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Adventurous and Courageous

May 2, 2019
woman lifting hand weight
Distance runner Christie Wildcat works out with her teammates at the High Altitude Performance Center.

By Micaela Myers

Whether it’s studying abroad, moving across the country, being the first in their families to go to college, going back to school to start a new career or a host of other things, University of Wyoming students exemplify a spirit of adventure and the courage to explore the unknown. “I’d like to think of myself as adventurous, because I’m the type of person who will try new things,” says junior Christie Wildcat. “During my study abroad in New Zealand, I went bungee jumping. It felt like you were flying. Life comes at you in different ways, so you have to be adventurous and positive.”

Christie Wildcat, Riverton, Wyo.; Spring 2020; Anthropology, Native American and indigenous studies, and political science

Why UW? “UW is a great school, and it’s close enough to home that I can visit family. It’s also close enough to Fort Collins and Denver that you can go there. It’s a perfect balance of everything.”

Student Experience: Wildcat is working on a joint project between UW Libraries and the Department of Anthropology to digitize Wind River cultural records collected by Professor Charles Reher: “I learned that the Northern Arapaho Tribe, which is my tribe, were looking for these records. I’m learning a lot about archeology.” She’s also active in the Keepers of the Fire student organization: “We’re like one big family. Ever since we got the Native American Education Research and Cultural Center, we can meet there and hang out there. You feel that sense of community there.” Wildcat also plays club soccer and is on the track team: “I’m a distance runner. It’s nice to be there and make new friends and expand your network. You clear your mind and release any stress.” In addition to studying abroad in New Zealand, she went on a faculty-led trip to Scotland for 24 days: “I remember growing up, I wanted to travel. My mom said UW has one of the top study-abroad endowments. It’s so affordable. “UW provides great opportunities—like my job opportunity, the club opportunities and research.”

Future Goals: “I for sure want to go to graduate school and get my master’s and my Ph.D. eventually. I really want to focus on indigenous studies.” Wildcat is part of the McNair Scholars Program and could see herself using her education to recover artifacts and repatriate them to tribes or to help create partnerships between tribes and museums to preserve artifacts. She’s also considering law school to join the fight for tribal rights as an attorney. Another option is to teach future generations as a professor.  “My ultimate goal is to give back to our people and help preserve our culture.”


women exchanging high fives at bowling alley
Jessica Gutierrez-Gaytan enjoys one of her favorite downtown activities—bowling with friends.

Jessica Gutierrez-Gaytan, Loveland, Colo.; Spring 2020; Social work with minors in Spanish and Latino/a studies

Adventurous and Courageous: “It takes courage to be a first-generation college student and to live out of state and move out on your own. I had to figure out how dorms worked, what classes to take, and what I wanted to major in. I’ve grown more independent since starting college just because my mom is a single mother—I don’t want all the weight on her shoulders.”

In 2017, Gutierrez-Gaytan was featured in Wyoming Tribune Eagle as one of UW’s students with DACA immigration status, which led to her involvement in MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan): “It takes courage to become involved with the university.”

Why UW? In addition to affordability and community, Gutierrez-Gaytan appreciates UW’s support for culture and diversity, including the many celebrations that take place on campus each year such as Fiesta Primavera and the Diversity Ball: “The university tries to provide events for every community and not just one. Although there isn’t a big minority group, they encourage the minority groups to speak up and have their culture known.” 

Student Experience: As part of her leadership of MEChA, Gutierrez-Gaytan helped organize and carry out the annual Wyoming Latina Youth Conference, which welcomes around 200 middle school through high school Latinas to campus each October. She also serves on the board of the United Multicultural Council and is involved with The Navigators Christian club on campus.

Future Goals: Because she shadowed a social worker in high school, Gutierrez-Gaytan knew she wanted to pursue social work: “I hope to have a family and work in prisons for restorative justice or with children in adoption agencies.”


women walking on campus
Colleen Floyd, a student ambassador, leads a tour for potential students and their families.

Colleen Floyd, Burbank, Calif.; Spring 2020; Political science, minors in statistics and gender and women’s studies

Adventurous and Courageous: “I moved 1,000 miles from home.” Floyd also co-founded UW’s Political Science Club and was instrumental in bringing the 2018 gubernatorial candidates to campus for a debate: “It was almost all student planned. I know that experience will be so beneficial to us in the future when we want to get into the political realm of things outside of school.”

Why UW? “I went to a college matching program that my high school offered. I put in everything I wanted in a school. I had a 99 percent match for UW. I saw the bucking horse. I called my mom up immediately. I had this gut/heart feeling that I was supposed to move to Wyoming. I came for my tour during Homecoming 2015. I saw the parade, went to a rodeo—I thought, ‘Yep, this is definitely it.’ ”

Student Experience: “I am a student ambassador as well as an orientation leader. I give a lot of tours and work with a lot of prospective students and families. I love doing admissions, knowing I can have a big impact on people’s lives.” Floyd also took advantage of UW’s Alternative Break trips with a spring break service learning trip to Trinidad. Participating in other service such as UW’s Big Event day of service and Pokes Vote won her Volunteer of the Year from the Service Leadership and Community Engagement Office. “Our strength is that we’re like a family. If you say you’re interested in something, a faculty or staff member will swoop you up and want to give you those opportunities.”

