Media Tip Sheet: Colorado State University’s Spring 2013 Outstanding Graduates Overcome Obstacles, Prepare for Real-World

Note to Reporters: The following students are graduating from Colorado State University in Fort Collins May 16-18. Photos of the students are available with the news release at

Whether overcoming tremendous obstacles or achieving academic excellence, these Colorado State University spring 2013 outstanding graduates have accomplished major personal goals and are prepared to begin meaningful careers as future leaders in their communities.

Transgender student works overtime as a leader

Ryan Wathen, a double major in Animal Sciences and Environmental Health, chose his studies with the hope of attending veterinary school. When he enrolled at CSU, Wathen was known as Sara. But in his junior year, he came out as transgender. Although Wathen knew while attending high school in Salt Lake City that he identified as transgender, he wanted to wait until his college years to come out. Throughout his transition, his family, friends and the CSU community have been supportive – the university uses his preferred name of "Ryan" for registration and email – and this support has allowed Wathen to work steadily toward his goals. He carries a 17-credit courseload, and works up to 50 hours per week. Wathen works with a Department of Chemistry outreach program for kids, works in anesthesia at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and volunteers in the junior surgery labs at the Vet Hospital. Wathen also has an internship with the city of Fort Collins Environmental Services Department, where he works on city sustainability. This transgender student is well on his way to even more achievement. To speak with Wathen, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.

Student completes degree from North Carolina after traumatic accident

Peter Exner was in a traumatic car accident on Dec. 29, 2009 when his family was driving down the freeway and their car spun out of control, braking suddenly for stopped traffic. Exner shattered two of his vertebrae, broke both arms and suffered extensive internal damage, ultimately requiring a wheelchair and rigorous rehabilitation. Exner went through several surgeries and regained motion in his legs and was eventually able to start walking with a brace and walker. Despite wanting to resume his education at CSU, health problems made it difficult for him to be successful on campus, causing him to return home to North Carolina. There, he resumed his CSU education online. Since then, he is recovering more and more and has made such great progress that his wheelchair now serves as a bed for his cats. Exner is set to graduate this May with a degree in Biology. He also has applied to several graduate schools and is interested in Bioinformatics, the merging of genetics work and computer programming. In the future, Exner hopes to work in a lab doing research. To speak with Exner, contact Susan Skog at or (970) 491-5349.

Determined student grateful she’s able to graduate after hospitalization

Kaycee Vollmar is grateful she’s in Fort Collins to graduate from CSU with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. In March, she was hospitalized with a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism; the blood clot in her lung put her out of commission for three weeks. But as a first-generation college student who will graduate magna cum laude, Vollmar was determined to return to campus from her hometown of Casper, Wyo., to take part in commencement. “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to return with the pain and the indications from my bloodwork,” she said. “But I knew finishing CSU strong, with good grades, would mean the world to me.” Vollmar grew up with livestock, was active in 4-H and FFA, and exhibited sheep, cattle, pigs and horses. Vollmar then was recruited to enroll in the CSU Department of Animal Sciences and to join its Livestock Judging Team, where she found a supportive academic community and drew on her family mantra of always working to do her best. The result: Vollmar is among nine students on the CSU Livestock Judging Team that was crowned 2012 Reserve National Champion after a rigorous season of competition. She also was named Overall Outstanding Junior and Overall Outstanding Senior in the Department of Animal Sciences. Now, famed Professor Temple Grandin is recruiting Vollmar to graduate studies in meat science and animal welfare. To speak with Vollmar, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.

