Shining stars of CSU’s graduating class share experiences

commencement2015By the time the 13 graduation ceremonies on May 15-16 are finished and the thousands of photos have been snapped, more than 4,000 Colorado State University students will have received their diplomas.

Each will have completed a distinctive journey. Some of their paths have been smooth, others filled with bumps. Some students graduated in four years or less. Others took decades to get there.

Whether achieving academic excellence or overcoming tremendous adversity, the spring 2015 graduates profiled below have accomplished major personal goals and are prepared to step into meaningful careers as future leaders in their communities.

They all have something in common: They found their passion, stayed the course and – in many cases – overcame long odds to earn a diploma.

Adamson lands dream job despite obstacles

By Bet Llavador

Kyleah Adamson graduated with honors from high school before taking a gap year to travel the world. Since then, she has overcome many struggles on the road to graduation from CSU this month: first, a severely abusive marriage, which she almost didn’t survive and led to a forced withdrawal from the university as well as a pregnancy.

Kyleah-AdamsonProfessional_Pic_SummitAfter the birth of her child, Adamson eventually re-enrolled as a business major and a single mother, working full-time and attending school part-time. Last January, Adamson decided to return to CSU as a full-time student at a sophomore level.

After more than eight years of schooling, she is finally graduating from the College of Business with her bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in finance-investment analysis. In the midst of her circumstances, she has also managed to lose 85 pounds through hard work in the gym and learning to eat healthy foods.

For Adamson, the key to balancing working, mothering and schooling, as with everything else in life, is moderation. She says to-do lists and priority lists have been essential, and she explains that knowing when good is good enough has saved her sanity. She has time and time again decided to use her real life struggles as opportunities for self-improvement, because she says they are good practice for working on her perfectionism, time management, and self-discipline.

Adamson, who was born in Pennsylvania but raised in Loveland, has always enjoyed school, and finds that she understands the world and business better because of her degree. She looks forward to using the combined knowledge of work and school to co-author a book on efficiency in business in the future. Adamson excelled to complete her degree with a 3.6 cumulative grade point average and has landed her dream job with Goldman Sachs, which she will be joining this summer as a controller in the finance division.

Brown may follow in his veterinarian mom’s footsteps

By Kelsey Bustos

Caleb BrownIt seems that Caleb Brown was always meant to be a veterinarian.

His mother owns and runs a vet clinic and equine reproduction center in Maine, so Brown grew up working with his mom in the clinic; it was second nature to him. But when he moved to Colorado to go to CSU in 2006, he wasn’t really sure that being a vet was for him. After struggling through three semesters, he was academically dismissed. For four years Brown worked low-wage jobs trying to find himself and his passion. He worked a couple of property maintenance jobs and was successful monetarily as a self-employed mechanic but began to be easily bored with routines. He realized that he would outgrow many careers in his life unless he chose one that was sure to keep him enthralled and constantly evolving.

The turning point came when he visited his mom at her practice one day and asked her what she likes about her job. She told him, “The one thing that is the best about being a vet is every day is different.”

He had always returned to the thought of becoming a vet, but it was on this trip that Brown came to the realization that this was what he wanted to do with his life.

He returned to CSU five years after leaving and got an academic fresh start. It meant he could keep his credits but start working on a new GPA from scratch. Now Brown is graduating with a bachelor of science in biomedical sciences.

Brown has been accepted into MSPro-Art, the Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences program focused on assisted reproductive technologies. He hopes to go on to vet school and eventually take over his mom’s practice in Maine.

“My strongest drive is solving problems and constantly learning,” he said. “I want to be able to continue my education infinitely, perhaps even fabricating a new technique or tool. Being bored is not an option. I am unsure where my education will ultimately lead, though certainly taking over the family business is a goal.”

Brown says he owes his success to the many people who have helped him in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and his mother.

“My mom is one of my biggest inspirations, because of her practice, she built it from the ground up,” said Brown. “It started from a one-stall practice and now she has nine vets on staff, it’s a big thing for me. I want to be a vet because of the fact that I was raised into it and I know I’ll be good at it. I didn’t realize how much I loved it until I left.”

Brown is a reminder that any dream can be fulfilled, any story can be rewritten.

Small-town ag student finds his place at CSU

By Bet Llavador

Kurt LieberknechtKurt Lieberknecht grew up working on his family’s 400-acre farm in Fowler, Colo., where they produced alfalfa and corn. He received the Otero Junior College USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Soil and Crop Science Full Support Scholarship, and chose to use it in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State.

