Announcing the 2014 Alumni Awards for Excellence

Each year, the Western Alumni Board chooses students from a large number of nominees to be recognized for their service, academic achievements, creativity and initiative in the classroom, and being outstanding representatives of Western State Colorado University.

The Alumni Awards for Excellence celebrate Western State Colorado University as a community of teachers and learners. The Award, established by former President Harry Peterson in 1997, is an opportunity to recognize the talents and achievements of our graduates and remains the University's highest honor for its graduating seniors.  Over the last seventeen years many extraordinary students have been nominated and honored. 

Members of the Alumni Board of Directors review nominations and select honorees.  Every student nominated is outstanding and the selection process is always challenging.  

The criteria for the award include:

  • outstanding scholarship,
  • creativity, thoughtfulness and initiative in the classroom,
  • service to the campus/community outside the classroom, and
  • service as an excellent representative of Western State Colorado University.

In addition, to be eligible for this award, students must:

  • have graduated in December 2013, August 2013 or be graduating in May 2014.
  • have achieved a minimum G.P.A. of 3.2 (a student who transferred in to Western will have their transfer GPA taken into consideration).
  • have earned 60 credit hours or more at Western. 

Proudly Presenting the Spring 2014 Alumni Awards for Excellence

Alumni Awards for Excellence Spring 2014 Lizzy Clay
Elizabeth “Lizzy” Clay

Lizzy is from Eden Prairie, Minn., majoring in Art, with a Psychology minor. She is also completing her bachelor of fine arts degree, with an emphasis in Three Dimensional: Sculpture.

Activities/ Honors: 

Lizzy has been a member of Western's Mountain Sports ski team for three of her four years here in Gunnison. She was also a volunteer coach for a local gymnastics team for the past two years, working with girls of various ages. Lizzy found time to travel with these young girls and help raise money for them, as well. Lizzy serves as the student director of the student art gallery on campus, requiring her to manage her peers, their art and their schedules. Lizzy has also served as an Orientation leader, and her supervisor said “she became a leader among a group of leaders within the student Orientation team.”  She has received several scholarship awards in her time here at Western and graduates with a 3.63 GPA.


Hunter Guthrie

Hunter is from Angola, Ind., majoring in Anthropology, with a minor in Geography and a minor in Latin American studies.


Hunter is a Peer Academic leader here campus – part of a program designed to help undeclared students explore a major. He has worked as a tutor for the AmeriCorps program, also supervising classes and the climbing wall at the Gunnison Recreation Center. While at Western, Hunter has taken advantage of two summer anthropological field opportunities: in Belize on an archeological project led by Western State professor Dr. Hyde; and in Guatemala, focusing on Maya medical anthropology. This past semester, Hunter worked with Western’s Dr. Lynn Sikkink on a film project in Colorado's San Luis Valley. He has just been accepted into the master of arts program in Anthropology at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, on a full scholarship. He graduates with a 3.73 GPA.


Alumni Awards for Excellence Spring 2014 Karen Howe
Karen Howe

Karen is an Honors program student from Salt Lake City, double majoring in Art and Environment Studies.


Karen has received the most prestigious award from Western's Environment & Sustainability program, the Mahaffey scholarship, which goes to only one student each year. She also earned the Honors Presidential Scholarship and the C. Gerhardt Memorial Scholarship. Karen was the LEAD student sustainability coordinator for both 2013 and 2014. She organized a panel discussion on sustainability for the first Headwaters 100, presenting to nearly the entire freshman cohort at Western, along with directing and producing a short film on sustainability at Western. She has been a teaching assistant, has presented to the Board of Trustees on campus sustainability, has served as a student representative on a search committee for a new graduate faculty position and has been the student sustainability ambassador to the Student Government Association for the past two years. Karen also completed an internship with Natural Capitalism Solutions in 2012, where she conducted sustainability research for an international business. She served as president of the Honors Student Advisory Board and coordinated compost education at Western's Rare Air Cafe. Despite all her extra-curricular activities, Karen maintained a 3.89 grade-point average.


Laura Miess
Laura Miess
Laura is from Potsdam, Germany, majoring in Psychology, with a minor in Sociology.

