The University of Washington Tacoma Dressel Scholars Program recognizes and rewards exceptional scholarly achievement, community engagement, and leadership potential for any student enrolled at UW Tacoma. The Dressel Scholars Program was created to honor the legacy of Melanie Jan LaPlant Dressel by creating a robust scholarship and mentorship program that affords our students the opportunities to develop their leadership skills and community connections while giving them the financial freedom to fully participate in their UW Tacoma experience.
Students currently enrolled or applying for enrollment for Autumn Quarter in any UW Tacoma undergraduate program. This includes:
Currently enrolled UW Tacoma students not intending to graduate prior to Spring quarter.
Current high school seniors applying for acceptance for Autumn quarter.
Community college students applying for transfer to UW Tacoma for Autumn quarter acceptance.
There is a strong expectation that the student will have completed the necessary credits and other requirements to be admitted to UW Tacoma for autumn quarter to complete their baccalaureate degree. Should a prospective student accept the scholarship and then not qualify for transfer or enrollment, the award will be withdrawn and may go unfilled that year.
To be eligible, students must be pursuing their first baccalaureate degree, having earned a high school diploma (or equivalent) before enrolling. Those who already have earned a bachelor’s degree, or are pursuing graduate study, are not eligible for the Dressel Scholars Program. The Dressel Scholars application is open to students who are U.S citizens or permanent residents.
A team of mentors is paired with each Dressel Scholar to serve as that student’s personal mentors for their duration in the program. We recruit mentors from across campus and across the community, representing a variety of professions, backgrounds, and perspectives, and we provide mentor training on an on-going basis in order to create a common understanding and to maximize the potential for our students.
Dressel Scholars are expected to participate in campus and community events that will increase their understanding of our community’s diverse ecosystem of business and nonprofits, as well as increase their exposure to business, civic, and community leaders.
About Melanie Dressel
Melanie Dressel (1952-2017) was a dedicated community leader, building Columbia Bank into a regional banking power, and engaging in the greater Tacoma community in a way that will have impact for generations to come. In Melanie’s honor, the Dressel Scholars program is designed to offer UW Tacoma students financial assistance and a robust mentorship network that will help them engage with this community in ways not available or known to them.
A University of Washington alumna, Melanie Dressel joined Columbia Bank’s founding team in 1993. She became CEO of Columbia Bank in 2000 and CEO of parent company Columbia Banking System Inc. in 2003. Under her leadership, the bank grew from one branch to more than 140 branches in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. She was an active community leader with involvement on numerous boards including Puget Sound Energy, Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma, Washington Bankers Association, Washington Roundtable, and the Washington State Historical Society. She received countless awards and recognitions including UW Tacoma's Milgard School of Business Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. She was also named one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking by American Banker Magazine multiple times.
2022-23 Dressel Scholars
Wyatt Bennett has been living in the Puget Sound for the past several years, hailing originally from a small village in North Idaho called Moyie Springs. There Wyatt cut his teeth in community organizing at 14, starting the first Queer Teen org in North Idaho history after being outed and faced with severe harassment. This moment led him to political activism, finding his home working on the Bernie 2016 campaign at 17, where he was instrumental in securing the largest margin of victory for the campaign anywhere in the state. Now living in Washington, Wyatt, a Senior in the Urban Studies Program and ASUWT Urban Studies Senator, is focusing on Sustainability regarding infrastructure, energy, environmentalism, and economics, all to secure equity for the underserved of our society. Wyatt is currently heading to law school following graduation in Spring 2023 and will use his education to secure his community human rights, dignity, and self-determination.
Azja is a junior majoring in Communications and minoring in both Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Law and Policy. They are completing a research tract with a focus on Globalization and Equity Research. At UW Tacoma, Azja has acquired editorial, and social media/marketing skills. Azja intends to work with Metro Parks Engagement and Outreach and aspires to educate community leaders to understand their own implicit bias, punitive policies, and the stigma of being houseless. Azja does not shy away from having difficult discussions about race, equity, identity, and social justice. Azja believes that every person can be an advocate. Azja continues to be committed to upholding their civic duty by voting in every election.
