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The CougsFirst! Podcast

Recent Episodes

EP. 54 – WSU's Engineering and Technology Management (ETM) Program

In this episode, Kelsey is joined by Kay Bachman and Nicholas Brunney to discuss the unique and impactful Engineering and Technology Management (ETM) program offered by WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. They highlight the program’s flexibility, holistic approach to education, and its ability to prepare students for leadership roles by combining engineering, leadership, and project management principles.

EP. 53 – Exploring Cougar Legacy and Business

In this engaging podcast episode, we welcome Ron and Bryant Claudon to discuss their rich WSU football history, fraternity ties, and family business ventures. They delve into why they chose WSU, their experiences with Cougar tailgating, and the vibrant RV culture associated with game days. The Claudon family also shares insights into their long-standing Valley GMC and Valley RV Supercenter businesses, emphasizing the importance of community and Cougar support.

EP. 52 – The Journey of Two WSU Medical Students

This episode highlights the experiences of Pierce Claassen & Kyanna Cusick, two medical students. Kelsey interviews them about their backgrounds, personal journeys to studying medicine at WSU, and what's next for them after graduation. They discuss the college's mission to serve rural communities, the matching process for residencies, and their respective placements at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. 

EP. 51 – Inside WSU Baseball with Head Coach Nathan Choate

In this episode, we discuss baseball, life in Pullman, and parenting with Washington State University's new baseball coach, Nathan Choate. Coach Choate shares his journey from Loyola Marymount University to WSU, the challenges and rewards of raising four children in Pullman, and the importance of community and culture at WSU. He updates on the baseball season, discusses his coaching philosophy, and provides insights into the mental aspects of the sport.

EP. 50 – From Greek Roots to Global Impact

Join us for an insightful interview with Jen Gangwish, CEO of College Hill. From its roots in Greek apparel to expanding into the corporate sector, Jen shares the company's journey and her leadership insights. Learn about navigating challenges, including COVID-19, and the strategic decisions that shaped College Hill's growth. Tune in for valuable lessons on teamwork, leadership, and fostering a positive company culture.

EP. 49 – Growth Mindset to Leadership Mastery with Mahmood Ghassemi

This podcast episode features Mahmood Ghassemi, a distinguished Washington State University (WSU) alum, electrical engineer, and CEO of Sequoyah Electric, discussing his journey from Iran to becoming a key figure in the engineering and construction industry. Mahmood shares insights into his deep appreciation for WSU, the importance of building connections, and his transition from technical roles to leadership positions within the industry.

EP. 48 – From the Cockpit to the Boardroom with Howard Wright

This podcast episode features an engaging conversation with Howard Wright, a former commercial pilot who transitioned to become a successful business leader as the founder and chairman of Seattle Hospitality Group. Wright shares his unique career trajectory, from obtaining his pilot's license for fun to overseeing thousands of employees across various tourism and hospitality businesses.

EP. 47 – Family Recipe Turned Business with Unkle Drew'z Sauces

This episode of the CougsFirst! Podcast features a fascinating conversation with Drew and Brighton, a father-son duo who turned their unique ginger sauce into a thriving business. Starting from a family recipe developed 30 years ago by Drew, the sauce gained popularity among friends and family. Brighton, during his junior year at Washington State University (WSU), introduced the sauce as a business plan for a competition. Winning the competition provided the initial funding needed to officially launch their business, Unkle Drew’z Sauces.

EP. 46 - Leadership, Sales, & Power of People with Bill Gruber

This episode features a conversation with Bill Gruber, a retired executive with extensive experience in the medical device industry. Bill shares his career journey, starting from his college days at WSU, through different management and leadership roles, including sales representative, fraternity president, VP, CEO, and ultimately becoming the author of 'The Leadership Blueprint.' He discusses the importance of sales skills, decision-making, problem-solving, leadership, and building a values-driven recruiting program.

EP. 45 – Exploring Business, Community, and Entrepreneurship with Lance Lijewski

In this episode of the CougsFirst! Podcast, Lance Lijewski, a digital marketer with hands-on experience in different business domains, discusses his path to entrepreneurship, starting from his days as a first-generation college student to his current role managing numerous businesses. He shares his emphasis on developing and fostering community-focused businesses and strategies to efficiently manage time and work tasks, emphasizing the importance of networking in business growth.