Future Goals: Floyd wants to stay on at UW for a master’s degree in public administration or higher education administration: “I’d eventually like to get hired with admissions or as an adviser—anything to help support students. I know not everyone has the privilege and opportunity to have the same experience that I’ve had. I want to open that up to other people.”


woman running on the prairie
Toni Hartzel takes a winter run along Laramie’s Jacoby Trail.

Toni Hartzel, Burns, Wyo.; Spring 2020; Law

Adventurous and Courageous: “I was in the Army. My husband and I met at West Point. We both graduated, were commissioned as officers and then were married. We had an adventure.” Hartzel served as military police officer and was deployed as an executive officer. As a provost marshal, she worked with the legal system. When she and her husband were ready to start a family, she left the Army and decided to pursue law school. During her first year here, her husband was deployed, and she and their young daughter were in Laramie. Now, he has joined them and is working at UW, so they’re able to have adventures closer to home. 

Why UW? “The city of Laramie itself is an amazing place. I have really enjoyed the community.” Hartzel also finds the law school a supportive environment. 

Student Experience: At West Point, Hartzel studied art, philosophy and literature—areas she didn’t expect to work in again. But, at UW, her studies have come full circle as a research assistant for law Professor Darrell Jackson: “He is looking at the stealing of art and the stealing of culture and how we might criminalize those forms of theft. He’s partnered with Nicole Crawford from the Art Museum. Right now, my work is a lot of case studies looking at the law and how it’s been used. It’s helped me personally because I have a better grasp the interplay of different laws.” Hartzel volunteered with United Way’s free tax preparation service, which helped her better understand tax law, and she’s now the prosecution clinic intern. With UW’s Women’s Law Forum, she mentors female undergraduates who may be interested in law school. Seeing a need, Hartzel was also instrumental in creating a lactation room at the law school and is working to get a changing room installed.

Future Goals: After law school, Hartzel hopes to practice here in Wyoming.


head portrait of a man
Justin Scott plans to use his degree as an outdoor guide.

Justin Scott, Moorcroft, Wyo.; Fall 2020; Organizational leadership, minor in outdoor leadership

Adventurous and Courageous: Scott was the undersheriff in Douglas when an accident left him with a traumatic brain injury as well as other injuries: “I was in a high-speed pursuit accident and had to medically retire from law enforcement. While I’m recovering from the accident, I wanted to start going to school. I’m really excited to be here and, at my age, have the opportunity to seek out a bachelor’s degree.”

Why UW? “I’ve been a Cowboy fan since I was a young kid.”

Student Experience: “I started out the fall semester taking one class on campus, and then the rest of my classes were online. But I find myself coming to campus to do my online work because I enjoy being here.” Scott has found UW’s Disability Support Services a major resource: “They’ve been such a great, extraordinary help to make sure that I’m getting the assistance that I need. “I feel that due to the comfort that I have with the online classes and classes on campus, I can take on a heavier load and succeed here because of the foundations the university has put in place.” He appreciates UW’s diversity, including hundreds of international students from around the world: “I think it’s a very well-rounded university. It’s impressive to come here and see and learn about different people’s cultures. I really appreciate that.”

Future Goals: Before his career in law enforcement, Scott was a wildland forest firefighter: “When I was with the sheriff’s office, I was the search and rescue coordinator for the county. I’ve always been an outdoor enthusiast. My hopes are to achieve the outdoor leadership minor and use it with a combination of my knowledge and experiences to further my career after I graduate.  “I really hope to be a part of a guide organization or an outdoor ministry that takes people who may have limited experiences and gets them into the wilderness to make sure they get those opportunities that we take for granted sometimes.”


woman exercising
Nicole Sauls coaches at Laramie’s CrossFit 7220.

Nicole Sauls, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.; Spring 2019; Master’s in kinesiology

Adventurous and Courageous: Sauls grew up and went to college in Southern California but, on the recommendation of a professor, visited UW for graduate school: “It was the first university I looked at—I got a great first impression and committed.” Her sense of adventure also comes out in her pursuits, which include coaching CrossFit and Studio Thrive, in addition to her graduate studies, research and teaching.

Why UW? “UW offered me the Underrepresented Domestic Minority Graduate Assistantship, and I was drawn to the faculty and department.” Sauls appreciates the sense of community, the mentorship and the opportunities.

Student Experience: “I’m doing my thesis looking at high-intensity training. We’ve been looking at kidney injury markers, muscle damage markers, hydration and different physiology components. Then there’s also a component looking at heart rate and perceived exertion during the workout. A third component—the biomechanics—is looking at changes in movement patterns and force output. I’m learning a lot on both exercise physiology and biomechanics. It’s been extremely beneficial to me. “I’ve learned how to be a mentor to undergraduate students who work with me.” She also teaches a biomechanics lab and a fundamentals lab: “One of my favorite things about being a graduate assistant here is the teaching opportunities.” Sauls serves as the graduate student representative for the Division of Kinesiology and Health and on the College of Health Sciences Research Committee, which helps support undergraduate research.

Future Goals: “UW has done an amazing job in preparing me for what I want to do next. I recently accepted an offer to attend Auburn University’s biomechanics Ph.D. program. I really want to be a biomechanics professor and a sports scientist who works with athletes as well. On the side, I want to work with athletes, sports teams, and strength and conditioning coaches to bridge the gap that exists between science and coaching and be able to help them and their athletes increase performance and decrease risk for injury.”

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