Profiles in courage
Members of the class of 2022 describe difficulties that molded them
story by Jeff Dodge and Mark Gokavi
published March 9, 2022
Courage. It’s been on the minds of many this spring as the CSU community has reflected on lessons learned during the pandemic and marveled at what the May 2022 graduating class endured to get to the finish line.
It’s a major theme of the Courageous Strategic Transformation plan launched in March, and it’s been a theme that has run through many of the stories of students nominated to be featured in SOURCE as outstanding graduates from CSU’s eight colleges.
Below are some of those stories of courage, from students who overcame significant obstacles to reach commencement weekend and earn their degrees from CSU.
Yoselin Estacuy has shown courage several times in her young life: being a grade-school immigrant and not speaking English; leaving home for college; and surviving the fateful day of May 23, 2020.
Stuck inside a crumpled pick-up, Estacuy was trapped with her two younger brothers after a an-out-of-control vehicle pinned her mother against the truck in their Denver driveway two years ago. Her mother, Maria Ixcot, suffered two broken femur bones and lost a massive amount of blood. Both her mother’s legs and life were in jeopardy.
“My mom was just so tired of being inside so we decided to go to this park that is around the neighborhood. My siblings and I got into her truck. And her truck was parked in the driveway of our garage,” Estacuy recalled. “We were inside the truck and she went back inside to the garage to grab something and as she was walking back, a car was completely out of control and … got off the road, went over the sidewalk, into our driveway and pinned her against our truck.”
Estacuy had the courage to crawl through the window of the pickup, help brothers Eddie Jr. and Jerhemy, then 10 and 8, out of the vehicle, try to calm her still-conscious mother and talk to the police.
“They said that (the driver) completely lost control of the vehicle, and they were arrested that day. It was a whole crime scene,” Estacuy said. “We couldn’t step into our garage the whole day. The cops, the investigators were there all day.
“I had to translate (English to Spanish) for my mother. I was a witness. I had to call the doctors and take care of my brothers. It was just an unbelievable mess.”
Estacuy courageously cared for her family without being able to hug her mother due to COVID-19 protocols, even after her mother underwent 10 surgeries. She skipped the next semester of school at Colorado State University to provide what her family needed.
Finishing her Human Development and Family Studies degree at CSU, let alone being named a Spring 2022 Outstanding Graduate of the College of Health and Human Sciences, seemed far away. But not impossible. Eustacuy, who has a minor in business administration, returned to CSU in spring 2021.
Her mother, who can fully walk now after months of physical therapy, and her father will attend her May 15 commencement ceremony.
Kori Eliaz, who is graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, demonstrated courage in sacrificing for a loved one.
She started attending community college to study engineering, in hopes of becoming an astronaut one day. Eliaz even participated in a robotics competition at a NASA center. But then her ex-partner’s father suffered a stroke, and he had no health insurance or anyone to take care of him. She chose homelessness to be there for him.
“I made a big trade, the biggest decision of my life so far,” she recalled in a speech to graduates of the Fostering Success Program. “I dropped everything and ran. I was living out of my car or couch surfing, subsisting on protein bars, driving 150 miles a day round trip to give care to him.”
Eliaz learned the entire probate law process and Medicare process to establish his health care and get him into the only skilled nursing facility in the area that would accept him.
“I remember every day waking up and not knowing what the next step would be, not knowing where the next meal would come from, or how I’d ever be able to pursue a college education and become comfortably self-sufficient,” she said. “Most days the dreams were better than the reality. But through it all I had the sobering realization that my life is sharp and ragged and aggressively shaping me into a more refined version of myself, like a diamond. I realized, if I can get through this, I can get through anything. I’m going to help this person as much as I humanly can, and then I’m going to help myself.”
When Eliaz wasn’t helping with financial paperwork or providing therapy, she was leading a team of 10 undergraduate students in researching and writing a technical proposal for a mission to Mars. It was lauded by NASA leadership for its novel use of ground penetrating radar to characterize Martian water resources. That led to an internship opportunity at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, which led her to CSU, as she was researching highly rated engineering programs in the state.
Eliaz, who was awarded the nationally competitive Astronaut Scholarship last spring, has been working at Lockheed Martin Space for the last three years, designing deep space exploratory spacecraft, and she was offered a full-time job there an entire year before graduation. She has been involved in undergraduate research throughout her academic career, working with CSU engineering faculty to submit research proposals to investigate the effects of harmful lunar dust particles in preparation for the Artemis mission to the moon. In 2019, she led an undergraduate effort in the development of a lunar dust mitigation device concept to protect lunar astronauts that resulted in a $10,000 NASA research grant.
Eliaz has been working on the Dragonfly mission at Lockheed Martin Space for the duration of her senior year, using skills obtained through her undergraduate research under Dr. James Cale to help design a rigorous system model for the spacecraft. Her dream is to continue to pursue new information on potential habitats for humanity in our universe and to inspire as many others as possible to know that no matter their background, their past failures, or the challenges they face – the sky is not the limit.
While many would say that Shiloh Dailey’s many contributions to the LGBTQIA+ community at CSU have been courageous, Dailey describes them as “necessary.”
