Graduates share unique stories, overcome obstacles

Whether overcoming tremendous obstacles or achieving academic excellence, these outstanding Colorado State University fall 2014 graduates have accomplished major personal goals and are prepared to begin meaningful careers as future leaders in their communities.

Occupational therapy student passionate about disabilities

Molly Gleason pictureMolly Gleason arrived at CSU in 2012 to earn her master’s degree in occupational therapy. Gleason was inspired to leave a comfortable job in the insurance industry to pursue her passion for helping families living with disabilities, which grew out of her experiences as a single mother raising a son with special needs and being the primary caregiver to her mother, who had low vision and congestive heart failure. Unfortunately, her mother passed away before she could see her graduate, but Gleason says that she knows her mom is proud of her. Gleason’s experiences as a caregiver to people with special needs have provided her with a unique perspective as a future health care provider.

“My son is my biggest inspiration, he works so hard and has taught me so much,” said Gleason. “During his journey with special needs, he’s taught me so much about things I never would have experienced, he has made amazing strides in his life, he’s a great kid and I’m very proud of him.”

During her studies at CSU she worked as the study coordinator for the Children’s Participation and Environment Research Lab at CSU. She led a study that partnered with parents of children with disabilities to create care plans that concentrate on increasing children’s participation in daily activities. Gleason was chosen to present on the findings of this study at the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Annual Conference & Expo in 2015. Gleason’s future plans are to stay in Fort Collins and work as an occupational therapist who honors the values and goals of her clients.

“I am so proud of Molly Gleason,” said Lisa Fyffe, assistant professor in Colorado State University’s Department of Occupational Therapy. “She is a student that not only mastered the knowledge and intrapersonal skills of an occupational therapy student; she also mastered the heart of the profession. I know that Molly will continue to represent the Department of Occupational Therapy and Colorado State University well as she enters the field and pursues her career.”

A football player and biomedical sciences major

conner roggy pictureConner Roggy isn’t afraid to take on a challenge. He’s a family man from Greeley who graduated from Greeley West High School, where his father was his football coach and his older brother was his pole-vaulting coach. Roggy played football for CSU for four years and is believed to be the first CSU football player to major in biomedical sciences.

Roggy says he gets his dedication and drive from his older brother, who passed away in 2012. The tragedy gave him the desire to study biomedical sciences with a goal of someday working in neurology or ophthalmology.

“My brother has given me all the toughness and perseverance I need to overcome any obstacle I come across,” said Roggy.

Four years of playing football and majoring in biomedical sciences was a challenge for Roggy’s schedule. He didn’t play this season and was able to spend more time preparing himself for grad school.

“I appreciate everyone in the CSU football program, they really supported me after my brother’s death, especially coaches and players,” said Roggy.

He enrolled in the biomedical sciences one-year master’s program to boost his chances of acceptance into medical school. Roggy has already applied to the biomedical sciences grad program at CSU and plans to take his MCAT in April.

Roggy also attributes his success at CSU to his classmates.

“I felt really privileged to be around the students at CSU, I wouldn’t have done as well as I did in school without them,” he said.

First-generation student graduates after 22 years

FranFran Wilson, born in 1959, is a first-generation college student. Being fond of words and fascinated by cultures and how humans communicate, she has been slowly working toward her Spanish degree since 1992.

Wilson dropped out of high school to help support her lower-middle class family and worked scads of low-paying jobs until she had the opportunity to start college in her late 20s. She didn’t want a large student loan, so in 1994, during her junior year, she got a full-time job at the CSU Bookstore with the idea of gradually finishing the rest of her degree by 2004.

In April 1996, she was hit by a car. Because of the accident, Wilson lost her left leg below the knee. After several surgeries and unsuccessful attempts to use a prosthesis, Wilson decided to use a wheelchair. Dealing with severe depression, her coping mechanism involved an alcohol dependence, which she was later able to overcome with the help of therapists, family and friends.

