For students like Samantha Maddox, it doesn’t take long for the Western experience to get into their blood.
Maddox, an Exercise & Sports Science major, first visited Western Colorado University’s campus as a high school cross country runner. Originally from Vail, Colo., she participated in the high altitude running camp for two summers in a row, where she spent a week living in the dorms and, quite literally, acclimated to life at Western.
When the time came to choose a college, the decision was easy. She says she always felt like she belonged here.
“I really like the whole community of Gunnison, the outdoorsy aspect, and the culture here,” she says. “Everyone is so nice. I didn’t feel intimidated at all when I came here. I was like, I can handle this. I was stoked.”
She says she’s grown a lot during her tenure at Western.
“I would say that I’ve learned how to deal with overcoming things and to deal with tough situations,” she says.
As a freshmen, Maddox took COM 202, Academic Writing and Inquiry, “which was a super hard class for me,” she recalls. The class required students to write papers and then deliver speeches based on the paper.
“I’m a super outgoing person, but giving speeches is the most terrifying thing in my life,” she says.
On her first paper, she received a C. On the second, she improved a grade letter to a B. By the third: “I got a perfect grade on the speech and an A on the paper.”
Her instructor, JoAnn Arai, told Maddox that she was the “ideal student” — one that struggled in the beginning of the class, but showed growth as the course progressed.
“I wasn’t confident. I was freaking out. But I learned how to write a good paper instead of just getting through the class,” she says.
And beyond that, Maddox cultivated a strong relationship with her professor, who continues to support her learning outside the classroom.
“It was cool to build that relationship with her (Arai) and to now feel super confident about my abilities, giving speeches and writing papers,” Maddox says. “I always tell myself that if I can pass COM 202, I can do anything. It built my resiliency.”
Maddox is also heavily involved with Western’s Mountain Sports Team, for which she competes in trail running and Nordic skiing.
As a freshman, Maddox joined her Nordic teammates at the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association National Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., where she earned All American honors and placed in the top 10 in three of her four events.
When not competing, she spends much of her time working and teaching fitness classes at the Mountaineer Field House. She seems to know just about everyone there, and she’s often greeted with exclamations of her nickname, “Bob,” and friendly fist-bumps.
The closeness of the campus community is what brought her here and what keeps her here. She doesn’t believe she could have had the same experiences at a larger school.
“I feel like it’s a small school and everyone’s a big family and community here. You know everyone on campus and can reach out to people if you need help,” she says. “The professors are committed to being here and genuinely care about you.”
Maddox has grown to love Western and Gunnison and says she would love the opportunity become a permanent member of the community.
“Western is awesome. I love it,” she says. “I guess one thing is I don’t feel like I’m ready to leave yet, so if there’s an opportunity to stay after graduating, I would be so down for that.”
Written by Laura Anderson and photo by Taylor Ahearn, University Communications.