Faces of the Class of 2013

Whether validating a lifetime of experience, conquering obstacles to achieving their educational goals or trying to find their calling in life, members of the University of Northern Colorado's spring class of 2013 are now poised to make a difference during the next chapter of their lives. Here are profiles of just a few.

Artie Mae Grisby
Validating a lifetime of experiences

When Artie Mae Grisby crossed the commencement stage on May 11, she was among the oldest graduates in University of Northern Colorado history at 79.

Although she's proud of earning her bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education, the completion of her degree is just one step on a lifelong journey that didn't end on graduation day.

"I keep my feet flat on the floor," Grisby said recently at UNC's Center for Urban Education (CUE) in Denver, where she took classes for the past two years. "This is my time, that's all."

She said she never thought she'd go into a career working with children after visiting a friend's childcare center in her home state of Louisiana many years ago.

Nor did she imagine that she'd go on to become a sought-after childcare trainer and first aid instructor for the state of Colorado.

"I was a nurse for a few years before I worked in the insurance business. After 10 years of that, I knew I had to do something else," she said.

But she didn't know what so she turned to her religious faith and prayed for guidance on her next steps. The message was clear.

"'Childcare,' the Lord told me. And I said, ‘No, not me!'" But each time she prayed, the answer was the same. "So I finally decided to listen. I said, ‘Ok, I'll quit my job and I'd better have one child in my care by August 1.'" Continue Reading.

Mario Hernandez
From Guatemala to Greeley … and beyond

The fact that Mario Hernandez was selected as both the student speaker for this year's undergraduate commencement ceremony and as one of two recipients of the 2013 Robert and Ludie Dickeson Presidential Prize for Leadership gives you an idea of how he made a difference during his time at UNC.

And it shows just how far he's come in 10 years. When he and his parents left Guatemala for a better life in the United States, he was 11, spoke no English and college seemed like an impossible dream.

Hernandez used multiple merit-based scholarships and jobs to help make the dream come true and he embraced campus life, serving as a diversity mentor and resident assistant in multiple residence halls while helping with a variety of Residence Hall Association initiatives. He was a member of the President's Leadership and Honors programs, a participant in and then student facilitator for UNC's yearly Catalyst Social Justice Retreat and helped plan two of the school's annual Leaders Engaging in Action through Passion annual summits.

He also co-founded and served as standards chair of UNC's chapter of Pi Kappa Phi, a national fraternity focusing on developing members' leadership skills.

Hernandez was also active off campus, volunteering countless hours at the Weld County Food Bank, Greeley Place Senior Living Center, A Children's Place and Relay for Life.

Hernandez, who earned a bachelor's degree in Business Administration - Management, will work as an assistant residence hall director on the University of Colorado's Boulder campus for the next year while he saves money to help finance a master's degree in higher education and student affairs so that he can continue in a role of leadership in a university setting.

Emilie Nemchak
Leading in and out of the classroom

Emilie Nemchak's involvement in a wide variety of student life activities and organizations while working toward her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communications summa cum laude earned her one of two Robert and Ludie Dickeson Presidential Prizes for Leadership given each spring to a graduating senior.

In addition to serving on the campus Residence Hall Association council, Nemchak was social and traditional events coordinator her senior year, leading the association's involvement with a variety of campus events such as homecoming and earning her a nomination as RHA student of the year.

As a member of the National Residence Hall Honorary, she represented UNC at NRHH national meetings and conferences, playing a key role in implementing the organization's national safe trick-or-treat and anti-bullying campaigns at UNC and assisting with leadership education activities to help develop other student leaders' leadership skills.

In addition to her residence hall responsibilities, Nemchak helped recruit new students through her work as a campus tour guide and then assisted new freshmen transition from high school to university life in her leadership role during orientations for new students.

As a member of the Student Public Relations Network, she helped organize seminars and networking events with working professionals in the field. Her involvement with Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority gave her opportunities to help plan and volunteer at events such as highway clean-ups and the Special Olympics.

She'll use the experience she's gained as a campus leader and in internships off campus to pursue a career in marketing.