Then her mother, who was in the same car accident,  became terminally ill. Wilson says it was difficult caring for a disabled and elderly parent. After her mother passed away, Wilson returned to class after a 10-year hiatus. While keeping a full-time job at the CSU Bookstore, where she has now worked for 22 years, she has been using her employee study privilege to take one class per semester since 2007.

According to Wilson, a university education offers more than a better paycheck. It offers intellectual socialization, learning how to consider different viewpoints, and most of all, learning how to learn. Wilson’s message to anyone struggling with getting an education is to keep one’s eyes on graduating, because what one gains from a university education is timeless and irreplaceable. She says her family, supervisors and all of the people at the CSU Bookstore have been a part of her education team and have been very supportive.

After graduation, Wilson plans on continuing to work at the CSU Bookstore, applying to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in adult education, translating a book into Spanish and helping give her student employees as much professional experience as she can.

Engineering student ‘a natural’

Engineering Grad Thierry_DossouThierry Dossou can pinpoint the moment he decided to become an engineer.

He was 11 years old and had just confessed to dismantling the family’s radio/CD player to get a better look at the laser light and other parts and then reassembling it without anyone knowing. His father told him he was a natural at engineering and then explained what an engineer is and does.

“He’s the one who introduced me to the idea of becoming an engineer,” said Dossou, who grew up in the West African country of Benin. “I’ve known since that day that is what I wanted to do. I love taking things apart and understanding how they work.”

More than a decade after his confession, Dossou is close to fulfilling his dream. The Colorado State University student graduates this month with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering.

“It’s very exciting for me,” he said.

It hasn’t been easy for Dossou. He left home – and his parents – and moved to Denver in 2007 after winning a lottery that enabled him to attend college in the United States and also become an American citizen.

Once in the U.S., he spent several semesters taking pre-requisite courses at a community college, establishing his Colorado residency and improving his English before applying – and being accepted – into the engineering program at CSU.

Just before Dossou moved to Fort Collins, his father, the person who guided him toward engineering, died.

Still, Dossou knows he’s made the right choices – with engineering and CSU.  He’s gained valuable experience and a quality education.  Dossou helped revive CSU’s local chapter of the Society for Black Engineers and completed an internship at Hewlett Packard that led to a job offer.

“CSU has been very good to me,” he said. “This is what I was meant to do.”

Management student balances school, a full time job, and an internship

hirkoMaggie Hirko, 38, was motivated to pursue a degree in Business Administration after her first year as a coordinator for the Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management department. She started her degree five years ago with the goal of becoming more efficient at her job, which she kept full-time through her studies, ultimately wanting to pursue a career in human resources management.

Managing her time and commitments is a challenge she has taken on and overcome while earning her degree, in addition to experiencing loss and illness in her family. Hirko says taking the time to sit and talk through her struggles with someone else and realizing her obstacles are never too great to deal with has been vital to her perseverance.

Hirko also makes lists for everything and uses Microsoft Outlook calendars religiously. She also emphasizes the importance of seeking out social time with family, friends and coworkers. Hirko currently has a 4.0 GPA and is the president of the student chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.

On top of school, she works not only as a Coordinator in the BSPM department, but also as a Human Resources intern at Wolf Robotics. Upon graduation, she is determined to secure full-time employment with Wolf Robotics. In her free time, she is looking forward to reading for pleasure and learning to play the piano again. She also wanted to become the Northern Colorado Human Resources Association College Relations Chair in order to stay connected with the CSU SHRM chapter.

Hirko’s success has been steadily upheld by her ability to balance all her responsibilities and commitments – a skill she has mastered and will continue to use in her bright future.

Chemistry student finds his ‘element’ in research

Erik_NMR_RoomErik Sletten has been academically outstanding in his courses throughout his chemistry degree, and has become American Chemical Society (A.C.S.) certified after taking a few additional higher level courses.

