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Creative and Innovative

May 3, 2019
woman with cello case
Jessie Salas plays cello for UW’s symphony and the band Woodpile.

By Micaela Myers

Moving to Laramie from a more urban area, music performance graduate student Jessie Salas of Pueblo, Colo., was suprised by the thriving music scene in Laramie and the supportive music department that encouraged her to expand her talents into composition. Across campus—from art to research—University of Wyoming students bring their creativity and innovation to a wide variety of pursuits.

“I think creativity and innovation go together,” says senior Ava Shuster. “I think innovative applies to me in the sense of tapping into my own potential and student voice on campus and inspiring first-year students.”

Senior Desa Inskeep says, “Being innovative applies to me because I’ve been able to adapt to different challenges and come up with creative ways to accomplish my objectives.”

Here, meet six of UW’s creative and innovative students, sharing their stories in their own words.

Jessie Salas

Pueblo, Colo.; Music performance, M.A.; spring 2019

I caravanned to the UW Cello Festival with a group of cellists from Fort Collins. The festival was awesome. The music building was amazing. I talked to Associate Professor Beth Vanderborgh. I auditioned, and she offered me a full assistantship position, and I took it.

I started a composition class, where I started writing my own music. It was very exciting. It wasn’t something I ever felt I was capable of. Coming up here and having a lot of support was really excellent. It let me explore things.

I joined Woodpile, which is a folk band here in town. I started helping to write parts for that. It was great. They’ve become wonderful friends. We’ve toured all around. It’s something small that started in Laramie, and because the community is so supportive, we’ve been able to stretch out.

I also love to write. With Associate Professor Anne Guzzo, I started a project on female experiences here and the different music scenes in Laramie. That inspired me to look at punk music scenes.

I’ve played in orchestras since sixth grade. UW’s symphony has been an awesome experience. I got to do The Nutcracker. The auditorium was full. That’s something so wonderful about Laramie. We get a ton of community participation.

The local music scene is so great, and we’re kind of having a Laramie music renaissance, it feels like. There are so many bands to experience, and a lot of the musicians are going to school at UW.

I knew that I was going to like the school and my professor and my classes, but what I didn’t realize was how much I was going to love living here. It’s a community where you can really involve yourself. There’s so much going on. I’ve done more here than I ever did in Fort Collins, which is four times the size.

At UW, I got all the perks of a bigger school, like a well-funded program with good financial aid and really solid professors. I have people in my degree program from all different countries, so I’ve gotten to meet so many different kinds of people and make so many connections. My plan right now is to stay in Laramie for a year after my master’s. During my year off, I’ll shop for a doctorate program. I’d like to teach at the collegiate level.

person sitting on a sofa
Jess Fahlsing, photographed in the Honors College Guthrie House, is a key leader in UW’s annual Shepard Symposium.

Jess Fahlsing

Rock Springs, Wyo.; Psychology and gender and women’s studies, minors in honors, creative writing and queer studies, spring 2019

My sister went to UW, and the Trustees’ Scholars Award was also a huge factor in my coming. When I got to Laramie, I really experienced the close-knit community here. It was a great place for me to build connections. What I found is that the queer community helped me get through college.

Last year, Associate Lecturer Christi Boggs nominated me to be co-chair of the Matthew Shepard Memorial Group planning committee. It’s a subcommittee of the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice. Chief Diversity Officer Emily Monago co-chaired with me. The committee itself was phenomenal. It was a very meaningful experience to see the impact it had on Laramie and on students on campus.

With the Matthew Shepard Memorial Group, one of the biggest things I’ve gotten out of it is connections with groups like Wyoming Equality and professors on campus. They’re such great mentors and are really advocating for what I want to see in Wyoming.

I’ve also been involved in CCK: A Writer’s Club, Spectrum, the Honors College and Laramie PrideFest. I’ve gained connections, community and leadership skills.

I think the small size (of UW and Laramie) can have a lot of benefits with connections and community. When you get to more urban spaces, there’s more visibility for marginalized groups, but I think since we’re so small we all come together. With the class sizes too, it’s easier to get relationships with professors and work with them more closely to get mentorship in that way. I think people can find their home here in places that fit them and spaces that will foster their growth. I found that in the Shepard Symposium and Rainbow Resource Center. My experience on the Shepard Symposium has really helped me figure out that I want to do more activism-based work.

I found a family in the planning committee itself. I’m going to take a gap year but plan to go to graduate school eventually.

woman painting a mug
Opeoluwa Wonuola Olawale enjoys taking a break from her enhanced oil recovery research at Laramie’s Art & Soul pottery downtown.

Opeoluwa Wonuola Olawale

Lagos, Nigeria; Petroleum engineering, Ph.D. student

My research covers enhanced oil recovery with focus on the oil and gas industry but is equally relevant to active areas in geothermal energy, CO2 sequestration, water conservation, environmental remediation programs, unconventional resources, and process optimizations for cost-effective and sustainable energy solutions.

I recently started a movement called Respect Africa, which underlines the importance of mutual respect among all peoples. Telling the story of Africa from different perspectives highlights the commonality of all human races. The goal is to inspire both Africans and non-Africans by the showcase of African people, African foods, places, art, achievements, struggles and dreams to foster further investment in the growth of Africa.

I have also been involved with the Wyoming African Students Association, the National Society of Black Engineers UW chapter, the International Students and Scholars office and the Global Engagement Office. I was nominated and selected as one of the 1,000 representatives from over 180 countries at the United Nations Winter Youth Assembly in 2018. I was one of the 25 representatives on the United Nations Permanent Mission to Mexico and spoke on energy efficiency efforts and the Respect Africa project.

