Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, testing and test results have been a cornerstone to how communities understand and assess the threats posed by the virus.

If you’ve been tested for COVID-19 at Washington State University, it’s likely your test found its way to the temporary on-campus testing lab on the ground floor of the Washington Building, adjacent to Cougar Health Services.

The lab is run by Incyte, a Spokane-based pathology diagnostics company working in partnership with the university. One of Incyte’s key resources is a 22-year-old WSU grad who works 50 hours per week in the trenches to help keep the tests moving and the community up-to-date on the results.

His name is Julian Naranjo.

In just three months of employment with the company, Naranjo has stepped up to the plate at the WSU lab and assumed a diverse host of responsibilities. His duties as the lab’s client services liaison include phlebotomy, ensuring analysis operations run smoothly and perhaps most importantly, helping people understand test results.

When the Washington National Guard arrived in Pullman in early September to help with testing, it was Naranjo who assisted with training Guard personnel on registration requirements for student and faculty testing.

“From an executive’s perspective, Julian is our eyes and ears on the ground,” said Nate Koenig, Incyte’s chief marketing officer. “When he was hired, it was because of his ability to take complex systems and simplify them for individuals who may not have a background in the medical industry.”

Naranjo graduated from WSU in May with a bachelor’s degree in medical sciences. He said the childhood years he spent in his hometown of Sunnyside, Wash., were instrumental in paving the way for his success in the competitive medical field.

He said he was raised by two parents with very different personalities and jobs — his mother is an extroverted human resources professional in the medical field, and his father is an introverted engineer.

“Growing up, I spent a lot of time thinking about things with my mom and working on things with my dad,” Naranjo said. “My mom is really good at the emotional standpoint of when things get difficult, so I think that’s where a lot of my people skills come from. But all of my analytical skills come from my dad — thinking about systems, how they work and how I can ultimately make them better.”

Naranjo originally came to WSU to pursue a degree in chemical engineering, but he didn’t end up loving his studies and decided to switch his major. Looking for a place he could balance his love for helping others with his passion for engineering, he landed on medical sciences. He hasn’t looked back since.

During his time as an undergraduate student, Naranjo was a very active member of the campus community where he learned valuable leadership skills. He was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, served as vice president of the WSU Interfraternity Council and volunteered in the university’s Team Mentor Program to help underrepresented minority students.

Understanding the challenges other students faced in his work as a mentor helped Naranjo look beyond the surface and support people through hardships that aren’t easy to talk about.

“In Julian’s role as a mentor, he was outstanding. He is very empathetic, dedicated and has a welcoming personality,” J. Manuel Acevedo, director of Mentoring Programs and Assessment for the Office of Multicultural Student Services, said. “He is an excellent team player, and I do know that his fellow mentors really appreciated his contributions to the program.”

Naranjo said he hopes to attend medical school one day to become an orthopedic surgeon. He said the opportunities he’s been blessed with inspire him to give back to the world.

“When I really dial back what I’d like out of a job — out of a career — what it amounts to is that I want to help people,” he said. “I have a huge heart.”

Ellen Dennis can be reached at (208) 883-4632 or by email at

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