Media Tip Sheet: Colorado State University Outstanding Graduates Spring 2011

Note to Reporters: The following students are graduating from Colorado State University in Fort Collins May 13-14. Photos of the students can be found at

From Battlefield to Classroom Horticulture Student Serves with Distinction
Julie Zavage
is graduating summa cum laude, the highest level of academic distinction, with a degree in Horticulture and a concentration in Food Crops. Before Julie found a career passion in fields of organically grown grains and vegetables, she was captain on a much different field – the battlefield near Baghdad. Zavage, who is from Pittsburgh, earlier graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served for five years in the U.S. Army. She was deployed for a year in Iraq, where she ran an operations center focused on base defense. Here, she managed some two dozen troops during 12-hour shifts; she received information about hostile activity, then formed and communicated responses. Zavage, who worked at CSU’s Rocky Mountain Small Organic Farm Project while earning her second bachelor’s degree, now sees abundant opportunities in small-scale organic agriculture. And she sees a similarity in her seemingly disparate experiences: Success in both the Army and in farming results when a community of people works together with common purpose. To speak with Zavage, contact Jim Beers at or (970) 491-6401.

Applied Human Sciences student overcomes grief, childhood obstacles to become leader, college graduate
Ashley Griffin will be graduating with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies after overcoming incredible odds. She grew up living in homes away from her parents for several years, and describes her childhood as a tough time. By the time she was reunited with her mother in 2004, Ashley was a freshman in high school, a straight A student, and keeping the secret that she was three months pregnant. Griffin gave birth to a little girl with Down syndrome and two heart defects. Her daughter had an open-heart surgery at the age of one and was scheduled for a second after her second birthday. Shortly her daughter’s second birthday, Griffin was living alone with her younger sister and daughter. Griffin’s daughter died in her arms about three weeks after her second birthday. Making a commitment to her daughter’s memory, Griffin overcame her grief, finished high school, and created a scholarship at her high school in her daughter’s name for other young African American girls. She also has started an annual conference for young mothers. At CSU, she has been a student leader including serving as a mentor in the Black/African-American Cultural Center and, on a national level, served as parliamentarian, secretary and president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council. She has provided personal care for a man with ALS, served on the All University Hearing Board (this is a hearing board for judicial review of student organizations at CSU), and gained job experience at Elderhaus and The Center for Family Outreach. To speak with Griffin, contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at (970) 491-6009 or

Air Force Veteran Earns Two Degrees at Colorado State
Courtney Hillard
, a native of Conifer, Colo., served her country as a member of the U.S. Air Force before coming to Colorado State University. After September 11, 2001, Hillard enlisted for six years, which she served at Travis Air Force Base in California. While serving, Hillard received her associate’s degree in Avionics from the Community College of the Air Force as well as an associate’s degree in French from Solano Community College. After leaving her Air Force career, Hillard and her husband returned to Colorado in 2007. She is graduating with a double major in Microbiology and French. Hillard has always been passionate about France and French culture, and was thrilled to be able to continue her study of the language at CSU. During her time at CSU, she served as an officer of the French Club and helped to organize a fundraiser for Haiti. After graduation, Hillard plans to return to California with her husband and pursue a career in laboratory work or become a high school teacher through the Department of Defense Spouses to Teachers program. To speak with Hillard, contact Jim Beers at or (970) 491-6401.

Psychology Student Dedicates Life to Helping Others
Sam Lustgarten
, a graduating psychology student, was serving as a resident assistant in Ingersoll Hall when he was the first responder to the death of one of his residents. To cope with his grief and draw attention to the issue, Lustgarten created the Always Remember Never Surrender scholarship to benefit students with interests in mental health and suicide prevention. Just one year later, Lustgarten’s scholarship fund has raised more than $21,000. For this effort, Lustgarten was awarded an honorable mention from the Jed Foundation for the Jerry Greenspan Student Voice of Mental Health Award. In addition to being an advocate for suicide prevention, Lustgarten has held a number of leadership roles throughout his academic career. He has served as secretary and vice president of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, is an op-ed columnist for the Collegian, and was the head facilitator for an undergraduate class on controversial issues in psychology. Upon graduation, Lustgarten intends to prepare for his graduate studies and eventually pursue a career in counseling psychology or public service. To speak with Lustgarten, contact Emily Wilmsen at or (970) 491-2336.