After her first year at Western, Laura became an Orientation leader and was promoted to Orientation coordinator for the following two years. She has served on the First-Year Experience Committee, been a sexual-assault-prevention peer educator and been a member of the psychology group Active Minds since her sophomore year. Laura spent her spring semester of her junior year with the Semester-At-Sea program. During her study-abroad experience – when she traveled to Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco and Spain – she was special ambassador to K-12 schools and was awarded the Shipboard Education Scholarship. Laura also spent countless hours volunteering as a note taker for students who need assistance and was the assistant conference coordinator when Patch Adams came to campus as a keynote speaker. Her extra-curricular activities have included Symphony Band, Jazz Band and the Saxophone Quartet. Along with all of these accomplishments and with English as her second language, Laura worked two different jobs while maintaining a 3.92 GPA.


Cassie Ortiz
Cassandra “Cassie” Ortiz

Cassie is from Windsor, Colo., double majoring in Biology and Exercise & Sport Science, with a minor in Chemistry.


Cassie was a varsity runner on the women’s Cross Country and Track teams, where she was a multiple All-Academic honoree from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, as well as from the Rocky Mountain Athletic Association. She completed a research experience for undergraduates in the Department of Human Physiology at the University of Oregon, where she worked in the renal and reproductive laboratory, studying the role of matrix metalloproteinases in placental ischemia. With this study in her back pocket, Cassie returned to Western and has been working on a project with Dr. Lance Dalleck, entitled “The Prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Collegiate Athletes.” Cassie has also found time to join in the Academic Leadership program and the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. With all of Cassie’s academic, athletic and research accomplishments, she graduates with a 3.8 GPA.


Dan Piquette
Dan Piquette

Dan is from Gunnison, double majoring in Environmental Studies and Biology, with an emphasis in Environmental Biology & Ecology.


Dan recently received the 2014 Jim Olterman Scholarship from the Colorado Chapter of the Wildlife Society. The statewide award recognizes highly engaged and academically successful undergraduate students in wildlife biology. He also earned a three-year, renewable scholarship from Trout Unlimited. In his time at Western, Dan served as a teaching assistant for Biology, tutored other students and was vice president of the Tri Beta Biological Honor Society. Dan and Western professor Patrick Magee partnered for the past three years with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on a Thornton Biology Undergraduate Research Project to determine ambient noise levels and sources of anthropogenic noise in the Gunnison Basin around sage-grouse leks, which are groups of males seeking mates. Dan presented these results at the Colorado Chapter of the Wildlife Society annual meeting, after working with multiple professors from the University of California. He is now working with Magee on a paper for publication. Dan graduates with a 3.8 GPA and has accepted a graduate position at Oregon State University in their Environmental Ethics program.


Rachel Sandhagen-Turner
Rachael Sandhagen-Turner

Rachel is from Gunnison, an Honors student double majoring in Psychology and Sociology.


As a sophomore, Rachael pledged to Psi Chi, the International Honor Society for Psychology, and was immediately asked to serve as the group's secretary. After two years of in that role, she was elected chapter president. In that role, she helped book trips to the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association conference, helped with Active Minds events, worked with the Student Government Association and helped fundraise. Rachael also found time to tutor at Gunnison Middle school and has been a senior Partner for two years for the local youth mentoring organization, which serves at-risk adolescent children. Rachael also worked at the campus library, taking an interest in restoring historical books. This led her to learn the art of bookbinding and write her Honors thesis on the process. A member of Western's Honors program, Rachael maintained a 3.8 GPA. This fall, she will begin studies toward her master’s degree in Library Science and Information Technology at the University of Washington.


Shannon Shaw
Shannon Shaw

Shannon is from Denver, majoring in Biology, with an emphasis in Cell Biology/Pre-medicine and a minor in Chemistry.


Last year Shannon received a grant from the Thornton Undergraduate Research Committee to fund her study on The Effects of Estrogens on Menstrual Related Postural Sway, with her final report set for completion in May. Shannon was the president and a founding member of the Western Pre-Health Science Club. Through the club, Shannon and others have participated in the University of Colorado’s CREATE Health Scholars program, which helps undergraduates accelerate their progress in health careers, while addressing regional and statewide health challenges. Shannon also tutored the freshman Biology Diversity and Patterns of Life class and was a supplemental instructor for the Biology 150 lecture course. She served as secretary for the Chemistry club, as a member of the Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society and in 2014 presented at the Celebration of Scholarship her research, entitled "The Effects of Consumption on Herbicide-Resistant Brassica Rapa on Pieris Rapae Caterpillars." Shannon graduates with a 3.69 GPA and was one of a very few accepted to a one-year, post-baccalaureate program at the University of Colorado Medical School.



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Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 3:30pm