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Hungry for a Challenge

September 20, 2018
basketball player dunking a ball
Larry Nance Jr. helped lead the UW Cowboys to the Mountain West Conference tournament title and now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. (NBA Photos)

 

Meet four UW alumni who are blazing their own paths in careers ranging from architecture, acting and diversity all the way to the NBA.

By Micaela Myers

The world needs more wonder—more outside thinkers hungry for a challenge. Each day, University of Wyoming alumni take on challenges in a vast array of professions across the globe. There’s nothing usual about them. They buck the odds, buck the system and get things done with hard work and a fresh perspective. Meet four such cowboys and cowgirls with interesting and successful careers in a variety of fields.

Larry Nance Jr. – Power Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

In March 2015, Larry Nance Jr. helped lead the Cowboys basketball team to its first-ever Mountain West Conference tournament title and secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Later that spring, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. In early 2018, Nance returned to his home state of Ohio to play for his father’s former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“A few of my favorite things I’ve gotten to experience since being in the league have been playing with Kobe Bryant and his 60-point game, being in the dunk contest and getting to play in the finals alongside my childhood hero LeBron (James),” Nance says.

From his time playing for the Cowboys, Nance developed grit. “The biggest thing I took with me from Wyoming is an underdog mentality,” Nance says. “We may not have been the highest-ranked team all the time, but we had the toughness to beat a bunch of teams we shouldn’t have.”

When draft season began, teams took note of his maturity and humble personality. His character was partly shaped by a few personal hardships, including Crohn’s disease and a serious knee injury. “Everybody faces certain adversities in their life, and I’ve just tried to take mine and use them as an example for others going though similar things,” Nance says.

Some of his favorite memories at UW include riding his bike around campus and hanging out at the Wyoming Union.

“My goals going forward are to continue to be a role model on and off the court,” Nance says, “also making an all-star game and winning an NBA championship.”

man in climbing gear dangling above a city street
As a project manager for CBRE, engineering grad Logan Christensen assesses buildings for clients, including rope drops and swing stage assessments on the sides of buildings. (Courtesy Photo)

Logan Christensen – Project Manager, CBRE

Where in the world is Logan Christensen? He could be in any number of major U.S. cities, walking across the roofs of skyscrapers or dangling down the sides. Christensen’s job is to assess buildings for clients interested in buying or leasing them. As a project manager at CBRE’s downtown Denver office, Christensen works on the building envelope team. He is a 2011 architectural engineering graduate, a licensed professional engineer, and a registered roof observer who is also trained to conduct rope drops or swing stage assessments on the sides of buildings.

“There’s always something different,” the Cheyenne native says of his job. “I love to travel. It’s fascinating, because the buildings are so different depending on the geographic location and age of construction. This job allows me to see the country from coast to coast, which is a pretty great bonus.”

He also appreciates his talented team of co-workers: “They make work fun every day.”

During his time at UW, Christensen was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha and enjoyed the university’s smaller class sizes and personal attention, as well as the quality of professors. “Our teachers are proud of what they do,” he says. “They want to further the body of knowledge for students.

“It’s nice to have a college that I feel prepared me with knowledge and a work ethic for my career,” he says. “I recommend UW to everybody. When I travel, I’m like a walking Wyoming billboard. I have a Wyoming suitcase and wear a Wyoming polo or ball cap.”

Christensen wants other engineering students to know that there are many career opportunities in a variety of fields. “I’m not in a traditional engineering profession,” he says. “You don’t have to stay in a box. There are opportunities to expand your knowledge and find things you like. Be flexible within your career, and don’t be afraid to try something new.”

man and woman facing each other with woman cupping his face in her hands
2008 graduate and professional actress Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako returned to UW in 2015 to star in the summer production of "The Mountaintop." (Photo by Donald P. Turner)

Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako – Professional Actress

Earlier this year, the Netflix original Everything Sucks! hit TVs around the world. One of this show’s co-stars was none other than 2008 theater and dance alumna Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako.

“It was the best,” she says of her cast member experience. “The environment was bubbling with glee and excitement in the story we were telling.”