In my free time at UW, I get to play basketball sometimes with friends and run the track from time to time. Half Acre as a gym and a recreational facility remains incredible. The massage chair at the Wellness Center is an experience I would recommend to anyone anytime.

In all, my life purpose is fulfilled in being the highest form of myself as God has intended—to continually inspire myself and others to excel in their selected field of interest. Mine is in energy and human resource development.

I used to be CEO of Sixters Energy in Nigeria. I hope to become a major policymaker in the sphere of energy research and development in Africa. I hope to be part of the fastest-growing and sustainable energy company or business by championing, managing and directing renowned carbon-footprint-reduction projects in Africa and beyond. I believe energy should be readily available for all. And I strongly understand the place of research for better optimized processes, not only in the petroleum (oil and gas) industry but also in agriculture.

woman curled in an armchair holding a mug
Ava Schuster, director of wellness and student resources for Associated Students of UW, loves a visit to Night Heron Books & Coffeehouse.

Ava Schuster

Arvada, Colo.; Art history, minor in gender and women’s studies, spring 2019

I was a resident assistant (RA) starting the second semester of my freshman year. It was the best experience. Being an RA, I got to know campus really quickly and intimately. I felt like I had a direct impact on people’s first year of college, which I think is the most malleable time in someone’s life—trying to find their footing.

I’ve also had a great opportunity being Tri Delta’s new member educator and working with all new fraternity and sorority members at a new member leadership retreat. Fraternity and sorority life here is unlike anywhere else in the country. It’s completely value and service based. It’s grown me as a leader and given me a ton of incredible opportunities.

I’m the director of wellness and student resources for Associated Students of UW. It’s been a good catalyst for change. There’s a class that reached out to me. Their idea is bringing more food pantries to campus through Cowboy Cabinets. It lined up perfectly, because I’m the treasurer of the Student Art League. They’re working with us to fill and maintain our cabinet in the Visual Arts Building.

Being part of Student Art League on campus has been special. We discuss art, take field trips, do service, and get to reward and recognize student art.

Last spring, I went on a Service Leadership and Community Engagement Alternative Break trip Los Angeles’ Skid Row. We were addressing homelessness. It was intimate and incredible and heartbreaking all at the same time. That and study abroad are just incredible opportunities. This past summer I studied abroad in Prague for six weeks over summer. I know I couldn’t have gotten the same at other schools cost-wise. It was really easy for me to study abroad.

Part of the reason I have my gender and women’s studies minor is that I’d love to work for a nonprofit, possibly in domestic violence. I’d love to bring art into that. I’ve also been thinking of getting a master’s in higher education. I love mentorship and higher education.

woman in a hard hat in front of a wind turbine
After graduation this spring, DesaInskeep starts her job with NextEra Energy. (Courtesy photo)

Desa Inskeep

Alpine, Wyo.; Energy resource management and development, concentration in professional land management, minor in honors; spring 2019

In the spring of my freshman year, I joined Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, and I have made lasting memories and friendships with my sorority sisters ever since. I have also had the opportunity to hold several leadership positions and participate in philanthropy events. I would encourage prospective students to check out the fraternity and sorority community, because it has given me a home away from home and a great support system. 

Involvement with the Wyoming Student Chapter of Professional Land Managers has given me opportunities and a chance to learn more about other students in my field of study. We are a group of students interested in the real estate of energy, and we meet to discuss current conditions of the energy industry, take field trips and participate in community involvement, networking events and fun events outside of class.

In addition to these involvements, I am working on a research project for my senior honors thesis that explores competing land uses for energy development. In working on this project, I have had great support from my professors and adviser in the School of Energy Resources. 

Last summer, I had the opportunity to intern for NextEra Energy in Juno Beach, Fla. As a girl who grew up in the small town of Alpine, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to intern for NextEra Energy, which is a Fortune 200 Company and the No. 1 generator of wind and solar energy in the world. During the internship, I worked in the land services department and learned about the development process for renewable energy projects. The internship was a great opportunity to gain both personal and professional growth in an environment that was foreign to me. 

I accepted a job offer with NextEra Energy before my senior year of college started, and I am excited to begin my career in the real estate of energy upon my graduation from the UW.

I would recommend UW because it has a low student-faculty ratio, it’s economical to attend, and the group of students is better than that of any other university. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend UW for the past four years.

man with a punching bag behind him
Luis Salinas appreciates a workout at Half Acre in between research and inventing.

Luis Salinas

Mcallen, Texas; Petroleum engineering; spring 2020

I grew up in a border town. Every day, people are trying to move drugs through the port of entry in cars. I thought of a solution that hopefully helps officers and canines. I spoke with my friend Edward Maxwell, a student in New York. We created a device that will scan cars and trucks. It will isolate each car’s smell individually in maybe 12 seconds. You can get a car scanned completely by sending the odor to a canine, which will now be in an air-conditioned room. The dogs will no longer be zig-zagging between the lanes in 110 degrees or more. The main problem is that (using the dogs outside), you cannot scan every single car because of the time.

We left small compartments in the device’s chamber for more advanced X-rays or gas spectrometry. We thought of every problem. We have three different novelties but only needed one to get the patent.

Innovating and trying to help people—creating something so I can help others—that’s my passion. Professors always say they haven’t met someone like me who thinks so abstractly.
I have done five or six semesters of research. My freshman year, I started working in the petroleum department doing research. Now I’m doing petrophysics. I’m working on another project with artificial intelligence that hopefully I can patent before graduation that will help the petroleum industry.

Medicine and petroleum can help each other, because petroleum focuses on porous media and spends millions on that research and some of it can apply to human bones in medicine. Why not help each other? Hopefully I can implement artificial intelligence with applications for rocks and bones.


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