“As a queer student, I recognize that I hold privileges that other members of my community do not,” said Dailey, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work. “I am a white, middle-class individual that enjoys social support within the School of Social Work and in my personal life. I can safely be ‘out’ without fear that my family will disown me or that I will face academic or professional retaliation interrupting my financial support.”
Danielle Willis, an instructor in the School of Social Work, described Dailey as “a huge advocate and change agent” who helped the school adopt its Pronoun and Accountability Statement and advocated for mental health awareness, among other contributions.
Dailey said the advocacy work was about empowering a community that deserves more.
“I wanted to see people like me in leadership positions creating change – fostering equity for LGBTQIA+ students who have been systemically erased, silenced and ignored,” Dailey said. “I also wanted students like me to see that we belong in leadership positions, guiding change and being heard. Finally, as the parent of two queer identified children, I wanted them to see that we can build coalitions that dismantle oppression.”
Dailey and two fellow BSW students, Sarah Fizer and Alison Lanning, founded a queer peer support group because supportive programming was needed to help address the overlooked epidemic of suicide in the LGBTQIA+ community. They highlighted findings from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which found that 40% of respondents had attempted suicide at some point in their life, compared to 4.6% in the U.S. population.
Dailey also worked with fellow members of the School of Social Work Committee for Social Justice to establish the Trans-Cis Alliance.
“This was not an act of courage; it was an act of necessity,” Dailey said. “Transgender students and staff deserve to feel affirmed, safe, and accepted in their places of work and learning.”
Dailey also organized the Trans Day of Action in collaboration with the Committee for Social Justice and the Pride Leadership Council, to create opportunities to contact government officials nationally to denounce transphobia and demand protective action for vulnerable Americans.
“I felt the fear and hurt in my community as state after state proposed, enacted, or upheld anti-trans legislation in record numbers,” they said. “Within the first three months of 2022, over 150 anti-trans bills had been filed, more than the total number of anti-trans legislation proposed in the entire year prior. This legislation correlates to increasing suicide rates for trans youth and record-breaking violent murders of transgender people in the United States and internationally.”
“If my work is courageous, it is because the resilience of my community has given me strength and confidence,” Dailey concluded. “I am indescribably proud of the progress I have been a part of and grateful for the people I have worked alongside. If my accomplishments have helped instill hope in my community, I am thankful to have had the opportunity to walk with them toward a brighter future at CSU.”
Dailey is not done advocating for equality; they plan to continue serving on the Committee for Social Justice while completing dual MPH/MSW degrees beginning in the fall of 2022.
Just after she applied to CSU, Kaydee Barker’s father-in-law began battling a rare autoimmune disease, EGPA vasculitis.
“My in-laws, who I have had the uncommon privilege to know and love since I was 15 years old, are truly my other parents,” she said. “Watching my father-in-law suffer was gut-wrenching in the way that I think few people know that haven’t had a loved one suffer like that. It feels so helpless.”
The ordeal just got worse.
“It felt like the roof came crashing down on us again and again as my father-in-law’s legs, and then lungs, and then digestive system, and then heart, and then extremities, and then digestive system again, were impacted, and we got call after call about the possibility of him dying,” Barker recalls. “Every day was an act of courage to not give in to despair but to just put one foot in front of the other to do what I could.”
She helped out in as many ways as possible.
“I paid my in-laws’ bills, took care of their house, kept track of medical records, called the insurance, spoke to advocates and lawyers to help with medical bills, arranged for a place for my family to stay when he had to move to a research hospital, read to him to keep him distracted in his hospital bed,” Barker said. “It was all just doing what I could, which felt like way too little.”
Ultimately, just before she started at CSU, her father-in-law stabilized, and she was able to pursue her dream of earning a degree in ecosystem science and sustainability.
“And somehow, with the support of both my old community and my new one here in Fort Collins, I made it through.”
For Annie Chambless, courage is a willingness to confront uncertainty.
“So much of college, and life, for that matter, is uncertain,” she said. “No one knows what is in store for them, and it can be scary to face the unknown.”
Lorie Humphrey, an academic support career counselor in the College of Business, said Chambless has displayed “determination and grit during her time at CSU. Her positive attitude, thoughtful reflection and deep listening make her an excellent leader, team member and student.”
Chambless has volunteered for a different organization in Fort Collins during each of her years at CSU. She is the president of the Society for Human Resources, a mock interview specialist, a College of Business Ambassador, a mentor leader for the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program and a human resources intern for a local software company.
“I didn’t know what to expect in any of these roles, and truthfully, they were all out of my comfort zone to some degree,” Chambless said. “I’ve demonstrated courage through leadership, public speaking, and by being my authentic self. My involvement and experiences in college have allowed me to learn more about myself and embrace who I am with confidence. I’ve learned that having self-confidence and a positive attitude can make a huge difference in my interactions with others and my perspective.”
A few months ago, she received a job offer from a large company that she had interned with over the summer. While the offer was good, she knew she was capable of something more challenging, and she turned it down.
“That took courage, but it was the best decision for me and I’m proud of myself for knowing my worth and capabilities,” Chambless said. “Having a positive attitude, getting involved, and embracing the uncertainty of life are all courageous things, and they all have enhanced my college experience.”