About 480 Fort Lewis College graduates were urged Saturday to stay nimble in life, embrace their struggles and appreciate challenges as a chance for growth by Colorado Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera.
Up to this point, most graduates’ lives were guided by others, Primavera said, structured and by the book. But most people are just kind of winging it in life – there’s no manual about how to succeed in life and there’s no script that will ensure happiness, she said. But that’s the best part of life – the freedom of choice when the unexpected happens.
“The best part of life is making your own decisions,” Primavera said. “The bitterness of pain and failure make the sweetness of success all that better.”
Students will go on to pursue diverse career paths in science, engineering, education and a host of other fields. Some will go on to graduate school, travel abroad or seek work in their chosen profession. Some may join the ranks of one of Durango’s most highly-educated employment sectors: the restaurant industry. Here are five student who represent a small snapshot of FLC’s spring graduating class, their broad interests, achievements and future plans.
Engineering student pursues new nuclear tech
Dustin Mangus, 25, hopes to become an engineer who will help move the planet toward greater reliance on nuclear energy. He sees nuclear energy as an alternative power source that could help replace the electrical grid’s heavy dependence on coal, which is contributing to climate change.
“It’s an obvious challenge that would be really cool to be a part of fixing,” he said.
Mangus was accepted at Oregon State University where he will pursue his doctorate and help research liquid sodium thermal hydraulic systems. Liquid sodium is an extremely malleable silver-white element, similar to mercury, which is a coolant used in advanced nuclear reactors. While at Fort Lewis College, he worked for two years as a research assistant studying liquid sodium under William Nollet, assistant professor of physics and engineering.
Mangus is driven to make the world a better place through his research into nuclear cooling systems, in part, because of volunteer work he did through FLC’s Village Aid Project, he said.
In 2017, he designed a 5,000-gallon reinforced cement tank to provide fresh water to townspeople in a small village in Myanmar for the Village Aid Project.
“VAP really set a great baseline to how much an impact I can potentially make,” he said.
Mangus graduated from Ignacio High School with a 2.7 GPA, in part because he wasn’t engaged in school. But he learned to love competing with his classmates to solve problems and put a “ridiculous” number of hours into studying, he said.
Basketball star to pursue medicine
Alyssa Yocky, 22, was a star on the women’s basketball team, served as vice president of the student body and excelled academically. The biology major now plans to apply for medical school.
Out of all her endeavors, she said the most rewarding experience was a year spent working with biology Professor Shere Byrd researching the immune response in mice to murine cytomegalovirus, a herpes virus. The research is intended to discover whether researchers should use inbred or genetically diverse mice to replicate the immune systems of humans.
In the lab, she worked with three other female students, who were doing independent research.
“Jobs in the sciences and in medicine are dominated by men, but we are strong women who are looking to continue to push that standard back,” she said in an email to The Durango Herald.
She also completed an honors thesis on the rhetoric of World War I American propaganda posters. She presented the thesis at the Western Regional Honors Conference, an event that showcases student work from across the Western U.S.
As vice president of the Associated Students of Fort Lewis College she learned how to handle conflict, keep discussion civil, run meetings, among other lessons, she said.
She wanted to be involved in student government because she wanted to make a difference and represent student athletes who often have their voices overlooked.
“I knew that they were the people making change happen on campus,” she said.
As a basketball player, Yocky overcame a serious Achilles injury that required surgery her junior year. Her senior year she was named Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week in January and provided senior leadership to a young and developing team.
Chemistry grad explores interstellar molecules
Diego Novoa, 24, discovered a love for chemistry in college, and as an undergraduate at FLC helped seek answers to big questions such as: “Can the molecules needed for life form in outer space?”
Novoa, a native of Juno Alaska, attended three colleges in his home state before moving to Colorado. He originally thought he wanted to major in biology, but as a sophomore at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, he took a high school-level chemistry class that captured his imagination.
“I started looking at trees and the trillions of atoms that composed those trees,” he said. “It really changed the way I looked at the world.”
He came to FLC three years ago, intending to stay only a year on a National Student Exchange grant, but was able finish his undergraduate studies in Durango through the Maximizing Access to Research Careers Program.
At Fort Lewis, he was intrigued by astrochemistry and helped research whether molecules needed for life, such as the components needed for DNA, are capable of forming in interstellar space. To answer the question, the team he worked with broke molecules apart to see if the fragments were comparable to molecules found in space. He presented on the findings from that study at the American Chemical Society National Conference and other events.
After graduate school, he hopes to work as a professor at a research-intensive university where he can work on other big questions and teach.
“I’ve really enjoyed the look in people’s eyes when I can explain a difficult or complicated but really amazing concept to them,” he said.
Health department intrigued by graduate’s research
Tanner Mihesuah, 25, researched why students started smoking and vaping as a public health major, collecting data that may be used by San Juan Basin Public Health. Mihesuah, who grew up in Kansas, plans to pursue a master’s in public health with a concentration in Health Services Administration.
Mihesuah’s research was completed as part of a public health communication class and showed students believe vaping to be harmless, when it’s not, said Sarah Newman, an assistant professor of Public Health. Newman oversaw the project that was done in collaboration with the health department.
Mihesuah brought experience from nursing school to the project and functioned as a colleague in a professional setting would, she said.
“He was really aware of the research process,” she said.
Mihesuah said the project helped him understand that by taking time to hear personal stories and social factors that can lead to vaping, health care resources can be better focused, and better prevention offered.
“Thanks to the teaching environment Dr. Newman and Fort Lewis College provided me, I was able to get a variety of real-life experience with writing a funding proposal, getting my vaping project (Institutional Review Board) approved, and gained new insight on how to conduct interviews in a professional manner,” he said in an email to The Durango Herald.
Language arts teacher found calling working with immigrants
Julie Huey, 28, is a member of the first class of students to graduate from FLC’s two-year teacher licensure program that allows students to earn master’s in education. The program is expected to help fill the high demand for teachers in the area, said FLC spokeswoman Lauren Savage.
Through the program, Huey received her teaching license during the 2017-18 year, which allowed her to start teaching eighth-grade language arts at Escalante Middle School in the fall.
Completing her first year of teaching and finishing her master’s degree at the same time was intense, she said. However, other master’s students were supportive, and now she has found her niche.
Huey first started teaching for a nonprofit after graduating with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish literature and English from San Francisco State University.
She taught mostly English as a second-language class to immigrants with children in school and helped them learn to communicate teachers in San Francisco. She moved to Durango two years ago to attend the teaching program after substitute teaching in Denver. She wanted the rooted feeling that would come from having her own classroom.
As a language arts teacher, she believes it is important for her students to learn media and digital literacy skills so they can interpret all the persuasive messages they may be receiving online and through social media, she said.
It is also important for students to understand how rumors and gossip can lead to hate, violence and discrimination, she said.
“The subject lends itself to learn how to empathize with those around you,” she said.
firstname.lastname@example.orgThis story has been corrected to say FLC’s first cohort of students in the master’s of education teacher licensure program graduated this spring. A previous version said the first cohort of master’s of education students graduated.