Media Tip Sheet: Colorado State University’s Fall 2012 Outstanding Graduates Overcome Obstacles, Prepare for Real-World

Note to Reporters: The following students are graduating from Colorado State University in Fort Collins Dec. 14-15. Photos of the students can be found online at

Whether overcoming tremendous obstacles or achieving academic excellence, these Colorado State University fall 2012 outstanding graduates have accomplished major personal goals and are prepared to begin meaningful careers as future leaders in their communities.

Graduate Turns Dream into Reality after Suffering Severe Head Trauma
Jennifer Webster is graduating from the Warner College of Natural Resources after an eight-year challenge of teaching herself to learn after suffering a traumatic brain injury and enduring personal struggles with ADHD, suicide and death in her family. Inspired by Jane Goodall, Webster first developed a passion for wildlife at age 6 and knew she wanted to pursue an education at CSU to follow her dream of conserving and working with wildlife. Webster’s life-long plans to attend CSU were unexpectedly interrupted in 2004 when she suffered two brutal kicks to the face from a horse, causing severe brain trauma, memory loss and requiring multiple reconstructive surgeries. She began physical therapy and started her career at CSU in 2004, but quickly realized she had a long road ahead when her 3.7 GPA from high school plummeted to a .87 due to learning disabilities and extreme memory loss. With assistance from CSU’s Resources for Disabled Students, family and friends, she is earning a degree in Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism with a concentration in environmental communication. She received the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoots internship, and is headed to a six-month internship in Tanzania to teach local children about wildlife. To speak with Webster, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.

Social Work Student Shines in the Face of Adversity
Michael Marr is a first-generation student raised by a single parent. He has had cerebral palsy since birth, at times lived in poverty and experienced interpersonal violence during his lifetime. Marr said these situations were what led him become a voice for students with disabilities and an advocate for underrepresented people. Marr has published opinion articles in the Collegian on students with disabilities on campus, participated in the President’s Multicultural Student Advisory Committee and helped coordinate the First Annual Grassroots Disability Pride Parade and Music Festival – a parade that was the first in Colorado and fourth of its kind in the nation. Marr will graduate as a Black/African-American Cultural Scholar, a First Generation Award Scholar and a Delta Alpha Honors society member. To speak with Marr, contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at or (970) 491-6009.

Sixteen-Year-Old Venezuelan Overcomes Language Barrier
At 16, Mayren Mata Carrillo was already years ahead of her peers. She had graduated high school and was preparing to leave Venezuela to further education in the United States. Leaving friends and family behind, Carrillo enrolled at CSU to pursue a degree in civil engineering. She overcame language barriers and adapted to cultural changes to become successful in her research on wind and bridge engineering. Carrillo will pursue a master’s in structural engineering at Purdue University working with the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. To speak with Carrillo, contact Emily Wilmsen at or (970) 491-2336.

World Renowned Pianist Graduates with Master’s Degree
After working for four years as an accompanist at the Higher Institute of Music at Veracruz State, Yolanda Tapia made the decision to pursue a master’s degree in Music and Piano Performance in the United States. Before winning a Fulbright scholarship to come to CSU, she obtained recognition as an accomplished pianist worldwide. She won two competitions in her hometown Xalapa, Mexico, was named a finalist in two international competitions and shared an award for most outstanding group as part of a chamber music festival. Tapia attended the Wideman International Piano competition at the Hurley School of Music at Centenary College in Louisiana as the only Latin American contestant. Though Tapia wishes to pursue another master’s degree in chamber music, she is still exploring her options. To speak with Tapia, contact Tony Phifer at or (970) 491-7712.

Honors Double Major Races, Volunteers, Plays Harp
Hannah Pensack-Rinehart is graduating with a double major in Health and Exercise Science and Harp Performance. Pensack-Rinehart is a gold medalist among graduates with her involvement in the Honors Program, track and field, the CSU Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble and Harp Ensemble. Pensack-Rinehart holds the school record for the 10,000 meter run, with a time of 33:47. Pensack-Rinehart chooses to give back to her community by volunteering at a local soup kitchen with the CSU Lutheran Campus Ministry. She will pursue a Master’s of Public Health in fall 2013, while continuing with her passion for music. To speak with Pensack-Rinehart, contact Tony Phifer at or (970) 491-7712.

Undergraduate Named Spokesperson for Agriculture, Graduates Cum Laude
Elisa Sagehorn, who will graduate cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education, will speak at the College of Agricultural Sciences commencement ceremony. Sagehorn landed a job prior to graduation as a sales representative for Elanco Animal Health. Sagehorn grew up on a small wheat and cattle operation in Holyoke, Colo. For a time, she attended a private Christian school in Iowa, but transferred to CSU for its agricultural education program, where she flourished as an articulate young spokeswoman for agriculture and its critical role in people’s lives. Representing a trend of collegiate “advocacy,” Sagehorn says she has visited the Colorado State Capitol so often that she’s lost count of her visits. These opportunities have surfaced through her leadership roles with CSU Agricultural Ambassadors, Ag Adventure, Collegiate Farm Bureau and Alpha Tau Alpha and as a National Young Farmer Educational Association spokesperson for agriculture. Sagehorn wraps up her bachelor’s degree with a student-teaching assignment in rural Colorado. To speak with Sagehorn, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.