First-Generation American and College Graduate Defies Odds
Helen Kang
will be graduating with her master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education. A first-generation American and college student, Kang is dedicated to making college a more welcoming place for people with diverse backgrounds. In December 2010, Kang was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning disability on the Autism Spectrum. Because of her commitment and dedication to serving students, Kang was motivated by her diagnosis and presented a workshop during this year’s Autism Spectrum Disorder Symposium. During her time at CSU, Kang served as a graduate assistant in the Student Affairs in Higher Education Social Justice Program, where she created and implemented programs to broaden campus awareness about diversity and social justice issues. Kang served as treasurer for the Taiwanese Student Association for two years, and this year, helped to restart the Students of Color Network, a support group for students of color. Kang was also a core facilitator at the 2011 Campus Step Up: A Social Justice Retreat, where she worked with students learning about the issues such as poverty and gender roles. After graduation, Kang wants to work in student affairs/higher education, primarily in the areas of multicultural affairs. To speak with Kang, contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at or (970) 491-6009.

Environmental Health Student Implemented First Aid Program in Nicaragua
Ryan Autenreith
, an Honors Scholar, is graduating with a degree in Environmental Health. For his honors thesis, Autenreith implemented a first-aid training program in Nicaragua to address the country’s lack of medical providers, emergency medical services and people trained in first aid. The program focuses on providing basic first-aid training to community members and first responders. In addition to the first-aid program, Autenreith has been involved with CSU’s Nicaragua Cook Stove Project, where he installed clean-burning cook stoves in homes where women traditionally cook over open flames. The project aims to reduce the health impact of traditional cooking methods on families. Autenreith has participated in the Environmental Health Student Association and the Colorado Environmental Health Association, volunteered with the St. Barnard Parish Project to help rebuild houses in New Orleans, and completed an internship with the U.S. Public Health Service and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Alaska. After graduation, Autenrieth will work for the U.S. Public Health Service to help improve the health for Native Americans and Alaska Natives. In the future, Autenrieth plans to attend graduate school and continue to travel and sustain his first-aid training program in Nicaragua. To speak with Autenreith, contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at or (970) 491-6009.

Ag Student Leader In and Out of the Classroom
Ryan Siefkas
, who is graduating with a double major in agricultural business and agricultural education, dove into student activities when he stepped onto campus from a family farm near Las Animas on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. Siefkas’ leadership activities have defined his college years and helped set the stage for success in his chosen career of teaching students in rural agricultural communities. Siefkas has held top leadership positions with the Ag Ambassadors, the CSU Agribusiness Association and FarmHouse Fraternity. In these roles, Siefkas has initiated programs to boost the education of fellow students, planning a spring break tour of California agriculture, for instance, and rebuilding his fraternity house as part of a program that earned it a national Most Improved Chapter Award. Siefkas has also been recognized with the Shepardson Student Leadership Award, the highest honor for a College of Agricultural Sciences student. The award is presented to a College of Agricultural Sciences senior who has demonstrated outstanding leadership ability during his/her undergraduate career. To speak with Siefkas, contact Jim Beers at or (970) 491-6401.

Engineering Student Immersed in Academic Leadership
Katie Marshall
, a graduating Chemical and Biological Engineering student, is an academic leader in and outside the classroom. As part of her undergraduate research, Marshall spent three months at the University of Duisberg-Essen in Germany, developing a new way to filter wastewater. She is co-founder and president of the Biomedical Engineering Society CSU Chapter, senator and student ambassador for the College of Engineering and treasurer of the American Society of Chemical Engineers CSU Chapter. From 2009-2010, Marshall served as president of the Engineering College Council, where she was responsible for organizing the college’s annual Engineering Days and collaborating with engineering firms to raise funds for events. Marshall is an active member of the Student Funding Board and the Engineering Student Technology Fee Committee. Upon graduation, Marshall will work as a process engineer for Suncor Energy’s Commerce City refinery. In the future, Marshall plans to return to school to obtain a graduate degree. To speak with Marshall, contact Emily Wilmsen at or (970) 491-2336.

