

After the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many other people of color, James Zagrodnik, associate professor of physical education, decided he wanted to be a part of the conversation about race.

To help Utahns become more aware of underlying racism, Zagrodnik launched a video podcast about racism at Weber State. He was joined by assistant professor of teacher education Andrea Garavito Martinez and associate professor of physical education Ryan Zimmerman. 

“We’re trying to create a space where any person — student, faculty, staff, administration, just some person out there — could participate and learn something,” Zagrodnik said.

The podcast, “Wildcat Conversations: Racism,” features guests from across Utah. In May 2021, 21 episodes had been released since it launched in fall 2020. In February 2021, Gregory Noel and Juancarlos Santisteban, both therapists at the WSU Counseling & Psychological Services Center, who had been interviewees, took over as hosts.

Noel said he wanted to get past the uncomfortability of talking about race and move forward.

“Oftentimes there is a misconception that even though we’re brown or black people, we’re comfortable having these conversations when in all reality we’re not,” he said. “We need to address the elephant in the room.”

Due to their uncomfortable nature and importance, Noel and Santisteban often refer to these dialogues as courageous conversations.

The hosts plan to continue recording in fall 2021. Episodes are available at


Amid Uncertainty, Town Hall Directed Dreamers to Resources

WSU’s Office of Access & Diversity committed itself to helping Dreamers find answers about their DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status amid uncertainty this past year.

In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of DACA, allowing new applicants to apply and current recipients to renew their status without fear of losing renewal funds. Even then, many Dreamers were living in uncertainty, waiting to see if another method would be found to take away their protected status.

In the same month, the Office of Access & Diversity held a town hall with immigration attorneys, diversity officials, mental health advocates and others to answer questions and direct undocumented students to available resources. Students were allowed to attend the virtual meeting anonymously, so they could ask any questions without fear of repercussions.

“It’s up to us to try to guide students in the right direction and help them find answers when none are being given,” said Cristian Gutierrez, WSU’s DACA/undocumented specialist with the Office of Access & Diversity.


Estimated number of WSU DACA students


Town Hall attendees

Boosting Latino/Hispanic Entrepreneurship Opportunities

Weber State University’s Wildcat Micro Fund and the Alan E. Hall Center for Sales Excellence are partnering with community organizations to grow and support the Latino/Hispanic entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“This is another example of our commitment to economic development in northern Utah, and to grow our efforts around equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Guy Letendre, WSU Director of Economic Development.

The Suazo Business Center, a business resource center for Latino/Hispanic and other underserved communities, received grants through U.S. Bank and the Micro Fund to help increase awareness of the Micro Fund’s grant program, which provides grants in the form of cash or services to local entrepreneurs. Additionally, the center has begun offering mentoring services during the grant process at the WSU Community Education Center in Ogden.

As of spring 2021, the Micro Fund had provided 48 grant awards to entrepreneurs in northern Utah totaling approximately $70,000.

“By focusing on these clients with a more refined, one-on-one approach, we can help end cycles of poverty and allow for greater self-reliance for some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Silvia Castro, Suazo Business Center executive director.

Furthering efforts to support Latino/Hispanic entrepreneurs, the Hall Center has partnered with the MarketStar Foundation to provide a community education course for the next five years in sales and customer service excellence that will target enrollment within the Latino/Hispanic community. Scheduled to begin fall of 2021 at the WSU Community Education Center, the course will help students improve their interpersonal and professional sales skills and position them for success in the sales industry. Last year’s pilot course included 10 students, including nine students who spoke English as their second language.

“We are actively focused on community engagement and developing from within the Ogden area,” said Brock Adams, Hall Center director. “This program absolutely exemplifies that approach, and we will continue to see its success unfold in the coming years.”

Dumke College and Team of Volunteers Tackle COVID Crisis

While the numbers alone are impressive, nearly 100,000 vaccine doses administered at the Dee Events Center and 17,000 COVID tests conducted at the WSU Davis and Ogden campuses, it was the volunteer effort of Weber State faculty, staff and students that offered the campus community the help it needed most during the pandemic.

Before broad testing was mandated, Matthew Nicholaou, chair of medical laboratory sciences (MLS), and Sally Cantwell, chair of the Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing, set up a COVID-19 testing protocol under the authorization of Dr. Stephen Scharmann of Intermountain Healthcare.

They worked with their teams, including MLS lab manager Kent Criddle and assistant professor Kendal Beazer and nursing faculty Amy Buckway, Monica Bottelberghe, Connie Merrill, and Trisha Small. The leadership team devised a system for testing symptomatic students, faculty and staff in a mock clinic, so when the state began requiring both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing, Weber State was ready.

To run the testing, they first solicited volunteers from the Dumke College of Health Professions, but then expanded across campus as the need grew. Eventually more than 450 Wildcat volunteers, organized by Jessica Oyler, assistant vice president for Human Resources, signed up and trained.

“All of a sudden, when you have to test 1,000 people five times a week, we needed a massive team,” Nicholaou said. “We put the word out, and it was really cool to see faculty, students and staff from all over campus step up with testing.”