EP. 44 – Sports, Studies, and Entrepreneurial Spirit with Dean Janikowski

In this episode, the podcast welcomes Dean Janikowski, a dedicated WSU football player. Dean not only discusses his passion for football but also shares his experiences as a creator, fundraiser, student, and business enthusiast. Dean is actively involved in fundraising for the Heather Janikowski Foundation, which started in honor of his late mother and contributes to cancer patients in local communities. Lastly, he emphasizes the closeness and support found within the WSU community, advocating it as a significant reason for potential students to choose WSU.

EP. 43 – How Networking Changed My Life with Edwin Gianini

Edwin Gianini shares his journey from being a student at WSU to his current role as the Executive Director of the Lauren McCluskey Foundation. He reflects on the significance of campus safety and the foundation's initiative to develop a Campus Safety Score, emphasizing the need for universities to provide comprehensive information for prospective students and their families. The discussion wraps up with insights into the unique Cougar community, the value of Cougs First, and the power of relationships in career development.

EP. 42 – A Farmer & Influencer's Cosmic Crisp Adventure with Kait Thornton

Kait Thornton, an influencer and farmer, shares her journey into the apple industry, specifically focusing on the introduction of the Cosmic Crisp apple variety. Kait also shares more about her personal journey, from her background in marketing to her decision to pursue a business approach in agriculture. Additionally, Kelsey and Kait discuss her social media journey, starting at the age of 17 and growing her following on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

EP. 41 – Supporting Education Inside and Outside of the Classroom with Dean Todd Butler

Dean Todd Butler oversees the College of Arts and Sciences – a massive program within WSU. He has such an amazing story and history that led him to this point, and also some really cool things in the works for WSU students moving forward. During our conversation with him, we talked about why crossing boundaries is a part of the Cougar culture, what his response to the mental health crisis is, how he’s adjusted his leadership to meet his faculty needs, how he uses both data and purpose to create strategies geared toward WSU students, the challenges of managing multiple campuses and so much more!

EP. 40 – Finding Balance in the Changing Landscape of the College Football Culture with Jason Gesser

Jason Gesser is on the show to talk shop on the changing landscape of college football, including what it means moving forward for coaches and players, how to find the balance between playing the game and making money, the difficulty of finding players who want to win the game,  how we can channel the football days of old, and the importance of leaning on the pride of WSU.

EP. 39 – Why Long-Term Athletic Development Matters with Alex Brink

Alex Brink is an ‘07 WSU Honors College alumni turned co-founder of EForce Sports, a multi-disciplinary organization focused on increasing the growth and participation in sports, through athlete skill/performance development at all levels. Alex is also the radio analyst for the WSU Football Radio Broadcast and a co-host of Talkin Cougars on Root Sports NW. We talk about the different paths of sports management, his post-college career, why he’s passionate about youth athletic development, his experience in sports broadcasting, and so much more!

EP. 38 – Building The Culture of Giving Back with Matt Miera

Matt Miera owns a 73-year-old tavern in Seattle – you might already know it – called Marco Polo Bar & Grill, and he’s on the CougsFirst! Podcast to talk shop about what he’s learned from building the greatest Coug bar west of the mountains, how getting involved in Cougar alumni groups has catapulted his success, what it means to give back (and why it’s vital), and the importance of staying engaged and involved in your alma mater.

EP. 37 – Leading The Way For More Transparency at Pullman Regional Hospital with Matt Forge

In this episode, CEO of Pullman Regional Hospital Matt Forge shares what's unique about Pullman Regional, the unique services it offers, how the hospital program is expanding, why we need more transparency in the costs of healthcare, and what the rapid growth means for the future of the hospital.

EP. 36 – How Individual Giving & Donations Can Make a Positive Impact with Mike Connell

In this episode, Mike Connell with the WSU Foundation discusses all things giving, including the different ways that you can support and give back to your university, how they're keeping up with new technology while maintaining donation levels, and even how the athletic conference changes will affect fundraising.

