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Graduates share unique stories, overcome obstacles

May 9, 2014

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

By the time 13 graduation ceremonies have been completed and tens of thousands of photos have been snapped, more than 4,200 Colorado State University students will have received their diplomas.

Each will have completed a unique journey to their goal. Some of the paths have been smooth, others filled with potholes. Some students graduated in four years or less. Others take 30 years or longer to arrive.

With the help of professors from every college, we are featuring the stories of nine members of the CSU Class of 2014. All of them faced unique challenges – hurdles that would have stopped most ordinary people in their tracks. They come from all walks of life, from places near and far – even a foreign country.

They all have something in common: No challenge was too great for them to overcome in their pursuit of a CSU education. They found their passion, stayed the course and – in many cases – overcame long odds to earn a diploma.

There are stories of young women who came from big cities to study topics usually favored by students from rural areas; a veteran who used CSU’s many military-friendly services to earn a degree, land a job and start a family; an Honors Program student in biochemistry who dreams of being a circus performer; and a young woman from inner-city Denver who has learned the complicated nuances of supply chain management to earn a job with Amazon after graduation.

You’ll read the story of a man who started college in 1985, flunked out and rediscovered his academic calling some 30 years later; applaud the perseverance of a local woman who ignored a learning disability and a traumatic brain injury to redefine herself; learn how a kid from India ignored cultural pressure and followed his dream of becoming a fashion designer; and smile at the story of a woman who found a way to live with an autoimmune disorder to become a Ram student-athlete and candidate for medical school.

These are just a few of the stories that define the Class of 2014. Feel free to marvel right along with us - in Today and in the Coloradoan.

Transfer student finds passion in forestry

Ryan Davy, 22, says he “never looked back” after leaving the Colorado School of Mines to study Forestry and Spatial Information Management at Colorado State University. Now the Chair of CSU’s chapter of the Society of American Foresters (SAF), Davy has led his peers through the SAF National Convention, among other things. Davy also is an active participant in the planning for the Collaborative Colorado initiative within the Warner College of Natural Resources, and additionally volunteers for the Colorado State Forest Service.  Davy states that his thirst for knowledge drives him, saying, “Forestry isn’t just a career, it is a passion – wanting to know more about the science keeps me going.”

After graduation, Davy will intern with the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming and continue his education in forestry, rangeland ecology, wildlife biology and geographic information systems. He credits his teachers for his success in the Warner College of Natural Resources, and hopes to one day teach, as well.

Psychology student overcomes tragedy

The life of 25 year-old Alex Chambers reminds that life is full of unpredictable twists, and what matters most is the human ability to adapt. After the death of his mother when he was 16, Chambers became a ward of the state before moving in with his aunt and uncle. His dreams of college were replaced by the need to just get by, working in restaurants for three years before realizing his true passion of helping people. Determined to earn a college degree, Chambers applied for CSU. A student in the Honors Program, Chambers is completing his Honors Thesis on the relationship between perceptions of discrimination and academic success. He experiences as a teenager, he credits, are what taught him to provide for himself and are a factor in his success. Chambers also thanks faculty members Kim Henry, Karla Gingerich and Cassidy McLaren and the Fostering Success Program.

Chambers plans to return to CSU in 2015 as a graduate student in social psychology, with the goal of achieving his doctorate. In his career, Chambers hopes his work will reduce academic achievement gaps between students of low and high status. “Most of all,” he said, “I want to provide students of all backgrounds the opportunities that I have received that have allowed me to be successful.”

Peruvian engineering student seeks success in the U.S.

Fernando Mansilla, 35, says moving from to Peru to Colorado “was one of the best decisions” of his life. In December 2003, Mansilla landed in Miami, traveled to Colorado the next day and became a ski lift operator at Crested Butte Mountain Resort as part of a work and travel program. Though he was only allowed to stay in Colorado for the winter, Mansilla returned for the next three before becoming a permanent resident of Colorado in 2006.

During that time, Mansilla was presented the opportunity to assume a management position with a private real estate development company, ultimately allowing him to further his career, and pursue his educational goals. “Moving to the U.S. wasn’t easy,” he said. “I left my family and the comfort of my hometown to come to a country where I had nothing.” He adds that though he loves Peru, the United States gave him the opportunity to provide more for his family than his home country could.

