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Relentless Curiosity

September 20, 2018
woman sitting in front of bookshelves
As Adeline Borti completes her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction and literacy education, she is already impacting students and teachers in her home country of Ghana.

Constantly learning and continually striving, UW’s top students lead the way.

By Micaela Myers

Thinking up new questions and daring to chase down the answers—that’s what UW’s top students do each and every day in the classroom, the lab, up in the mountains, out on the range and across the globe. These cowgirls and cowboys make their own paths and in the process make the world around them all the better for it. On the following pages you’ll meet five such students who are already standouts.

The Literacy Advocate

Doctoral student Adeline Borti of Anyako, Ghana, was named Outstanding Graduate Student for her significant accomplishments. Her research and outreach span the globe.

Borti is majoring in curriculum and instruction and literacy education. Back home, she taught K–12 students for eight years before pursuing her master’s degree in teaching English as a second language. After her master’s degree, she taught at two universities in Ghana. “English is our second language back in Ghana,” she says. “We have about 108 native languages, so English becomes the bridge. This language situation in Ghana explains the importance of English education in Ghana.”

When she decided to pursue her Ph.D., Borti was looking for a school with a literacy center attached, which made UW appealing with its impressive Literacy Research Center and Clinic.

“I’m doing tons of research,” she says. “I do research with my current adviser and other professors. I’m also doing some research on my own looking at pre-service teachers and what they know about literacy. Teacher knowledge plays an essential role in teacher efficiency and students’ achievement. It is, therefore, important to focus on what teachers need to know in order to ensure teacher competence and student achievement.”

Borti added a community service component to her work, which includes returning to Ghana to engage teachers in professional enrichment interactions while also bringing supplies of donated English books and shelving—a project she’s named Access to Books. She has completed two projects at elementary schools thus far, and the most recent received support from the U.S. and Ghana.

“One of the pillars of literacy achievement is the provision of a literacy-rich environment, and this is what the Access to Books project is doing,” Borti says. “I see children empowered to read, write and communicate with critical minds as future leaders who can be more productive as agents of change.”

Borti’s plan is to become a professor in Ghana, educating the next generation of teachers. She believes that the College of Education is preparing her well for the future and notes that her professors have high expectations and students are also given the opportunity to challenge themselves to meet these expectations.

Additionally, she is grateful that the College of Education and the literacy unit are able to support her to attend conferences and meet with visiting scholars.

“I’m looking forward to including a focus on literacy education at the pre-service level,” Borti says of her future as a professor. “I’m also looking forward to having a travel-abroad partnership with UW and other American universities when I finally return home. I think these travel-abroad experiences would enable me to bring students here, and UW and other American universities can also send students to Ghana. We can establish knowledge sharing and a cultural exchange.”

woman standing in front of wall displaying saddles
Animal and veterinary sciences junior Kaitlyan Reed serves as an ambassador for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and competes with UW’s Ranch Horse Team.

The Ag Ambassador

Junior Kaitlyan Reed of Craig, Colo., grew up showing horses and cattle. When it came time to choose a college, Reed says that UW just felt right. Here, she’s majoring in animal and veterinary sciences with a pre-vet concentration and a minor in agricultural business.

Reed is a member of UW’s Ranch Horse Team, where she’s found a second family. The team competes across Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Texas in four categories: reining, pleasure, trail and working cow horse. “Our riders are very committed and competitive,” she says. “The team has been a huge part of my college experience.”

She keeps one or both of her horses in Laramie during the school year and also serves as an ambassador, meeting with potential students and promoting the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Ag runs in her blood—her family raises show cattle, and Reed and her brother lease a herd of commercial Angus cattle. Eventually, Reed plans to pursue graduate school for equine reproduction and hopes to one day run her own business.

Caring people and hands-on experience are what set UW apart, Reed says. “We get to participate in a lot of hands-on learning, whether it be out at the farm, riding horses or even in the lab,” she says. “It seems like we get emails every other day about participating in research projects, which I feel is super neat. I think that sets us apart. It will really increase our learning experience.”

man looking at white board with equations on it
Mathematics master’s student Clay Carper says UW’s McNair Scholars program helped prepare him for graduate school.

The Mathematician

Once Clay Carper of Riverton, Wyo., started pursuing his higher education, he just couldn’t stop.

“I started with a technical degree and certificate in robotics technology at Casper College,” says the first-generation college student. “I initially just planned to get that and go to work. Then I realized there were a lot of questions I was asking that went much deeper into the underlying theory. I realized most of those questions were based in mathematics. If I really wanted to answer them, I needed to go further.”

He did just that, completing his undergraduate degree in mathematics at UW, becoming a McNair Scholar and pursuing his master’s degree in mathematics.