Graduate Uses GI Bill to Pursue Life-long Dream in Natural Resources
While staring at the stars one night on a 45-day mission in the mountains of Afghanistan, Jonathan Wardell had an epiphany. When he returned home, he was going to change careers and pursue his life-long passion for nature with a career in natural resources and fishery biology. Wardell served for more than four years in the U.S. Army, 82nd Airborne Division as an enlisted infantryman and was twice deployed overseas. After his service, he researched universities with natural resource and fishery programs, and moved from Atlanta to Fort Collins to use the GI Bill and earn a degree at CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources. As a non-traditional student, Wardell has taken every opportunity to advance his education and experience, including working as a field technician on the Yampa River studying invasive fish species and as a research assistant at CSU’s Foothills Fishery Lab studying native fish passage. He is also an active member of several student organizations including the CSU Bass Team, Xi Sigma Pi natural resource honor society and American Fisheries Society student chapter – where he volunteered 20 hours a month as aquarium curator and earned the 2012 Outstanding Student Member Award. He plans to pursue a master’s degree and earn a management position in natural resources. To speak with Wardell, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.

Future Social Worker Loves Advocacy Work
Noemi Hernandez is graduating with a degree in social work with minors in Ethnic and Women’s Studies, who took the phrase "get involved" to a whole new level. She is involved in Lambda Theta Nu Sorority Inc. and serves as a peer educator for the Women and Gender Advocacy Center’s Red Whistle Brigade. She’s also a Victim Assistance Team advocate and has been a Campus Step Up facilitator and an Alternative Spring Break site leader among other activities. She plans to pursue a career as a social worker after college. To speak with Hernandez, contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at or (970) 491-6009.

Microbiology Undergraduate Already Teaching Others
Laylaa Ramos, who was born in Guatemala and is fluent in Spanish, was a high school honor student in Broomfield and taught kindergarten at Colegio Americano del Sur in Guatemala prior to joining CSU’s Microbiology degree program. Ramos has been a teaching assistant for General Microbiology and participated in the Nicaraguan Cookstove Study through the Environmental Health and Radiological Sciences department. She has also helped translate materials for the Microbiology Virology Laboratory course for a graduate student from Mexico. Dr. Glenn Telling, her advisor, called her the best undergraduate student who has ever worked in his group. To speak with Ramos, contact Emily Wilmsen at or (970) 491-2336.

Student Seeks to Help Those with Same Experiences
Rachel Lundquist chose a major in social work, because she wants to work with women and children who have faced what she and her son have faced. Lundquist left an abusive marriage in 2007 to start a new life for her and her son. She began by earning her associate’s degree from Front Range Community College where she earned a spot on the President’s List. Lundquist has held a 3.7 GPA at CSU. She spoke at the P.E.O. convention in Denver and strives to be a role model for her son. Lundquist plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work. To speak with Lundquist, contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at or (970) 491-6009.

Drummer Learns True Meaning of “Home is Where the Heart Is”
Growing up near Fort Collins with a father as a veterinarian at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Carl Dernell never expected he would choose CSU. But after a year of music ministry, traveling the world in a 15-passenger van as a drummer in a pop/rock band, Dernell decided to move back to Fort Collins where he pursued a degree in biochemistry, married his junior high sweetheart and led his church’s college ministry. Dernell’s passion to challenge himself led him to take on a business management internship. Dernell received awards for his scientific poster at CSU’s Undergraduate Research and Creativity Showcase. To speak with Dernell, contact Emily Wilmsen at or (970) 491-2336.

Accounting graduate brings industry leaders to campus
Josh Bennett transferred to CSU from Front Range after obtaining an associate’s in business degree. He has supported himself through student loans, grants, scholarships and employment, and maintains three jobs. He is an Honors student who organized a roundtable discussion featuring audit partners from several Big 4, national and regional public accounting firms discussing the ethical implications of auditing financial statements prepared under International Financial Reporting Standards as opposed to U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles for his Honors thesis. He has been on the College of Business Dean’s List and will be graduating with distinction. Bennett’s team won first place for two case studies: the PwC xTax Case Study Competition and the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Inaugural Consortium Case Study Competition. He is president of Beta Alpha Psi and the Student Center for Public Trust. Bennett also is an intern for Sample & Bailey CPAs and recently accepted an internship position with PricewaterhouseCoopers for summer 2013. He plans to pursue a Master of Accountancy in the College of Business. To speak with Bennett, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.