Campus Community

Alumni Award Winners Shine

Written by Tracy DeCroce and Tina Potterf

March 4, 2019

Brenda Christensen

Image credit: Yosef Chaim Kalinko

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The 2019 recipients reflect diversity of industry & interests.

Here's a look at the 2019 Alumni Award winners, who represent the best of a Seattle U education as evident with their leadership in community and business, in service and mentorship and in inspiring others to do their part to make the world a better place for all. 

Alumna/Alumnus of the Year Award
Brenda Christensen, ’81 (Albers School of Business and Economics; pictured here)

When Brenda Christensen, ’81, was growing up in rural Minnesota, being a Girl Scout gave her a way to experience new people and places. During her senior year of high school, the Girl Scouts awarded her a scholarship to spend the summer in Italy. Going abroad helped to unleash the imagination, ingenuity and discernment that would lead Christensen to become a global technology pioneer.

“Most of the things I have done in my life and career, I could have never imagined because many didn’t exist before,” Christensen says.

Christensen spent more than three decades in the computer and storage networking industries. She has worked in sales, marketing and engineering at Xerox, Houghton Mifflin, Digital Equipment and Adaptec. She served as founding vice president of marketing for the data storage networking company Brocade Communications. She also spearheaded and co-owned an India-based technology-conference business. Recognized in the Storage Networking Industry Association Hall of Fame, Christensen has sat on the boards of start-up companies in Israel, India and France.

She attributes her success to working harder than everyone else. Early in her career—with a resume that included CEO of a Midwest region of the Girl Scouts and an MBA from the Albers School of Business and Economics—Christensen joined a team that consisted of 47 white men at Xerox in California. She was the “girl” whose desk they put in the hall. Her background and willingness to learn served her there and in every job she held afterward. It has also extended to her philanthropy work.

Christensen published the book, The $8 Man, first-person narratives of 17 persons from India who came to North America in the 1960’s and 70’s.

A Seattle University Trustee, Christensen and her husband Tom have supported SU’s Nicaragua Initiative, global scholarships for Albers students, the Center for Science and Innovation and the Youth Initiative, among other programs. Christensen volunteers with organizations helping farm workers in California and an invasion community in Peru.

“Brenda has built a life of caring for other people,” says Albers Dean Joseph Phillips. “She is a voracious learner with the capacity to see the value of an idea before others do, as well as the steps necessary to bring it to fruition. She is also an advocate for and believer in the value and uniqueness of Seattle University.”

Community Service Award
Chach Duarte White, 00 JD (School of Law)

Chach Duarte White is, unapologetically, a fierce advocate for the underdog. But her passion for justice goes even deeper: she is a champion of diversity, a crusader for equity and inclusion in law, a conduit for providing access to the justice system for the underrepresented.

A first-generation college student and self-described “proud Latina lawyer,” Duarte White started out as an industrial engineer in Silicon Valley before choosing the legal profession to focus on structural inequities within society and the law.

As a lawyer, she has premised her career on the belief in the importance of having a level playing field where everyone gets the same chance to succeed, both personally and professionally. The daughter of an immigrant mother—her father was born a U.S. citizen to immigrant parents—Duarte White witnessed firsthand the inequities and lack of access to justice with experiences faced by her family.

“It’s important to me that all people, specifically the disadvantaged, have equal access to the justice system and that diverse lawyers are given the opportunity to flourish in the practice of law,” says Duarte White, who previously served as Diversity Program Manager for the Washington State Bar Association and president of the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington.

Currently she works as a staff attorney at the Legal Counsel for Youth and Children (LCYC) with foster kids and homeless and immigrant youth. The clients Duarte White works with at LCYC inspire her and reinforce the work she is doing to make the world a better place for all, not just those of privilege. “I work with youth who have experienced horrible, horrible things and they still have the ability to hope for something better,” she says. “They aren’t mad at the world. They deserve the same access to justice as everyone else.”

Increasing access to the legal system—both in the classroom and the courtroom—led to Duarte White’s work as a one-time staff member in the law school’s Academic Resource Center (ARC). An alumna of the program, she expresses gratitude for what ARC offers and the opportunities it affords non-traditional students, enabling them to pursue law careers. She is currently the president of the Judicial Institute, a School of Law partner that aspires to diversify the judiciary in the state of Washington.

“Chach is dedicated to supporting and mentoring law students, especially law students of color,” says Veronica Quinonez, ’11 JD, president of the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington. “She has a desire to see students and young attorneys succeed and has always encouraged students … to believe in themselves. She is an alumna who embodies the true mission of the Seattle University School of Law.”

University Service Award
Kathleen Schafer, ’81 (College of Arts & Sciences)

When people think of Kathleen Schafer, ’81, words like “service,” “dedication,” “selfless” and “philanthropy” come to mind. If someone needs something, Schafer is often the first to step up.

Her connection to Seattle University—with nine years on the Board of Regents, including six on the executive committee, and as a past co-chair for the university Gala—reflects Schafer’s commitment to giving back to her alma mater. And it is Schafer who is credited with coming up with the idea for the State of the University event, held every September, where President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., reflects on and reveals what is expected in the coming year. She organizes the event and donates wine each year from her family’s winery, à’Maurice.

“I cannot think of another person who deserves this [University Service] recognition more,” says Janet Mullen Dwyer, who served with Schafer on the Board of Regents and was one of her nominators for the alumni award. “She is the epitome of the university’s values and commitment to justice, excellence and volunteerism.”