As a double-major in soil and crop sciences and agricultural business, he got involved with FarmHouse Fraternity, where he lived since his first semester. Lieberknecht eventually became the president of FarmHouse and of the AgriBusiness Association club. He has been involved in other clubs, including the Order of Omega and Tau Sigma, and has become an Ag Ambassador and a member of the Collegiate Farm Bureau.

Being from a town of 2,000 residents, Lieberknecht struggled to adjust to the sheer number of people on the CSU campus.
“Coming to a university with a very large population was, to say the least, a culture shock,” said Lieberknecht. “Finding a group of people that had similar values to mine and that participated in similar things was a must. I have always had support in anything I had ever done before and I needed support more now than ever. I found that within a couple organizations and departments on campus.”

Lieberknecht’s favorite part of his experience at CSU was a combination of his time spent in and outside the classroom.

“My room at FarmHouse Fraternity is the social room, and this is where learning happens,” said Lieberknecht. “It doesn’t matter what time of night. There could be as many as 10 men in my room discussing the events of the day or asking homework questions, or just trying to learn something that is a 180-degree rotation from their major. This is the place to learn. It’s my favorite thing at CSU, and the thing that I will miss the most.”

Lieberknecht expectantly looks forward to his life after graduation and the launch of his career. He has applied to become a loan officer for Premier Farm Credit in a small rural town in eastern Colorado, and also has applied to become a salesman selling agronomic products for Centennial Ag.

Lierheimer gives back through construction

By Kelsey Bustos

ChrisLierheimerChris Lierheimer didn’t always know he wanted to work in construction management. In fact, he started out at the University of Denver studying engineering, and it wasn’t until he transferred to CSU that he discovered his passion for his chosen field.

In his spare time, Lierheimer participates in Construction Management Cares, a program in where students use their construction skills to help disabled families with home repairs that may not be affordable for the families. In spring of 2014, Lierheimer served as one of three student project leaders for the CM Cares Grashorn Project, in which students installed a wide back door and a covered deck structure that allowed 8-year-old Gavin Grashorn more mobility and the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.

In addition to participating in CM Cares, Lierheimer also enjoys aerial photography and videography and was able to use his skills to film the Grashorn project. Lierheimer says the video brought many to tears.

“It was really rewarding to see what CM Cares did for the Grashorn family,” said Lierheimer.

This past spring break Lierheimer won a national award in the 2015 James L. Allhands Essay Competition by the Associated General Contractors of America. It included an all-expense-paid trip to Puerto Rico to receive the award. There were 26 other essays in the competition.

After graduation, Lierheimer plans to spend the summer in his hometown of Evergreen, Colo. While there, he plans to build a spec home from the ground up and sell it. In September, Lierheimer will begin working as a field engineer with PCL Construction.

Math and meaning: CNS grad looks head to an impactful career

By Erik Schmidt

SarahNelsonMugWhen Sarah Nelson started at Colorado State University, she had no idea how alluring mathematics could be.

“I’ve really enjoyed my studies in the math department because of the diversity of both the professors and the courses offered,” she says. “I started my time at CSU undeclared, but quickly decided on math education as my area of study.”

Nelson says she enjoys bringing an interdisciplinary outlook to her education – understanding the concepts of math, but also how they can be applied in different fields.

Her study in the College of Natural Sciences has been propelled by a prestigious Noyce Scholarship, which not only supports promising undergraduates in the STEM fields, but also provides them with professional development in the form of workshops and seminars. The program has helped Nelson hone her professional vision: In return for financial assistance and co-curricular opportunities, Noyce Scholars commit to teach in under-resourced schools after graduation. She’ll be putting all that training to work right away.

After her quickly approaching commencement, Nelson will be moving to Colorado Springs, where she’ll teach Algebra I at Fountain-Fort Carson High School. “Within the next couple of years,” she says, “I am hoping to start an M.S. program in mathematics or mathematics education.”

Professor Paul Kennedy, who has advised Nelson, has observed her commitment to diversity and teaching. “Sarah developed a professional development workshop for teachers in transformational geometry,” he says. “She has a 3.9-plus GPA and engaged in her own professional development at the Texas Instruments ‘Teaching teachers with Technology’ international conference. She is an outstanding student.”