Equine Sciences Student Wants to Improve Horses in his Native Mongolia
Undram Makhval
, who is graduating with a degree in equine sciences, wants to do nothing less than modernize the horse industry in his home country of Mongolia. Makhval, who was honored by faculty as the Equine Sciences Outstanding Junior last spring, came to CSU when he learned about the stature of the Equine Sciences Program. He says the equine industry in Mongolia hasn’t changed much in the eight centuries since Genghis Khan led cavalry invasions to establish the Mongol Empire that stretched across Eurasia. With his new knowledge of equine breeding and genetics, Makhval wants to improve not only his own family herd of some 40 horses, but equine lines throughout Mongolia. His ultimate goal is to achieve success in international endurance races that challenge horses and riders to cover distances of some 25 miles. To speak with Makhval, contact Jim Beers at or (970) 491-6401.

Grad Believes Agriculture is the Most Important Industry in the World
Mariko Matsuda
is graduating magna cum laude with a degree in soil and crop sciences and a concentration in plant breeding, genetics and biotechnology. Matsuda, from Castle Rock, Colo., doesn’t have a family background in agriculture. But her love of gardening led to a serious and focused interest in plant genetics research, and she became a University Honors Scholar, completed an undergraduate thesis on aphid resistance in wheat and has earned a grant through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program to continue her studies in Germany this fall. Matsuda, also named a 2010 Golden Opportunity Scholar by leading industry associations, is interested in pest and disease resistance in food crops because she thinks agriculture is the most important industry in the world. After all, she notes, “We’re providing the most basic things that everyone needs.” To speak with Matsuda, contact Jim Beers at or (970) 491-6401.

Business Student is Mentor and Advocate for Diversity
Joseph Garcia
is graduating with a degree in Business Administration and a concentration in management. As a freshman, he received an Emerging Leader award from the university for his involvement in Student Alumni Connection. After his sophomore year, he was one of 24 Latino students to receive an internship at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., where he worked with Congressman John Salazar. In the summer of 2010, Garcia completed a human resource internship with Macy’ in San Francisco. He has also been actively involved in numerous organizations within the College of Business. As a part of the College of Business Mentoring Program, he provided guidance to freshmen and sophomores as well as informally mentoring other underclassmen. Garcia has also served as vice president and Business Day chair for the College of Business Dean’s Student Leadership Council. He was responsible for organizing the 2011 Business Day event with distinguished speakers Urban Meyer and Frank Abagnale Jr. Garcia has also been actively involved in the Business Diversity Leadership Alliance. He is graduating magna cum laude and will begin a position with Hitachi Consulting following graduation. To speak with Garcia, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.

Business Student Mentors Peers and Promotes Diversity
Carolyn Lucchesi is graduating with bachelor’s degree in both Business Administration and Natural Sciences with concentrations in finance and psychology, respectively. During her tenure at CSU, she has been actively involved with the Business Diversity and Leadership Alliance (BDLA), of which she was an executive member. She mentored peers in the College of Business Mentoring Program and was awarded Mentor of the Year for 2008-2009. She is an active member of the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi. During the summer of 2009, Carolyn held an internship in personal investing with JP Morgan Chase in Dublin, Ireland. In 2010, she held an internship in compliance with Lockheed Martin in Denver and an internship with the CSU Veterinarian Teaching Hospital in cost-based analysis. For the past three years, she has worked as a student assistant with the College of Business, focusing on recruitment efforts and the business minor undergraduate program. She would like to eventually pursue an advanced degree in Behavioral Finance. To speak with Lucchesi, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.

Sociology Student Seeks to Reform Educational System
Dylan Gallacher
has spent his college career striving to serve others. Gallacher was drawn to apply for a position with Teach for America after his work with the Dream Project at CSU. The Dream Project is a mentorship program that connects first-generation college students at CSU with potential first-generation college students at Poudre High School in Fort Collins and provides them with college preparation assistance. Gallacher was responsible for communicating with staff at Poudre High, recruiting students to join the program and pairing each student with a CSU mentor. Through his work with the Dream Project, Gallacher discovered his passion for working to close the achievement gap in the United States school system. During his time at CSU, Gallacher also participated in the President’s Leadership Program, served as a Presidential Ambassador and worked as an Upward Bound Tutor Counselor. He is graduating with a degree in sociology and a minor in Spanish, and will begin a position with Teach for America in South Dakota at Pine Ridge or Rosebud reservations starting in the fall. To speak with Gallacher, contact Jim Beers at or (970) 491-6401.