Student overcomes drugs, strives to make a difference in others’ lives

Whitney Walkenhorst began her college career at a community college where she soon fell into the wrong crowd, and began experimenting with drugs for which she was later suspended. It was during this time that her best friend passed away from what she suspects was a drug overdose and two other friends died within the following six months to drug overdoses. “These events made it clear that the path I was going down was a quick way to an early grave,” said Walkenhorst. “I came back to community college with my head on straight and was accepted to CSU.” It was at CSU that she began her degree in Social Work. “Social Work offers a wide range of ways to help individuals, families and the community, which I feel is unique to this profession and is why I selected it,” said Walkenhorst. Through her hard work academically and her passion for her chosen field, Walkenhorst has become the vice president of Social Work in Action, is graduating in May with distinction, is a member of the National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and has been accepted to CSU’s Advanced Standing program in Social Work. This school year Walkenhorst, with the help of the rest of SWA members, has helped make a CSU policy change regarding the acceptance of transfer students from the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education – a much needed change that was a result of current discrimination in the form of denying education to people in the Bahá’í religion. “I feel that this experience is what has gotten me here today. I am reminded every day that I can make a difference in people’s lives and by doing this I am honoring my past and my friends who made a difference in my life,” said Walkenhorst. To speak with Walkenhorst, contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at or (970) 491-6009.

Veteran completes degree after traumatic brain injury

Patrick Amie is not a typical student by any means. He was deployed in 2003 in the initial ground troop invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he incurred a traumatic brain injury from a vehicular accident caused by an improvised explosive device or IED. ”I am currently being treated for the lingering affects of that as well as the awesome door prize of PTSD that so many of the front line soldiers received,” said Amie. Despite these challenges, Amie has been working toward a degree and helping others all along the way. “For as long as I can remember, I have deeply enjoyed helping others, mainly focusing on providing food and clothing to the local homeless population; however, I have also worked with at risk youth at times,” said Amie. Amie also worked tirelessly for eight long years toward his degree and will now graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English with a focus in Creative Writing. “I cannot properly explain the amount of genuine care and personal dedication I have received by professors, my advisor, department faculty, and especially the occupational therapy team of ATRC, CCP, New Start, as well as RDS here on campus,” said Amie. To speak with Amie, contact Tony Phifer at or (970) 491-7712.

Worldwide performing tenor graduates with a master’s

Gene Stenger, tenor, is a classical singer studying at CSU. He has been accepted into the Institute of Sacred Music Program at Yale University, a highly selective program that only takes one of each voice type per year. He will receive free tuition and a stipend to attend. James Taylor, Associate Professor of Voice with the Institute of Sacred Music Program, invited Stenger to Yale after working with him in a master class workshop and was impressed by his ability. Stenger is completing his Master of Music degree in Voice Performance here at CSU and will get a second masters in Early Music, Oratorio and Chamber Music at Yale, allowing him to specialize in his repertoire.

Stenger’s musical achievements and abilities are evident as he has participated in several prestigious performances. After his performance in CSU’s National Collegiate Choral Conference, he was invited by world renowned conductor, Helmuth Rilling, to perform with his international music academy, the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart. This year, he performed as the tenor soloist in J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and last year, performed in the chorus of the Junges Stuttgarter Bach Ensemble, singing J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Stenger has traveled to Germany, Italy and Chile to perform under Rilling’s direction.

Stenger specializes in the works of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel, and was featured as the tenor soloist with the American Bach Soloists Academy in San Francisco, Calif. Stenger also has performed as a tenor soloist with the Fort Collins Symphony, and the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, as a result of winning their 2011 Young Artist Voice Competition. He also is talented in performing opera and has had several roles on the opera stage as well as performed overseas in an Opera Scenes Exchange Program with students from China. To speak with Stenger, contact Tony Phifer at or (970) 491-7712.

Wildlife biology senior awarded Fulbright Fellowship to study, teach in Indonesia

CSU wildlife biology senior Adam Miller has been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to travel abroad to Indonesia for one year where he will teach English and conduct his own wildlife conservation research and outreach. Miller is excited to have the opportunity to pursue his lifelong passion for studying and conserving lorikeets and other exotic bird species that are at risk due to deforestation and wildlife trade.