Nelson credits her faculty mentors within the College of Natural Sciences for her successes so far. “I owe a lot of where I am today to Professor Kennedy, who has been both a professor and adviser to me in the math department. He has been so helpful in connecting me with resources and contacts both within CSU and in the industry.” She also acknowledges the importance of scholarship support, which has provided opportunities she likely wouldn’t have pursued without the financial help.

With graduation looming, plenty of students are feeling the unease of moving beyond college and entering a profession. But Nelson has her trajectory pretty well figured out.

Mock takes a wild ride to graduation

By Bet Llavador

EleanorMockEleanor Mock has had a wild time at CSU.

A fish, wildlife, and conservation biology major in the Warner College of Natural Resources with a concentration in wildlife and an Honors Scholar, Mock received the Jack and June Richardson Scholarship for her honors thesis analyzing the diet of coyotes in the greater Denver metropolitan area. Her mentor for the thesis, National Wildlife Research Center carnivore ecologist Stewart Breck, has hired Mock for the last three years as a wildlife technician to assist him in the fieldwork and data analysis for his coyote research projects.

But her interests have not been strictly scientific.

Mock, a native of Round Rock, Texas, has been involved with the CSU student chapter of The Wildlife Society since her first semester, and was elected as vice president of the club for 2013-14. She has explored the world of environmental education through the Pulliam Scholars program at the Environmental Learning Center, and with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Outdoor Wilderness Lab. Additionally, she spent a semester abroad in Kenya and Tanzania.

Mock’s main struggle during her time at CSU has been tackling the sheer amount of things that she has signed up for or has had an interest in doing.

“Knowing where to allocate my energy, and when, is key in getting it all done,” Mock explained. “It has been important for me to recognize when I have taken on too much, to cut back and take the time to relax and exercise.”

Ultimately, Mock believes her drive and passion for everything she does has been the most important factor in maintaining all of her responsibilities and succeeding. Mock is grateful for the nearly infinite array of opportunities she has had at CSU.

“I was able to get involved in almost anything I had an interest in — research, clubs, education, studying abroad — and the faculty at WCNR were more than willing, eager even, to help me get as involved as possible in my interests,” Mock said.

After obtaining her degree in only three years, Mock will be a summer camp instructor at Thorne Nature Experience, a non-governmental organization in Boulder. She intends to seek a full-time position as an instructor in the fall. Mock says she wants to go back to school later to pursue a master’s degree in human dimensions of natural resources or environmental education and seek employment as an education director for a nonprofit conservation organization or government agency.

“I plan on using my degree to continue to explore the field of environmental education in order to cultivate respect, love, and stewardship in the public for our Earth,” said Mock.

Hard work pays off for first-gen student Sandoval

By Kelsey Bustos

Craig SandovalWhen Craig Sandoval was young he never dreamed he’d end up at CSU. He was born and raised in Pflugerville, Texas, a suburb of Austin. As a true A&M fan, Sandoval never envisioned leaving Texas, so it was only happenstance that he met CSU admissions recruiter Christian Valtierra at his high school library. After talking with the recruiter, Sandoval knew he wanted to attend CSU. Sandoval knew it would be tough paying out-of-state tuition, but he was willing to do just about anything to get to CSU.

During the summer of 2009, he worked as a lifeguard and saved up $8,000. With the help of financial aid and his own hard-earned money, Sandoval had enough to pay for his first semester and part of his second at Colorado State. With the help of university staff and faculty, Sandoval was able to get Colorado residency after his first year in state.

“It’s a contagious feeling when you get to campus; it’s the people of CSU that make people want to stay here,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval, a first-generation student, jumped head first into the programs at CSU.

He was a resident assistant, worked for the Ram Card office, was an Admissions Ambassador, worked in Conference & Event Services, and has been a College of Engineering Ambassador for five years. He also worked two years for Ram Welcome, an experience all new first-year students complete that builds upon their summer orientation.

In his junior year, Sandoval joined Phi Delta Theta, an experience that he says changed his entire college career. During this time, he served as vice president of his chapter and helped lead positive change. In the past year, membership has doubled in size, and Phi Delta Theta had the highest grade point average overall for fraternities and sororities on campus last spring. Sandoval said Phi Delta Theta has been one of the best experiences of his college career.

“The best thing about CSU is you get what you put in,” said Sandoval.

Sandoval is part of the first graduating class of the biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering dual-degree program. His class will be less than 20.

“I can’t stress enough how thankful I am to all the people who have taken me in,” he said.