Johnny Heredia III is a first-generation college student working at his bachelor’s degree in computer science. After graduation in 2023, Johnny intends to make a video game company that would be successful enough to provide jobs for the people of Washington state and internship/mentoring opportunities for students seeking higher education. Johnny wants to give back to the community that made him and hopes that he will be able to inspire others to work towards their goals. He also likes to work out, play video games, spend time with family and friends, and explore new topics that interest him in order to continue his growth in learning.
Christian James, or CJ, is a Junior in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences majoring in Biomedical Sciences. In the midst of his student life, CJ also serves as the Vice President for both of UW Tacoma's Black Student Union and Pre-Medical Club. As the son of a retired veteran, CJ finds a way to give back to the veteran and military-connected student community through his work as a VA Work-Study in the Veteran & Military Resource Center. During his free time, Christian edits videos, makes memes, watches TV shows, and volunteers at MultiCare's Allenmore Hospital as a Volunteer Trainer and Volunteer Advisory Committee member. After graduation, and subsequent medical school, Christian aspires to work in a Health Professional Shortage Area as a Family Medicine Physician—serving as both a mentor and primary care provider to those with limited access.
Aaliya is a junior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Urban Design. After falling in love with wood shop in high school, she went on to study Interior Design at Clover Park Technical College. She believes it is imperative for a space to be beautiful and allow maximum function. Post-graduation, Aaliya would like to open her own interior design firm to help people create their own personal sanctuaries. When she is not working or studying, Aaliya loves to travel inside and outside of the United States.
Exita is a senior, majoring in Ethnic, Gender, and Labor Studies with an emphasis on Global Engagement. In her work as a Pack Advisor Exita worked with incoming students and co-founded the UW Tacoma, PISA (Pacific Islander Student Alliance) which aims to foster a more critical and thorough understanding of Pacific Islander-related issues and identity while advocating for their community needs. Exita volunteers at multiple high schools and non-profit organizations. As the current ASUWT, Director of University Affairs, she has proposed new projects ideas such as Affordable Housing and Providing Reproductive Healthcare. Exita’s passion for outreach, fostering growth amongst her peers has inspired her to pursue a master's and PhD in Social Work and Ethnic/Gender Studies. She will continue advocating for the protection and safety of Asian and Pacific Islander women and children. Exita strives to amplify the voice in her community.
Elisia Sanchez is a senior majoring in Social Welfare. She is very passionate about human rights and has spent the last year serving with AmeriCorps at Community Youth Services working with vulnerable youth. She also served at an elementary school and transitioned to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Southwest Washington. She currently works with Safe Streets at Prairie Ridge Community Coalition providing resources to youth. Additionally, she has created a successful donation drive for the houseless community in Olympia and has started many clubs. In the future, she hopes to start her own non-profit and continue to work with the underrepresented community, helping share the voice that many have lost.
Manuela Schneider comes from over three generations of agricultural workers in Germany and Thailand. She is a first-generation college student in her senior year at UW Tacoma, majoring in Social Welfare. In 2013, she moved to Washington State from Germany with her daughter and remained undocumented for over six years before meeting her husband and settling roots in Tacoma. After giving birth to her 2nd daughter in 2018, she went back to school through the Tacoma REACH Center to complete her GED in eight weeks. The following season she enrolled at Pierce College, where she developed new skills as a student-leader and graduated with her Associate Degree in Social Service & Mental Health in 2021. Through this journey, she developed a passion for community advocacy, especially supporting other immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers because she understands the struggles of navigating the U.S. system as an English language learner. In the next five years, Manuela plans to gain experience in the Public/Private Sector, complete her Master's in Business Administration, and hopes to start her own organization that serves her community by advancing social equity and economic development.
Jada Simpson is a junior at the Milgard School of Business and Marketing major. She became involved in the Milgard Success Center and received her Milgard Gold Business Certificate. Jada’s passion for helping people began when she volunteered at the YMCA and raised money to supply a year's membership for two families. Driven by a desire to help more people and reduce student loan debt, Jada started a nonprofit business and is setting up a scholarship foundation. Jada plans to obtain her Master’s in Business Administration and apply the knowledge and skills gained toward her nonprofit and other business ventures. In her spare time, Jada enjoys reading and exploring new languages and cultures.