“I chose UW because of the quality of the staff,” Carper says. “I think our biggest strength as a university is that there’s a genuine care for the students. Very rarely have I taken a course where the instructor doesn’t know my first name or isn’t willing to sit down with you if you’re struggling. I don’t think that’s something you get at a larger university.”

As a McNair Scholar, he participated in undergraduate research and gained the tools he needed for graduate school. “I honestly would not be here today without it,” he says.

Now a graduate student, Carper teaches math to elementary education students and spent the summer interning with Western Research Institute. He plans to pursue his doctorate and either become a professor or work in private industry: “It’s the best rock and hard place you could be stuck in. It’s a win-win either way.”

woman with a large book on her lap
While working toward her Doctor of Pharmacy degree, Vanessa Sorrels serves as president of the Keepers of the Fire student organization, which aims to preserve and promote cultural diversity at UW.

The Future Pharmacist

When Vanessa Sorrels completes her Doctor of Pharmacy degree this spring, she hopes to work at the Wind River Family & Community Health Care clinic in Arapaho or the Indian Health Service clinic in Fort Washakie. “I would like to go there and try to help my people as much as I can,” she says. “I hope that I can offer valuable knowledge and maybe even be an inspiration for others that think higher education is not possible.”

Sorrels was born in Lander but considers Casper her hometown. There, she earned two associate degrees from Casper College before transferring to UW.

“I am very fond of the smaller class sizes,” she says. “Some schools of pharmacy have classes that are 150–200 students. I do not think people realize it, but that gives Wyoming a huge advantage, at least to me. It allows the opportunity to build relationships and not just be a number.”

As president of the student organization Keepers of the Fire, Sorrels helped with the opening of the Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center at UW. “I feel that I helped create a sense of belonging and an open community where everyone is welcome,” she says. “That was my whole goal, to make a family away from family. I am not sure how many people know about Native American culture, but we are very family-oriented people—so much so that it can be detrimental if we do not find ways to cope. So, I think I accomplished that with the help of the grand opening of the Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center.”

There, students can gather and even share meals, another important cultural tradition. Between pharmacy school, Keepers of the Fire and her family, including her young daughter, Sorrels has stayed busy. Approaching her final semester, she feels ready to enter the workforce as a professional pharmacist.

“I am really glad that I came here,” she says. “These last few years have been great.”

two women looking at a book
Third-year law student Sarah Davis and recent graduate Debra Bulluck made history as the first from Wyoming to compete and earn recognition at the National Black Law Students Association Nelson Mandela International Negotiations Competition.

The Law Student Leaders

During this past spring semester, two UW law students made history as the first from Wyoming to compete and earn recognition at the National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA) Nelson Mandela International Negotiations Competition in Brooklyn, N.Y. May graduate Debra Bulluck of Madison, Ala., and third-year law student Sarah Davis of San Antonio, Texas, brought home several accolades. Davis was named the “national best negotiator” for the overall competition, and both Davis and Bulluck were awarded the “national best negotiators” of the second preliminary round. They also were the highest-scoring team overall in the preliminary rounds.

Both students name the competition as one of the highlights of their time at UW, and they hope it leaves a lasting legacy for future students.

In order to compete and attend the conference, Bulluck had to found the inaugural chapter of the NBLSA in Wyoming. Without the numbers required for a solo chapter, she was able to house the chapter under the existing Multicultural Law Student Association (MLSA) in the College of Law. The NBLSA chapter provides an opportunity for minority students to tap into an amazing network and national community.

“This had been a goal of mine since I began law school,” Bulluck says. “I knew I wanted to be a member of this organization, so I became a member at large, but it was something that was really important to me to see through until the end—not only for my own law school experience but for others as well.”

After their return, Davis and Bulluck explored coaching and funding options for future UW students to attend. “This has been a tremendous opportunity for us, and I really encourage others to be bold, take risks and pursue the unknown,” Bulluck says. “You never know what knowledge you’ll gain.”

She believes that the UW College of Law prepared her well to practice right out of the gate as Referee Mary Madden’s judicial law clerk in the 4th Judicial District in Hennepin County Family Court in Minneapolis. At UW, Bulluck served as the student director for the UW Family and Immigrant Justice Clinic, completed an externship for Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Kate Fox, published an article in the NBLSA’s The Legal Pad and served as Potter Law Club’s (student bar association) second-vice president, coordinating law week.

Bulluck says UW’s clinics also provide a key resource for Wyoming residents. For example, the Family and Immigrant Justice Clinic and the Civil Legal Services Clinic make up two of only seven low-income legal service providers in the state. 

“The clinic was great hands-on experience,” she says. “I had four trials, which is a lot for students in the clinical program. I learned a lot about myself and how to work with others and opposing parties and how to negotiate effectively.”

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