Sandoval will start a new job in Pennsylvania a week after graduation, but is planning to eventually come back to Ram country for his master’s in business administration. You can’t keep a true Ram like Sandoval away from CSU.

Schaffert overcomes disability to excel

By Kelsey Bustos

LandanSchaffertLandan Schaffert often tells people, “There’s no goal too large or too difficult to be achieved, as long as we believe in ourselves and are courageously determined to make our dreams and aspirations realities.”

Schaffert is a courageously determined person who has followed all of his dreams — despite being legally blind since birth. He’s graduating this semester with a double major in agriculture business and political science.

Schaffert was born and raised on a farm in Otis, Colo., and he has been dedicated to agriculture all his life. While in high school, he was an active member of FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America. After graduating from high school and attending Colorado School of Mines for a year, he ran for state FFA office in spring 2009. After being elected, he took a leave of absence from school and spent the year traveling around the state speaking to high school students and FFA stakeholders about agriculture.

In 2010, Schaffert was elected national FFA secretary – the second-highest position in the organization. This required him to take another year off school to travel as one of the six officers elected to represent the more than half-million FFA members nationwide. That year, he spoke to approximately 100,000 people in public speeches, leadership workshops, and meetings with industry and government leaders. During that time, he and his five other teammates worked with the National FFA Foundation and helped raise $16.1 million for FFA.

After his two-and-a-half years of service to FFA, Schaffert transferred to CSU in 2012, where a Boettcher Foundation Scholarship has covered the costs of his education. He said coming to CSU was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

During the summer of 2012, Schaffert worked as an intern for U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, when Gardner was a member of the U.S. House. Last spring, as part of CSU’s Legislative Internship Program, he worked at the Colorado Capitol two days a week for former state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, who is now a state senator.

“They were both amazing people to have interned for,” Schaffert said. “I am truly honored to have learned from such quality leaders.”

On campus, Schaffert is a member of Agriculture Ambassadors, the Collegiate Farm Bureau and the College Republicans, and is a former member of the Associated Students of CSU and the AgriBusiness Association. He is also a self-employed motivational speaker.

Schaffert said the biggest struggle he’s overcome to get to this point in life is his parents’ divorce. He said it really made him re-evaluate relationships and what it means to be a brother or sister. He now has five step-siblings in addition to his four biological ones.

When he arrived at CSU, Schaffert joined FarmHouse Fraternity. He said his fraternity has given him a great sense of belonging and another whole family at CSU.

“My FarmHouse brothers are my eyes and voices of direction, and I wouldn’t have been able to get to this point without them,” he said. “We really are brothers and sisters here at CSU.”

After graduation, Schaffert will return to his hometown to teach science, public speaking and algebra at his former high school, while continuing his motivational speaking business on the side. He hopes to one day earn a master’s degree and eventually enter public service to help others through his interest in government.

“I’m excited to begin life as a teacher,” Schaffert said. “As a teacher, I’ll get to believe in students and show them that anything is possible with determination and hard work; I’ll get to watch them grow as they put the knowledge they’ve gained to use as they pursue their own goals in life.”

Online master’s student empowers undergrads

By Zachary McFarlane

Kimberly Tilus-HutchingsKimberly Tilus-Hutchings works every day to instill courage in the students of Dillard University in New Orleans. Recently promoted to the position of director of student engagement and leadership development, she said she was drawn to student affairs because of an experience she had as an undergraduate that allowed her to empower a student. Since then, she has worked to make a career out of empowering other students.

Living in New Orleans, Tilus-Hutchings is thousands of miles away from Fort Collins. However, the university’s student affairs program stood out to her, and the online format made it possible to earn her degree from CSU.

Tilus-Hutchings works with student government and student activities boards at Dillard, advising student organizations and approving campus events there.

“I have one of the coolest jobs in the world!” she said.

The philosophy she embraces and follows in her work is embodied in the acronym C.O.R.E. — courage, open-mindedness, reflection and enthusiasm.

“What I try to do when I work with students is instill courage in them, and be open to different perspectives,” she said.

The tenets of her philosophy, she added, are values that CSU’s student affairs program instilled in her during her master’s program.

The past year has already been one of her best yet. She was promoted, got engaged and is now planning her wedding, and to top the list, she is graduating with her master’s.

“That’s very, very important for me, because I’m a first-generation college student,” she said.

Titus-Hutchings is proud of the fact that she is part of the small percentage of people, especially African-American women, and those of Haitian descent, who have a master’s in her field.