For Schafer, the opportunity to be of service for a place that she believes has given her so much makes sense.

“[Seattle University] offered, emotionally, a safe place to express yourself, which was valued and encouraged,” she says. “As a young woman I felt completely prepared to be who I was.”

Schafer’s altruism extends beyond Seattle University.

Kathleen and her husband Tom are lifelong Seattleites—she went to Holy Names, he Seattle Prep—so giving back to the community she calls home factors heavily into this life of service they’ve built that was modeled by both of their families.

In gratitude to the Jesuits, Kathleen is an active participant in the Peronteau Club, which raises money to support Jesuits in their retirement.

The mother of two and grandmother to three has served as a two-term president of the National Charity League, whose mission is “to foster mother-daughter relationships in a philanthropic organization committed to community service, leadership development and cultural experiences.”

Additionally Schafer helped start Rise ‘n Shine, now known as the Inspire Youth Project, that provides emotional support and advocacy for children and teens affected by HIV/AIDS, neglect or abuse.

When reflecting back on her years as a student at Seattle U, Schafer expresses gratitude for the friendships and support of professors, who “set the tone” for how one should treat others and inspired in her the sense of worth that comes with service.

Outstanding Recent Alumna/Alumnus Award
Gretchenrae Campera, ’08 (College of Arts and Sciences)

“To be brave in challenging the status quo, to speak up for the voiceless … to believe in something bigger than yourself.” 

This is how Leslie Ikeda, ’18, describes the qualities Gretchenrae Campera, ’08, brings to her work on behalf of marginalized students.

Campera is the assistant director for student success and outreach at Seattle University. She helped to envision and open The Outreach Center, which provides support for first-generation students and student-veterans.  Her initiatives include a first-gen graduation celebration, First-Gen Week, and SALUTE, a student-veteran honor society.  She elevates the voices of the first-gen community through Imprint: Narratives on the First-Gen College Student Experience, a compilation of creative and scholarly writing from our first-generation community.

“Gretchenrae’s most visible contribution to Seattle U is the uplifting of two of the most vulnerable student populations. … she was able to bring this community into one place, give them a space to call home on campus and allow them to express their experiences through writing and critical mentorship,” says Georgia Pirie, graduate coordinator for student veteran initiatives in The Outreach Center.

Tom Hove, the center’s VetCorps Navigator, adds, “Now, we have individuals coming to Seattle U because they hear we are a veteran- and military-supportive school. … Gretchenrae truly cares about the success and future of others.”

Campera, who identifies as queer, Filipina and first-generation, could have fallen through the cracks at Seattle U if not for her resilience and the guidance of professors and staff. With this support Campera stayed on track academically and got involved in student leadership opportunities. It’s this type of support that Campera provides students through her work with The Outreach Center.

Her current work reflects the support she received as a student, and she uses her current position to provide similar support to current students.

In a short time, she has blazed a trail across the country. At the University of Vermont, Campera earned a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, held her first student affairs job and co-coordinated the Queer People of Color group. She earned the University’s Staff Leadership Award for her commitment to inclusion. At Boston’s Emmanuel College she worked in residential life, creating diversity trainings for staff and students.

The teachings of the Jesuits tell Campera she is on the right track.

“When I think about the Jesuit ideas of discernment and calling, I feel like the student affairs work is what I am meant to do,” she says. “This is what gets me out of bed in the morning, knowing I am doing my life’s work.”

Professional Achievement Award
Dan Wall, ’04, ’08 LEMBA (Albers School of Business and Economics)

The first time Dan Wall, ’04, ’08, LEMBA, interviewed for a messenger job at Expeditors, a Seattle-based global logistics and freight company, he says “I did a terrible job because I didn’t know how to interview.” He didn’t get the job. Four weeks later, when the position opened again, he changed his approach and was hired. Just 18 at the time, Wall intended the job to be a placeholder until he was 23—old enough to become a commercial truck driver like his dad.

When this day came, however, Wall had forged a different path. By then, he was Expeditors’ Global Director of Account Management. What’s more, Expeditors “took a chance on me and encouraged me to go to school,” he says. Backed with only a high school degree, he was the company’s first employee to attend the Albers School of Business and Economics Executive Leadership Program. While he was in the program, Expeditors promoted him to Vice President of Cargo Management Services. He later attended Albers’ Leadership Executive MBA (LEMBA) program and was promoted to Senior Vice President of Ocean Services. Today, Wall is President of Global Products at Expeditors.

Even as his career ascended, Wall never forgot his roots and those who helped him along the way. For his Albers capstone project, Wall created Opportunity Knocks, an Expeditors program offering paid internships for youth to increase confidence, skills and job readiness.

“I love seeing people taking on new jobs and new roles and putting themselves in a position of success so they can take care of their family,” Wall says.

In envisioning the program, Wall recalled a mentor who took him shopping for his first suit and helped him understand the business environment. In 10 years, Opportunity Knocks has provided more than 400 paid part-time internships to underrepresented youth; and 65 students have received full-time jobs. Expeditors now runs Opportunity Knocks at 31 of its branches in six countries and has an arm for U.S. veterans.

Says one of the program’s success stories, Arkisha Brownell, now employed at Expeditors: “After being in the program for a while, my self-esteem built and I learned a lot about myself. It pushes me to want to be better and do better for myself. Dan helps people understand what they are capable of and helps them reach their potential.”

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