Woodland cancer survivor leaves mark at WSU Vancouver

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More than 1,000 newly-minted Washington State University Vancouver Alumni crossed the stage this past weekend, including one lifelong Woodland resident who hopes to apply his passion for engineering to make a difference in the world.

The May 4 commencement hosted at the Sunlight Supply Amphitheater saw 1,045 students receive their degrees. During his speech, WSU Vancouver Chancellor Mel Netzhammer noted that number dwarfed the school’s first graduation of only 38 in 1989. At that point, WSU Vancouver didn’t have its own campus, instead providing classes at Clark College.

Of those 1,045 students, Zeke Estes, 22, of Woodland, is one of the most recognizable faces around campus, having been heavily involved with student life while working his way to an electrical engineering degree. 

The day before graduation Estes said it felt surreal to be at the point where his six years of college was coming to an end — he said the reality wouldn’t set in until it was the time he would ordinarily be getting ready for another semester in the fall.

Estes received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. He grew up in Woodland, attending Woodland Public School before taking part in Clark College’s Running Start program his senior year of high school, graduating in 2014 with one year of college under his belt. He finished up his associate’s degree at Clark before transferring to WSU Vancouver to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

“The biggest takeaway here (for me) at WSU Vancouver has been student involvement,” Estes said, though coming from Clark College wasn’t necessarily what he planned on doing. Halfway through his first year at WSU Vancouver, he volunteered at a few of the on-campus activities which he said began his involvement, eventually leading him to apply for appointment to the WSU Student Media Board which oversees the VanCougar Newspaper, the Salmon Creek Journal and Koug Radio.

Estes was appointed media board chair in spring of 2016 which began a series of different positions involved with the university. 

“Once you kind of dip your foot in you’re fully submerged (in student life) on our campus,” Estes said. Working in the Office of Student Involvement he said he was surrounded by multiple aspects of student life, eventually leading him to decide at the end of his sophomore year to get involved with student government, getting elected to the student senate for his junior year. After serving as senate secretary Estes, along with fellow student Caroline Brenner decided to run for vice president and president respectively.



Though Estes and Brenner lost the election they found issues with the election process, joining other senate members in filing a complaint against the election board on alleged negligence of handling the contest. They prevailed and the election was thrown out, though neither ran for the subsequent contest as both had received internships, which became their primary focus.

Estes landed an internship with the Vancouver office of engineering firm Burns & McDonnell — that ended up leading to a job offer, and now he is an Assistant Electrical Engineer in Networks Integration and Automation.

Early struggle builds passion to help others 

A defining point in Estes’ life was when he was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 10, undergoing 52 weeks of chemotherapy before beating the disease. He said his experience with those he encountered during his treatment led him to seek out some way to help others in his life (though he noted the ordeal kept him from ever wanting to step foot back into another hospital if he could avoid it). 

Through high school, he developed a passion for technology and engineering which led him to pursue his choice of degree. While he was working in the Chancellor’s Office on campus he had a chance meeting with Noel Schulz, wife of WSU President Kirk Schulz, learning about a research program at the Pullman campus that looked at renewable energy options for developing nations. He took part in that research which he said had a “huge impact” on his outlook on how his degree could be applied to be a benefit for society.

Though his current job wouldn’t necessarily play into a similar focus, having that experience in research was something he was planning to focus on now that he wasn’t in school.

Estes doesn’t necessarily plan on leaving the university behind now that he’s crossed the commencement stage.

“I learned that everyone is really just a small cog in this huge machine of WSU, and they’re a big cog in our community,” he said.

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