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Determined and Optimistic

May 3, 2019
person standing in front of a teal door
Juan Vintimilla visits his hometown of Cuenca, Ecuador, over winter break. Photo by Juan Diego Delgado, makeup by Kiki Vintimilla and styling by La Petiza

By Micaela Myers

Determined, with a spirit that longs for something to prove—the kind that emboldens those who possess it to stand on the perimeter and howl into the unknown with unbendable optimism. University of Wyoming students bring this spirit of determination and optimism to a wide range of pursuits, from education to business, from service to ranching. Meet seven such students here.

Far From Home

Senior Juan Vintimilla of Cuenca, Ecuador—majoring in psychology and Spanish with minor in Latina/o studies—is determined to go on to graduate school and to help others.

“I want to get a masters or Ph.D. in psychology and go back to my country to help develop a better public health system, because it’s really tricky there,” he says. “I also want  to be a bilingual or trilingual therapist for Latinos in the United States.”

Vintimilla is no stranger to helping people. In Ecuador, he volunteered to serve children with cancer and those living in poverty. He also volunteered through the United Nations. Once he moved to Laramie, he contacted the Rotary Club. Together, they developed a project that helps fund art programming at a school in Ecuador for children with disabilities. Now they are working on a second project to send English books to different villages in China.

He’s also involved with the UW chapter of Partners of the Americas, which raised money for a mammogram machine in Brazil. In addition, he volunteers at World Languages Day. “It was amazing, because I could show my language and culture and help all the kids in Wyoming to learn about other languages and cultures,” Vintimilla says.

To help him achieve his graduate school goals, Vintimilla joined the McNair Scholars Program—a program that prepares groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate education for success in doctoral degree programs. “They helped me to realize that I have valuable ideas,” he says.

Vintimilla’s McNair research focused on multicultural dialogue and self-compassion when you speak a second language. As an international student, he has found great support from the office of International Students and Scholars at UW. “They are like moms to support you and give you advice,” he says.

In addition, Vintimilla appreciates the other student support services, such as the Counseling Center, STEP tutoring, the Writing Center and the Math Assistance Center. “I love all the resources that the students have,” he says. “They taught me a lot, and it’s really personalized. They care about you.”

In his spare time, you can find him working out at the gym’s Zumba classes.

two women talking at a table
Holly Trujillo meets with one of her mentors, Assistant Professor Erin Bush.

Working Her Way Through School

When you pull through the McDonald’s drive-through in Laramie, you never know if the person on the other side of the window is working her way toward a Ph.D. That was the case for senior Holly Trujillo, a speech, language and hearing science major with a minor in psychology from Sheridan, Wyo. Trujillo worked at McDonald’s before transferring to UW and continued to do so in Laramie, taking a managerial morning shift before classes.

“I’m paying for everything by myself,” Trujillo says. “I work full time, and I go to school full time, so I don’t have a lot of spare time.”

This year, she transitioned to Ark Regional Services, which serves adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities and acquired brain injuries. She enjoys giving back to the community through her work, and the job also helps her prepare for a career as a speech-language pathologist—her dream since high school.

“I’m definitely very a determined person,” Trujillo says. Twice during her undergraduate career, she faced health struggles, including a condition in her tonsils that almost closed her airway, and Bell’s palsy, which causes facial paralysis. “Even with that, I didn’t miss class,” she says. “I was determined to not let it stop me.”

As a first-generation student, Trujillo especially appreciated the support she received from Student Success Services. “I had one of the most amazing advisers—Jennifer Waluta,” she says. “As a transfer student, that made it so much easier for me. It really helped me transition and branch out. I could ask Jennifer the questions I was scared to ask my professors. It was really nice to have that extra support.”

Through Waluta, Trujillo heard about McNair Scholars Program and joined, and with the help of her mentors—communication disorders Professors Erin Bush and Mary Jo Cooley Hidecker—she began undergraduate research, including a literature review on how speech-language pathologists work with pediatric patients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury. “I wouldn’t have realized my passion for research without Professors Bush and Hidecker,” Trujillo says. “After you start doing research, you start to wonder more and more. You have so many ideas of how to help clients and what could work. That curiosity can really affect someone later, if you do a stand-up job on your research. You can see what needs to be done and what could work.”