EP. 35 – Value of Analytical Feedback in WSU Men's Basketball with Coach Kyle Smith

In this episode, Coach Smith talks all about the team culture, finding the value in players (and plays), taking responsibility, and the nitty-gritty of what we should expect from the upcoming season. He’s also giving us an inside look at his unique analytics-based feedback system and how that’s helped the men’s basketball team improve their performance day over day and year over year.

EP. 34 – Grittiness, Passion, and Competitiveness with Coach Jen Greeny

This episode, we interview the incredible Jen Greeny, a previous collegiate athlete who's now going on 12+ years as the WSU Volleyball Head Coach. In our conversation, Jen shares her unique experience as a student athlete in the 90s, her perspective on being a player versus being a coach, why she takes such a holistic approach to a student's journey through WSU, and the importance of grit, passion, and competitiveness!

EP. 33 – Life After a College Athletic Career with Katie Grad Hyppa

Have you ever wondered what it’s like being a student-athlete at a Division 1 university? Can they find the balance between being a student and an athlete? And do college athletes stay involved with their sport after graduation, or do they move on? 

In this episode, Katie gives us a behind-the-scenes look at what being a student-athlete was like, why she’s inspired to give back to kids through the love of basketball, her career trajectory after WSU, and how she’s living out her dream life scenario! 

EP. 32 – Building a Team Culture Through Communication & Connection

Jake started his college coaching career in 2008. He’s since made a name for himself as a mindful and focused leader who truly cares about his players, whether they’re winning games in Martin Stadium or navigating campus life. There’s a reason Coach Dickert is in the seat he’s in today. And we’re talking about how he’s building a team culture through communication, connection, and discipline. We’re (of course) chatting all things football – but we’re also diving into leadership and creating a team dynamic filled with trust and respect.

EP. 31 – Leaving a Legacy Through Music

DJ Goldfinger has been DJing for over 25 years, from Vancouver to Portland and, of course, Pullman itself. He’s the myth, the legend, and Pullman’s favorite DJ. We’re talking about everything from the bonds and connections WSU creates and the lost art of living in the moment to making those dream-making moves and leaving behind a legacy through music. 

EP. 30 – How A Family-Owned Business Found Success Through Diversification

Taylor is giving us the inside scoop on what it’s like being a part of a family-run business, why diversifying your offers and business is key to weathering the shifting landscape, how she navigates the different brands of her family business, their passion for WSU, and the benefits of partnerships. 

EP. 29 – Why Everything You Do Is Relevant Experience

Jerry is sharing about his journey through university, including how he barely got into WSU, why he switched majors before finding the best fit, the importance of getting involved in extracurricular activities at university, why every experience you have is relevant for your career, and how he ended up back in his home town as the Executive Director for the Downtown Pasco Development Authority.

EP. 28 – How to Succeed in the Hospitality Industry

Did you know hospitality is a massive part of WSU and the WSU culture? We have one of the top hospitality programs in the nation and are in the top 10 in the world!

In this episode, we’re shining some much-deserved light on the service industry and talking all things hospitality with a leading expert passionate about helping business owners chase their dreams and share them with the world.

EP. 27 – Defying the Odds & Finding Success in Taking Risks

Greg shares his unique journey through his college (+ grad school) football career and professional career, where the common thread involves him defying the odds at every opportunity.

If you’re ready to hear a crazy story about a Coug’s resilience, why success always comes with risk, and how to build relationships throughout your life, this episode is for you!

EP. 26 – The True Story Behind the Pullman-Moscow Airport Runway Realignment Project

Tony Bean guided PUW through a $154 million runway realignment project to retain air service to Seattle, expand service to Boise, support and increase connectivity, and improve the standard of travel amenities and convenience to the public.

He is giving us all the history of the airport, the updates, what’s happening behind the scenes, and what this means for the area. 

EP. 25 – Leadership, Mentorship, and How to Transition in Your Career

Dave Whitehead, CEO of SEL, is talking to us about what running a big business in a small town is like, why plenty of Cougs work for SEL, how he transitioned from an engineer to a leadership role, the power of mentorship, and his best 3 tips for excelling in business. 

He also shares Cougar, life, and business advice - you don’t want to miss this episode! 

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