In 2008, Mansilla married his wife, who recently gave birth to their baby girl. “Having a daughter and being a student is not easy, but at the end everything is worth it, especially when she says ‘dada’ and gives me a hug,” said Mansilla.

After graduating, Mansilla will work for Helmerich and Payne – a petroleum company based out of Oklahoma – as an engineer. During his interview for the position, he told the CEO that in 20 years he wanted the CEO’s job, and wishes to achieve that goal by continuing his education and earning a master’s in business finance.

Social work student says school saved her life

Twenty-six year-old social work student, Brittany Devens , has ridden a rough road to become who she is today.  After high school, Devens accepted an athletic scholarship to play softball for CSU Pueblo, but broke her tibia and fibula her freshman year. Devens returned to Pueblo her sophomore year, after coming out as a lesbian. She attempted to play another year but realized she could no longer physically play at the level she used to.

Devens moved back home to pursue her passion of music, but the subsequent death of a close friend and other losses influenced her to use alcohol as an escape mechanism to cope. Through this struggle, Devens enrolled at CSU in fall 2012. Since then, Devens has stayed abstinent from alcohol with the help of her family, friends and professors. Now Devens volunteers at the Larimer County Jail facilitating a women’s creative writing workshop, “SpeakOut!”

“I am excited to see what I can give back to the community that shaped me into who I am today,” said Devens.

Devens, who’s striving to receive her master’s in social work, hopes to have an impact on others just as her professors and peers had on her.

Business major ahead of the curve

Alexandra "Ola" Fialkowski is a business major with a concentration in finance and marketing. Fialkowski joined the College of Business development team as a development administrative assistant in early spring 2012.  From the beginning, she displayed a can-do attitude, high level of professionalism, organization, insight and ability far beyond her years. To say she jumped in with both feet and succeeded would be an understatement.  

In her role, Fialkowski was asked to do everything from intercampus delivery to providing analyses on donor giving and prospect research. She generated numerous ideas on how to improve work flow and, mentored other interns. She said CSU has given her the tools to build relationships and a network of people that encourage her to further develop herself.

Environmental health major highly involved

Keerthi Vemulapalli, a student in the Honors Program, came to CSU from Gilbert, Ariz., as a pre-vet student with almost two years of college coursework completed while in high school. She is an environmental health major and has worked in Dr. Lucas Argueso's lab for the past three years as an environmental health scholar. She also is an active part of Chi Omega Fraternity Inc. and president of Timmy Global Health.

Vemulapalli initially chose CSU to be a part of the pre-vet program here and to have access to volunteer opportunities at CSU’s world-renowned Veterinary Teaching Hospital. On top of earning a degree, she says she has been taught many life skills, including working in a team, public speaking and resume writing. She has met inspiring people at CSU, and says they have impacted how she will make decisions in the future. 

Veteran and single father graduates with degree in political science

U.S. Navy veteran Robert Brown graduates this semester with a degree in political science, a minor in business administration and interdisciplinary study in Diversity in Law. He also is currently serving in the U.S. Navy Reserves, is president of the CSU chapter of SALUTE, and is a single father.

Brown chose to continue his education at CSU, because of its reputation as a military-friendly school, and because he has family in the area, which affords him additional help with juggling work, school and raising his son.

After graduation, Brown returns to active duty in the U.S. Navy for a short period of time, after which he plans to pursue his juris doctorate and a master’s in business administration.

Schvaneveldt lives, breaths equine and ag

Chanel Lynn Schvaneveldt was born and raised in Northern California where she dedicated most of her time to raising 4-H animals, being an active member in the community through 4-H and helping out where she could with her family’s racehorse business.

Ever since she was little, she has cared for animals, especially the recovery of injured horses. She will be graduating this semester with her equine science degree, along with a minor in Business Administration.

As a first generation student at CSU, Schvaneveldt served as an equine science steward where she represented the Department of Equine Science. She also was a member of CSU’s Rodeo Club where she competed in barrel racing and served as the club’s treasurer. Schvaneveldt doesn’t want to limit herself to one area of the equine and agricultural industry, and is planning to keep her options open post-graduation.

More information about Commencement.