Originally from St. Louis, Mo., Miller has had a strong interest in birds, specifically lorikeets, since he was less than 10 years old. Since his freshman year, Miller has gained exceptional undergraduate research experience partnering with a variety of graduate students, scientists and professors from CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources. Among Miller’s many achievements in the past four years, he has conducted research in Hawaii on the role of native bee colonies on plant ecosystems, spent a semester abroad studying cane toads in Australia, was published in the Journal of Undergraduate Research, and is finishing his honors thesis on the effects of residential development on bird communities. To speak with Miller, contact Jennifer Dimas at or (970) 491-1543.

Business student to work at Google post-graduation

Amy Sunderman is graduating Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Business Administration-Corporate Finance and Investment Analysis. After graduation, Sunderman has accepted a position with Google as a Financial Analyst in Mountain View, Calif. She is very excited to begin her job and to apply what she has learned at CSU to her profession. When she first came to college, Sunderman was not sure what she wanted to do but felt that the College of Business would give her a good foundation and soon fell in love with her finance courses. Sunderman has participated in several clubs throughout her CSU career, cultivating many friendships and experiences. She is currently the president of the Summit Student Investment Fund, which manages $250,000 on behalf of the University Foundation and is a unique way to bridge the real world with coursework. As the president, Sunderman is responsible for arranging guest speakers and class meetings. She has given presentations to the Financial Advisory Board and worked as the emcee at an alumni event she helped host in New York. She has further been invited to luncheons with university guests including Jim Herbert. Sunderman also is a member of the Finance Club and just joined the Center of Public Trust, the nationally recognized business ethics club at CSU. To speak with Sunderman, contact Kate Jeracki at or (970) 491-2658.

Fraternal twins share almost identical CSU experiences

Tara and Tasia DeMuth are quite literally two peas in a pod as these fraternal twins have more than just a birthday in common. The DeMuth twins both majored in Journalism and Technical Communication with a concentration in Public Relations and both swam for the Colorado State University Division 1 swim team. The two can be seen together often and have remained incredibly close throughout their entire lives. “We are best friends that just happened to be born into the same family, at the same time,” said Tasia. However, these twins say that their ability to get along so well is not because of their similarities, but rather, their differences. For instance, they differ in: thinking styles, organization styles, temperament and even swimming stroke events. “If we were exactly the same, we would probably fight more and butt heads, but our differences create a positive relationship,” said Tara. They are the perfect yin and yang to complete each other’s personalities. Though their majors are the same, their future career plans differ. “I have minored in Apparel and Merchandising because I want to pair PR and fashion somehow,” said Tara; whereas, Tasia has minored in Business Administration, but has her sights set on sports PR – plans that could quickly become reality with the resumes the DeMuth sisters have created at CSU. “We have won the Mountain West Scholar Athlete award, been on the Dean’s List and most recently been honored as Summa Cum Laude,” said Tara. Regardless of what the future has in store, it is clear that Tara and Tasia will grow together after graduation, like they have here at CSU. To speak with the DeMuth sisters, contact Tony Phifer at or (970) 491-7712.

First-generation student seeks to help the world

Kevin Fleming is a sociology major with a concentration in criminology/criminal justice and a minor in Political Science and Media Studies. Fleming chose his major because he found no other discipline of basic theory that applied so broadly across all of liberal arts. Ironically, he received his worst grade in Sociology 100 his freshman year, but the experience was enlightening, telling him he needed to learn more about how social systems work. In his future, he looks forward to using his knowledge effectively in the areas where he is most needed, hoping to create a world where people can actually talk to each other and solve problems together. Next year, Fleming plans to attend CSU as a graduate student and earn his master’s degree in Public Communications and Technology in the Department of Journalism.