During his time at CSU, Sletten has been a part of two research teams. He worked in Robert Williams’s organic chemistry research group, assisting a postdoctoral researcher in synthesizing various compounds from natural products. For the last year, he has worked in Joseph DiVerdi’s nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) laboratory researching various pretreatment methods on sorghum biomass studied by NMR spectroscopy. Sletten says this has been an incredible experience with a mentor who has given him much more than he can give back in return.

Sletten weathered the sudden passing of his research mentor, Gary Maciel, last spring, shortly after starting his research work with him and DiVerdi. Maciel was on his way to meet Dr. Diverdi and Erik when he died.

Sletten spends a lot of time in the lab every day – not because he is required to – but rather because of his interest and passion to learn more than he knew the day before. He was nominated as the undergraduate student for Maciel’s Dreyfus Senior Scientist Mentor program. The award is based on the chemistry faculty’s evaluation of a student’s undergraduate research activities and it recognizes demonstrated ability, hard work and dedication to excellence. He is very proud of this achievement.

Upon graduation, Sletten hopes to find a job in the chemical industry. He says his interests in science are essentially boundless and he could see himself doing a lot of different things for a living. He would prefer a position in a research and development environment that would foster his curiosity and further develop him as a scientist. He also is not at all opposed to pursuing even higher education in the future.

Wildlife Biology and Statistics graduate to pursue doctorate

ShaferToryn Schafer, 22 and a student in the CSU Honors Program, earned degrees in wildlife biology and statistics. She worked with Stewart Breck, a federal researcher and faculty affiliate in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, for her honors research project and won a national award for the best undergraduate research paper presented at the annual Wildlife Society meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Schafer’s biggest struggle during her time at CSU was figuring out who she is and how that translates into her future goals. Shafer loves learning, and while at CSU she has taken every opportunity inside and outside the classroom to enrich her learning experience. Shafer says she is grateful for the variety of courses, the quality of professors and the array of seminars, lectures and symposiums CSU offers.

Schafer also took advantage of CSU’s international education programs and studied abroad in New Zealand. But, she says, her experience and involvement in the student chapter of the Wildlife Society – where she’s held several positions that allowed her to travel all over the country – has been the most fun.

Schafer plans to attend graduate school, continuing her research in statistical ecology.

Grad dives into the academic side of agriculture

natalie yoderNatalie Yoder is a “people person” who doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. She received her undergraduate degree in geography from the University of Texas. Yoder always loved growing things. After graduating from UT, she worked on farms, started her own business, and spent a year in AmeriCorps running a university farm in California. She never had the intention of going back to school.

Yoder wanted to teach agriculture, but said she realized she didn’t know enough about the science behind it, and in 2012, Yoder enrolled at CSU to earn a master’s degree in horticulture. Soon after starting school, her advisor left to start a peach farm, giving her the opportunity to play a bigger role in the specialty crops program.

“As a master’s student, I got great opportunities to work with students through teaching and advising and to develop curriculum for organic specialty crops classes,” she said.

Yoder’s occupied her time at CSU teaching and working with local farmers to develop organic fertilizers. She also represented CSU at the Young Farmer Coalition and at Northern Colorado Food Cluster meetings. Yoder said one of the biggest challenges was feeling like she was very experienced in agriculture in the non-university setting and realizing she was at the bottom of the totem pole when it came to agriculture in academia.

After graduation, Yoder hopes to stay in Larimer County and continue working in agriculture. Her dream job would be to continue educating, researching and working directly with farmers.

“I’m inspired by people, people who are kind and enthusiastic and really care for the people around them and who are pursuing their passion,” she said. “People like my advisor, Jessica Davis, or my co-graduate students who believe we can really make positive changes in agriculture.  I’m also thrilled to meet students who show that same enthusiasm and love for sustainable agriculture.  This semester I taught a soil fertility lab full of wonderful students who all really cared about the subject and that was endlessly inspiring!”

Stories written by Bet Llavador, Kelsey Bustos and Kortny Rolston.

CSU University Communications Staff