Another critical component of campus COVID containment was contact tracing. Associate professor of nursing Kathleen Cadman helped Mike Davies, emergency manager, establish the protocols, work out the logistics and carry out contact tracing for the 642 people who tested positive within 14 days of being on campus.

Weber State has a long history of engaging with the community to prepare and react to emergencies. COVID Task Force chair and Public Safety director, Dane LeBlanc, helped coordinate the university’s first pandemic response back in 2009 with an H1N1 vaccination clinic at the Dee. He said that training and collaboration made the connection easy when, beginning in early January 2021, Weber-Morgan Health needed a facility to host the community vaccination site.

More than 200 faculty, staff and students from the Dumke College were trained, screened, credential-certified and enrolled with the Weber-Morgan Medical Reserve Corps with help from nursing professors Valerie Gooder and London Draper-Lowe. The group, with organizational support from Sherie Thornton, WSU’s biosafety/emergency response specialist, provided 50% or more of the staffing for the vaccination area at the Dee for six months, including for the days specifically planned and reserved for Weber State faculty, staff and students.

Another 30 non-medical employee volunteers from various departments including police, fire, Facilities Management, Dee Events Center, Human Resources, Marketing & Communications and Environmental Health & Safety, also helped with the process.

Caring for each other and for the community is a Wildcat hallmark that was on full display during the worst moments of the pandemic.

WSU Hosts 10th Annual Conference Empowering Black Students

Demitrius Sanders still recalls his first experience with the Expect the Great conference, while attending Snow College.

“I felt a different type of love, like this was a place I needed to be,” said Sanders, recalling what it felt like to meet Black students from all across Utah. “It empowers us in a way we never see in our daily lives.”

Pastor France A. Davis originally created Expect the Great (ETG) as an outreach event aimed at increasing college access, participation, retention and graduation for the state’s African, African-American and Black students and communities. In 2021, ETG celebrated its 10th year, albeit in a virtual format.

“I’ve realized that education is forever.”
— Demitrius Sanders

Sanders, one of the organizers for this year’s event held by Weber State, was skeptical of whether the event would work without the energy of in-person connections. Not only did it attract more than 230 participants, but Sanders said the format allowed more people to speak and share their voices.

Today, Sanders has “a lot more hope for what I can do. I’ve realized that education is forever.”

As a senior completing his sociology degree at WSU, Sanders said he can better appreciate the wide range of experiences he encountered growing up Black in Ogden, Utah. “Having an event for Black people in Utah isn’t exclusive — it’s inclusive — because we feel excluded every day,” he said.

Wildcats Reign at 2020 Mayor’s Awards in the Arts

The 2020 Ogden City Mayor’s Awards in the Arts shined a spotlight on eight members of the Weber State family. The annual event recognizes artists and arts organizations that uplift the Ogden community.

Joseph “Jo” Blake, assistant professor of dance and director of the joBdance performance company, received the Performing Arts award. Blake throws his passion for educational theory, community engagement and social justice into numerous community outreach programs.

Artist Lydia Gravis, who directs and curates the Shaw Gallery within the Department of Visual Art & Design, was given the Visual Arts award. Also of note, Gravis was selected for a summer 2021 artist residency at the Fremantle Art Centre in Western Australia.

Jake McIntire, an adjunct instructor in Weber State’s visual art and design department, was honored with the Arts Advocacy award. McIntire founded Union Creative Agency, a design consulting business that facilitates arts-based community development and economic planning in northern Utah.

Betty Sawyer, who recently retired as community engagement coordinator for WSU’s Office of Access & Diversity, accepted the mayor’s Folk Arts award on behalf of Project Success Coalition. Sawyer co-founded the nonprofit, which offers education outreach for students in grades K–7, health prevention education and initiatives to address the needs of African Americans in Utah, in 1989.

Laura Stott, who teaches creative writing and poetry at WSU and is the faculty sponsor for “Sigma Tau Delta” English honor society, received the Literary Arts award. Weber State’s writing program was recently ranked #2 in the nation by College Rank, a higher education guidance platform. The ranking was based on metrics related to return on investment, quality of education and support services.

The Lifetime Contribution award was given to blues musician, radio personality and storyteller “Bad” Brad Wheeler, who graduated from Weber State with emphases in archeology, anthropology and art. Wheeler is a self-taught harmonica player who has shared the stage with notable music legends, including the late Joe McQueen. He estimates he has taught about 32,000 children how to play the harmonica.

The WSU Arts Learning Collaborative was selected to receive the Arts in Education award. The collaborative is a partnership between the Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities and the Moyes College of Education. It provides year-round learning opportunities in arts integration for K–12 teachers, instructional coaches, arts specialists and students. Program director Tamara Goldbogen accepted the award on behalf of the collaborative.

Daniel Mathews, a former Weber State student who studied public policy and creative writing and longtime fan of WSU’s football and softball programs, received the Media Arts award for his work as Indie Ogden Magazine editor-in-chief. The magazine covers all things that make Ogden unique, from human interest stories to arts and events.

“I am a huge supporter of Weber State,” Mathews said. “I believe that a strong relationship between Weber State and the community is key to Ogden’s growth.”