This year, Fleming also was the winner of the First Generation Scholar award, a program recognizing students who are the first in their families to attend college. Fleming attributes much of his success to the program, and several of his closest friends stemmed from the program. Fleming is proud of the communities of people that he has worked with to improve CSU’s campus, including working in the Presidents Multicultural Student Advisory Committee to make diversity a more central element on campus. Further, he helped found an honor society for disabled students and a student organization where all students with disabilities could get involved. As a student with a reading disability, Fleming knows the challenges of achieving his collegiate goals; however, he feels it ultimately made him a better person. Having come from a low-income background, Fleming was not always sure he’d be able to afford college. However, his motivation to prove to himself helped him complete his education at CSU. To speak with Fleming, contact Tony Phifer at or (970) 491-7712.

Student strives to help others make healthy choices

As a Nutrition and Food Science major, Amy Smith is focused on creating healthier food practices. “I chose to major in nutrition because I wanted to help people live healthy lives. I believe that proper nutrition is essential in maintaining quality of life,” said Smith, who participates in organizations like Cooking Matters, a nonprofit organization that teaches low-income families about nutrition and cooking meals on a budget. Smith also taught cooking classes through Health District and was both treasurer and club president of CSU’s Nutrition and Fitness Club. “The Nutrition and Fitness Club has put on several programs, such as “Kitchen Transition,” which is a program that helps freshman students living in the dorms transition to eating and preparing meals for themselves off campus,” said Smith. Smith’s plans for the future include becoming a registered dietitian, and ultimately, a certified diabetes educator. “I just hope that by sharing my knowledge of nutrition, I can help out another,” said Smith. Smith graduates summa cum laude with honors this May and will receive the Outstanding Senior award for the College of Applied Human Sciences. To speak with Smith, contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at or (970) 491-6009.

Iraqi squad leader earns multiple degrees, is heavily involved at CSU

Irene Chaves is a non-traditional student originally from Costa Rica who has acted as a squad leader in Iraq, been an incredibly involved CSU Ram and will graduate this May with three undergraduate degrees in CIS, management and marketing. Chaves joined the North Carolina National Guard in 2002 and in 2005 was deployed to Iraq, where she spent a year as a squad leader working as an engineer, carpenter and mason. After completing her eight year commitment to the Army, Chaves then decided, at her sister’s suggestion, to apply to CSU. “I fell in love with the school when I visited and moved here the summer of 2010,” said Chaves. Since then Chaves has been working toward her three degrees, along with three certificates in International Business, Supply Chain Management and Entrepreneurship and has been incredibly involved all along the way. Her involvement has ranged from: Adult Learner and Veteran Services; Latin Rhythm, a salsa dance student organization; ALVS Advisory Committee, University Technology Fee Advisory Board and Student Technology Advisory Council. Chaves also acted as CIS club president and was part of the Dean’s Student Leadership Council. If that isn’t impressive enough, Chaves also has been a part of both the SALUTE Honor Society and Pinnacle Honor Society, was the winner of the Accenture Team Case Competition and the Daniels Ethics Fund Consortium 2013 Team Case Competition, received the E-Award HP for accuracy and excellence, the Army Commendation Medal three times and the Army Achievement Medal two times. Following graduation, Chaves plans to travel to Europe for two months and will return as a consultant for Hitachi Consulting. To speak with Chaves, contact Kate Jeracki at or (970) 491-2658.

Lacrosse player perseveres, hopes to help others

Madelaine Garcia came to CSU thinking she would be working toward a pre-vet degree but while volunteering at an elementary school during her freshman year, everything changed. “One of the students I had been working with for months completed his very first assignment in his entire life and he was in the third grade! This one moment changed my life,” said Garcia. Perhaps this change came due to Garcia’s upbringing that was, as she describes it, “not the easiest.” Growing up in poverty, being the oldest of three girls of a single teen mother and being subjected to negative influences has made Garcia persevere throughout her life. “I had to overcome many obstacles throughout my life to get to where I am now. When I tell my full story to others they cannot believe that I made it this far and accomplished so much, but to me, it is the reason why I am who I am today,” she said. Garcia is currently the captain for the CSU Women’s lacrosse team, receiving much recognition, including All-American, Most Outstanding Player in the position “Attack,” being one of 13 players in the nation nominated for player of the year, winning two National Championships and having an opportunity to win a third with the help of her teammates this year. Off the field, the Human Development and Family Studies major also has participated in volunteer work at Dunn Elementary School, the Food Bank of Larimer County and is part of Key Service, a CSU community devoted to service-learning and serving the community, and Campus Corps, an on-campus program that pairs undergraduate students with at-risk youth in Larimer County. Despite all her other successes, Garcia is most proud to be the first member of her family to graduate college. “I owe all of my success to my family, friends and teammates. Without their constant support, there is no way I would be where I am at today. This especially applies to my mother,” said Garcia. To speak with Garcia, contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at or (970) 491-6009.