Konrad Schlarbaum
Leaving a sustainable legacy

Konrad Schlarbaum leaves behind a legacy at UNC after leading the effort to establish the Student Leadership Environmental Action Fund, a fee-funded initiative approved by students in 2012 that promotes a sustainable campus community and culture.

He also served as the first president of the student-run fund, which in its inaugural year used more than $100,000 to support water-saving improvements to the campus' lawn sprinkler systems, the placement of 20 outdoor recycling kiosks expected to increase recycling totals by 10 percent and the installation of 32 bottle-filling water stations in buildings that have already diverted more than 500,000 plastic water bottles from landfills.

When he wasn't helping UNC's "greening" efforts, Schlarbaum, a veteran of tours in Belgium and Iraq with the U.S. Army, was helping other veterans transition from military life to campus life or participating in community service activities on and off campus, including ones as a member of UNC's chapter of Mortar Board, the National Senior Honor Society.

A double major in Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality and Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Schlarbaum was regularly named to the Dean's List. This summer, he'll combine what he's learned in both majors during an internship as a tour guide at Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado.

He hopes to use that experience as a springboard to a career in environmental tourism.

Corina Brown
Doctoral dissertation changes the way nursing students learn

Corina Brown is a familiar face in UNC's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry: She earned her master's degree in Biochemistry in 2009 and served as a teaching assistant while earning her Ph.D. in Chemistry Education.

But she'll be best remembered not for how long she was associated with the department, but rather for the impact of her graduate work, particularly her doctoral dissertation, which earned her a Graduate School Dean's Citation for Excellence and is changing how a required chemistry course for nursing students is taught.

Her dissertation, a product of her experiences as a graduate teaching assistant of UNC nursing students' required chemistry course, Principles of Biochemistry, provides a model for assessing students' pre-course knowledge of the subject.

Her research, done in collaboration with UNC's School of Nursing, has already been used to re-design the course to provide students with more information relevant to their careers.

Moreover, since presenting her dissertation at multiple regional and national chemistry meetings, she's been fielding requests from chemistry faculty throughout the U.S. for approval to use her assessment materials in their classroom.

Brown also was selected by the American Chemical Society to present her work at the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences Congress in Prague, Czech Republic, and so far has had it published in one peer-reviewed journal with manuscripts pending publication in two other publications.

She hopes to continue teaching and researching in a university faculty position.

Originally from the Transylvania region of Romania, Brown's story of growing up under communism before emigrating to the U.S., a 3.94 GPA and her outstanding dissertation made her an excellent choice as student speaker at the Graduate School's commencement ceremony.

Lisa Regan and Sara Regan
Mother and daughter share a common motivation for earning their degrees

A combination of career fairs and personal ties to physical therapy led Sara Regan, a Greeley native and a Daniels Fund Scholar, to pursue the undergraduate degree in Sports and Exercise Science she received May 11 from UNC. Her mother, Lisa Regan, a second-grade teacher at University Schools, graduated the night before with a master's degree in Reading.

While their chosen fields are quite different, Sara and her mother have similar post-graduation goals in mind: to use their education to make a positive impact on the lives of each person they work with.

Sara experienced the positive impact of physical therapy second-hand; her mother was diagnosed with epilepsy as an infant; the apparent result of a stroke that occurred before or shortly after she was born. Her doctors didn't think she would graduate from high school, let alone college. Lisa did both, and inspired Sara to show others with traumatic brain injuries that the effects don't define who you are, or the goals you've established for yourself.

Lisa pursued a master's in Reading because of her interest in language and unique learning styles, and because of her desire to better understand reading and writing as separate entities and how they relate to each other. She's looking forward to bringing her knowledge to the classroom and getting her students excited about learning.

The saying, "Like mother, like daughter" certainly applies to these UNC graduates, even though their college experiences were anything but similar. Both women are living proof that with motivation and determination, and sometimes a little inspiration, a college degree is possible at any age.