Natural Resources Student Promotes Habitat Conservation
Jeremy Dertien
is graduating with a degree in Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. He is originally from Austin, Texas. In the spring of 2010, Dertien was awarded the prestigious Udall Scholarship from the Udall Foundation. The scholarship awards up to $5,000 to students from across the country who are committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy or Native American health care. He has worked as an intern with the Nature Conservancy at the Phantom Canyon Preserve in Northern Colorado and volunteered with the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program. As a Texas master naturalist, he has volunteered his time assisting with control of invasive plant species, conducting bird surveys and presenting information on habitat conservation and creation to K-12 students. He has also served as treasurer for the Warner College of Natural Resources College Council and a board member for Lutheran Campus Ministry at CSU. Dertien studied abroad in New Zealand at Otago University in the spring of 2010. After graduation, he will work as a teaching assistant in a natural resource ecology course at the CSU Pingree Park campus for the summer. He plans to start graduate school in conservation biology and ecosystem conservation in the fall of 2012. To speak with Dertien, contact Kimberly Sorensen at or (970) 491-0757.

Global Tourism Student Raises Awareness
Brittany Bernard
is graduating with a degree in Global Tourism and a dual minor in Spanish and Business. She is finishing a term as president of the Warner College of Natural Resources College Council, where she has also served as vice president and secretary. During her time on the Council, Bernard helped to organize fundraisers and other events in addition to helping students facilitate strong relationships with their peers and professors. Bernard has also been an “Environ-mentor” for WCNR, a position in which she served as a mentor to a Poudre High School student, assisting with college preparation skills and environmental education. She studied abroad in an intensive Spanish language program in Granada, Spain, in the summer of 2009. Her experience abroad, along with other eco-tourism courses, helped Bernard earn the opportunity to serve as an undergraduate research assistant with a Human Dimensions of Natural Resources graduate student, Emily Eddins. After graduation, Bernard will travel to Achiote, Panama, where she will assist Eddins in conducting research on the effects of volunteer tourism on the sustainable livelihoods of the rural community. To speak with Bernard, contact Kimberly Sorensen at or (970) 491-0757.

MBA Student Works to Earn Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine
Robyn O’Kane
is graduating with a master’s in Business Administration and has also completed her first year of veterinary school. She received her doctorate in physiology from Finch University in Chicago in 2000 and taught anatomy and physiology at a community college in Queens, N.Y. for six years before coming to Colorado. She was accepted into the competitive combined degree program offered through the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Business, which allows for completion of both programs in five years. In her spare time, O’Kane enjoys running and competing in triathlons. She currently works as an emergency technician in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Clinical Pathology Laboratory. She also volunteers with Northern Colorado Friends of Ferals, which traps feral cats and provides spay and neuter clinics. O’Kane will complete her doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2014 and plans to open a nonprofit animal sanctuary and veterinary clinic in the southeastern United States. To speak with O’Kane, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.

Business Student Works to Raise Funds for Cancer Research
Katie Whitbeck
is a Portland, Ore., native who was drawn to Colorado for the skiing, but has found fulfillment through her involvement at CSU. She is graduating magna cum laude with a degree in business administration and a concentration in organizational management. She has also earned certificates from the College of Business in international business and entrepreneurship, as well as becoming a certified supply chain analyst. Whitbeck’s father passed away after a battle with cancer when she was 15 years old, and since then she has dedicated herself to raising funds and awareness to fight cancer. In 2011 she served as the chairperson for the College of Business Dean’s Leadership Council in their efforts with Relay for Life, a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. Whitbeck raised over $2,500 individually for the event, making her the top individual fundraiser. She has also worked as an intern for the Fort Collins non-profit Global Explorers, where she helped to coordinate international travel for over 300 students. Following graduation she plans to travel to Fiji, New Zealand, and Peru, before beginning a position with Hitachi Consulting as an IT and management consultant in the fall of 2011. To speak with Whitbeck, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.