Writer recognized for her contributions to the campus community

Mandy Rose is an English major with a concentration in creative writing, primarily in the genres of poetry and creative nonfiction. "A love of words and their interaction on the page brought me to CSU and the English department, where I have found my home as a writer," said Rose. Never a traditional student, she first attended CSU at the age of 16 and later returned in 2009, as a single mother to two young children. Rose has encountered many challenges on the way to her degree, but says the rewards have been worth it. "I’m a first generation student, and I know my children are learning the importance of an education by my example," said Rose. In addition to her roles as single mother and student, Rose also is acting co-president of the newly reestablished Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society; founder and host of the Evening Without Edit reading series; founder of the Creative Nonfiction Master’s Thesis reading series; senior poetry editor of CSU’s undergraduate literary journal, The Greyrock Review; and associate editor of A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park, a forthcoming book that will include her poem “Rosa Woodsii.” Rose’s academic work and outstanding involvement have earned her many honors, including Creative and Performing Arts awards in the genres of poetry and creative nonfiction, various other writing awards and designation as an Osher Scholar. She recently received the Meyer Nathan Memorial Award for compassion and service on campus and in the community. Rose’s personal challenges have inspired her contributions to the community, including teaching creative writing workshops to women and children affected by violence and speaking on the Women and Gender Advocacy Interpersonal Violence Speakers Bureau. Rose, who will begin the Master of Fine Arts program in poetry this fall, plans to continue her writing and volunteer work, with hopes of eventually teaching at the university level. To speak with Rose, contact Tony Phifer at or (970) 491-7712.

Engineering student studies abroad, participates in exchange program

Noah Sandoval is a double major in engineering education and Spanish as well as a coordinator for the leadership exchange program between CSU and UADY, a university in Mexico. Facilitated through SLiCE, the program is part of a growing partnership intended to increase student involvement. Sandoval also studied abroad in Spain and traveled several times with SLiCE to Mexico. Recognizing he loved teaching after his role as a peer mentor for the Honors program, Sandoval says he wants to teach engineering classes at UADY in the future. International experience, service and education are values he considers to be important in his life. Though he has an engineering mind, he is a people person and has found a way to incorporate all of his passions and talents into engineering education. Sandoval also is a resident assistant in Westfall Hall and is part of the Larimer County Search and Rescue team. To speak with Sandoval, contact Susan Skog at or (970) 491-5349.

Triple-major supports herself through school

Melissa Francis is a triple-major in economics, general math and statistics, set to graduate in May. While completing her three degrees, Francis also has taken several graduate courses and works in the Statistics department. Her job includes managing graduate applications and running the website. She is the only undergraduate in the department that is a teaching assistant and a research assistant. Francis also has been published in the AMSTATNews as the cover story detailing satisfaction surveys. Francis first began as an economics major, but soon found her passion was statistics. Francis looks at each problem as a work of art where each component builds upon itself, and sees the beauty of abstract mathematics. In addition to her hefty academic load, Francis paid her way through college, working and receiving a scholarship for research. Next year, she plans to work with software engineering at Kaiser Permanente as well as decide upon a graduate school for the following year. To speak with Francis, contact Susan Skog at or (970) 491-5349.