Taylor Hall
Passion for public speaking, faith earn him a Princeton scholarship

After he interviewed for admission into the elite seminary graduate program at Princeton University, where less than 7 percent of those who apply are accepted, Taylor Hall knew the interview went well when he was asked to submit letters of recommendation.

He was told he'd be contacted in a few weeks, after the letters were reviewed.

Hall couldn't help but wonder, though, if admissions staff might think it odd that someone from Sterling, Colo., with a bachelor's degree in Finance would want to get a master of Divinity degree.

Imagine his surprise when, only a week later, he received an e-mail notifying him that not only had he been accepted into the seminary program, he'd also been awarded a full scholarship that covered books, tuition, residential housing and even a living stipend.

"I was speechless," Hall said. "They told me this particular scholarship was based only on the quality of the interview, not GPAs or activities or letters of reference. I'm still amazed."

Being speechless is a rare thing for Hall, who as a student ambassador for UNC's Admissions Office the past two years, became accustomed to talking for 90 minutes straight while conducting campus tours for prospective students and their parents.

According to Hall, Professor of Finance Christine McClatchey helped him identify his passion for public speaking and motivating people, which helped him decide to pursue motivational speaking as a career.

"And what better way to do that then to combine my passion for religion and philosophy and wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of others?" he said.

Don Alvarez
Non-traditional student sets the bar high for others

Although Don Alvarez was almost 30 years older than most of his classmates, the 50-year-old father of three didn't lack for energy in the classroom or outside it during his pursuit of a bachelor's degree in Nursing.

He graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA and was a College of Natural and Health Sciences Scholar. He served as president-elect and president of the Student Nurses Association, taught CPR to other nursing students and served as a greeter for the School of Nursing's 50th anniversary event.

His many other extracurricular activities included co-organizing a free health fair for members of Greeley's refugee communities and leading a fund-raising effort that paid for the majority of immunizations administered during the fair. He then built on that experience by serving as medical coordinator for the first-ever 9Health Fair hosted by UNC, attended by an estimated 800 area residents.

Away from campus, he responded to medical emergencies as an EMT with the Poudre Valley Health System, taught portions of EMT courses and CPR courses at Front Range Community College and volunteered as an assistant Boy Scout leader.

Alvarez, who said being in classes with students young enough to be his children made him feel like an awkward teenager trying to fit in but taught him how to be a better listener, will start work on his master's in Nursing at UNC in the fall.

Caitlin Miller
Trip to India inspires grad to continue community service work

In addition to graduating cum laude with bachelor's degrees in Psychology and Anthropology, Caitlin Miller leaves UNC with awards for outstanding community service and research, and a legacy for helping those less fortunate, both in Greeley and India.

In the summer between her junior and senior year, Miller spent six weeks in India working with three different community service organizations, including one that sought to empower women and another striving to educate children that were once beggars in the country's poorest areas.

She fully immersed herself in the culture, wearing Indian clothes, eating Indian food and even wading in the country's holiest - and by American standards, its dirtiest - rivers.

When she returned to Greeley, Miller, pictured at right with Congolese refugee Jackline, began an internship at the Global Refugee Center, working to raise awareness about the refugee populations in Greeley, helping connect the refugees with the rest of the community and organizing awareness events such as "Walk in Their Shoes."

She also organized concerts, Swahili drum lessons and cultural shows, and taught English to refugees.

As a research assistant in UNC's neurophysiology lab, Miller studied traumatic brain injuries' effects on the brain's ability to process information and then combined her anthropological and psychological work for her honors thesis, in which she studied Somali refugees' interpretations of trauma-related mental illnesses.

Her work with refugees, other volunteer work and her thesis earned her the Center for Honors, Scholarship and Leadership's Civic Engagement Award and second place in UNC's annual Research Excellence Award competition.

Miller plans to take a break from school by returning to India to continue her work with women's empowerment and rural development organizations before pursuing an advanced degree in psychological anthropology.

Related: News release about commencement ceremonies and statistical profile of the class of spring 2013.

Related: More faces: The first graduates of the online Sociology bachelor's degree program

Related: Graduate Interviewed about Ph.D. Dissertation by Riyadh Radio Station