Nako’s acting roots go all the way back to junior high school in Laramie. During a state drama competition that included Laramie High School, UW Professor Lou Anne Wright invited her to audition for a scholarship.

“I just fell in love with storytelling,” Nako says. “I’ve always been interested in biology and psychology as well. Theater acting is sort of an interesting amalgamation of those things. You get to study the human form from inside and outside. It’s a study of behavior and how people interact in the world.”

At UW, Nako enjoyed her theater and dance as well as her general education coursework. “The training was excellent and comprehensive,” she says.

During her time here, Nako toured with the Centennial Singers and won the Irene Ryan acting competition. “I got to go to Washington, D.C., and perform at the Kennedy Center—that was awesome,” she says. Winning the competition earned Nako a fellowship to study at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.

She settled in Seattle after graduation and began a successful stage acting career that included a host of lead actress accolades, including a 2012 Gregory Award nominee for The Callers, 2015 Gregory Award and 2015 Gypsy Rose Lee Award for Little Bee, 2016 Gregory Award and 2016 Gypsy Rose Lee Award for My Heart Is the Drum, and 2017 Gypsy Rose Lee Award for A Raisin in the Sun.

“I love being in a room with my audience—hearing and seeing their reactions and getting to craft, in some ways, a new performance every night,” Nako says of stage work. However, she decided her next step was to pursue film and television. She secured an agent and a number of commercials and industrial videos before auditioning for Everything Sucks!, which was shot in Portland. 

“Auditioning class at UW really taught me well,” says Nako, who also works as a voice and acting coach.

What’s next for Nako? Stay tuned! When we spoke with her this spring, she was spending a month in Los Angeles auditioning. You can follow Nako on Facebook to see where she lands her next big role.

family of four, man, woman, young man and young woman and two dogs
Top: Techstars Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity Jason Thompson with his wife, Elizabeth, and their children, Justus and Piper. (Photo by Elizabeth Thompson)

Jason Thompson – Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity, Techstars

College didn’t start out easily for Jason Thompson, but one person changed that—Dolores Saucedo Cardona of UW’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.

“The diversity program at the University of Wyoming really saved my life,” he says. “Dolores took me under her wings. She thought I had potential.” Cardona even offered Thompson a job that helped him pay his tuition.

When asked what led to his successful career in diversity and inclusion, Thompson says: “I’m returning the favor. Almost my whole career has been in diversity, partly because it saved me.”

Thompson grew up in Cheyenne and graduated with his bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1990. He worked as coordinator of UW’s Multicultural Resource Center and then completed a master’s degree in 1997. Thompson later completed Harvard’s executive training program and Northwestern’s Olympic sport leadership certification. After jobs with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the American Heart Association, he began his award-winning career in diversity and inclusion. Thompson held positions at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Center and INTEGRIS Health before being named the director of diversity and inclusion for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“I was able to start that program from scratch,” he says of his Olympic appointment. “It was a good opportunity.”

Now, Thompson is starting another program from scratch at Techstars, a company that aims to provide startups with the financial, human and intellectual resources to prosper. “Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed,” he says. The company is home to more than 200 employees across 150 countries. Thompson will not only help the company itself with diversity and inclusion but also work with the startups they serve.

“Diversity is unique to each country, so this job is going to be uniquely challenging,” he says. “I hope that, four or five years from now, we will have built a great program that makes a change in the tech industry and makes us a leader. I think that’s an exciting opportunity.”

Thompson thrives on such opportunities. At UW, he became the first black president of the Associated Students of UW. This past January, he was the keynote speaker for UW’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Days of Dialogue event. At UW, the Jason Thompson Commitment to Diversity Award is given annually to a UW faculty, staff, student or community member who exemplifies a strong commitment to diversity or social justice.

He and his wife, Elizabeth, are both UW alumni and agree it’s the people who make the difference. Thompson readily recommends UW to the young people he meets. “You get the big college experience, but at the same time, you’ll get to know your faculty members,” he says. “That’s what’s going to define your success.”


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