Before last summer, Trujillo had never been on a plane. Now, McNair has sent her to conferences and graduate school visits across the country, including to the University of New Mexico, the University of Kansas and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association convention in Boston. Her plan is to pursue a Ph.D. in speech-language pathology.

At UW, Trujillo takes part in outreach through the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association. She appreciates how UW professors go out of their way to help and support her. “It’s such a nurturing environment,” she says. “Your professors believe in you, and you’re not just a number in the classroom. They also push me to spread my wings.”

man with an arm over a shaggy cow with long horns
Bridger Rardin runs a herd of cattle on leased land and is growing a grass-finishing operation as he finishes school.

Determined to Succeed

“I’m determined to be successful—getting a degree as well as starting a business,” says senior Bridger Rardin of Laramie, who is majoring in rangeland ecosystem and watershed management. In addition to attending school full time, he is 50/50 partner in a cattle business with his father.

Rardin purchased his first cattle during his freshman year to begin a cow/calf operation. He is now growing a grass-finishing operation, and he runs his herds on leased land. “In today’s world, it’s hard to pursue agriculture if you don’t own the land or inherit it from another generation,” he says. “Determination is a big thing for me—having to balance everything at once.”

After taking his first rangeland class at UW, he discovered how this course of study could help him run and grow his business.

“Professor-student relationships have been really beneficial for me,” Rardin says. “I go into professors’ offices and throw questions at them that pertain to what I’m doing outside of school and also within school. I feel like there’s a great open-door policy. If you want to pick their brain, they’re really there to help you. You don’t always get that at a research institution.”

woman standing with large cathedral in the background
Adriana Ramirez stands along the Ill River in Strasbourg, France, during her exchange year abroad studying at the EM Strasbourg Business School. (Courtesy photo)

Always Smiling

“I like to think I’m always smiling,” says Adriana Ramirez of Evanston, Wyo., who graduated this December with a major in marketing and a concentration in sustainability and global markets. “I don’t like to think I have a bad day ever.”

That optimism, along with a dose of determination, helped Ramirez start and lead a collegiate chapter of DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) at UW. The club aims to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.

Ramirez decided to pursue a business education after participating in her high school’s DECA. At UW, the club conducts resume-building workshops, LinkedIn nights and mock interviews. The members also attend the annual international conference, where they compete and network. Through DECA, Ramirez interviewed for and received an internship with the company Altria, which sells its merchandise in gas stations and other convenience stores.

“It utilized every marketing, management and sales class I’ve ever had,” she says. “I went to 35 stores with 35 different managers and personalities. A lot of it was managing your selling style to each person and making it about how you’re trying to help grow their business. All I ever wanted to do since high school is be a part of a business. The internship really helped.”

After last summer’s internship, Altria offered her a full-time job in Sacramento, which she began in January. One day, Ramirez hopes to own her own coffee shop with an international theme: “We could feature different countries’ coffees and brew in-house beans. Since my concentration is in sustainability and global markets, it’s very much what I want to do.”

At UW, Ramirez completed a year exchange in France at EM Strasbourg Business School and visited a number of neighboring countries. “This was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had at UW, mostly because you’re working with students from all over the world—over 60 countries,” she says. “Studying abroad, you realize there are different ways to do business, different ways to interact with people and different ways to manage. I absolutely loved it. Alongside the business school, you grow a lot personally.”

At UW, a friend encouraged Ramirez to visit the Multicultural Resource Center. “I felt I had lost a bit of my roots, and she helped me back to it and to come into my own,” says Ramirez, who is a first-generation college student. “It’s a big achievement to be here and getting a higher education. Involvement with the Multicultural Resource Center has been one of my favorite things.”

She appreciates the sense of community in Wyoming at the university. “The strength of UW is that there’s always someone you can reach out to,” Ramirez says. “There’s a pride being from Wyoming, and that’s a benefit to UW.”

woman sitting
As a first-generation student, Daniela Palma-Ramos is determined to make her family proud and serve underprivileged youth in her career. She’s photographed here in the Wyoming Union.

Making Her Family Proud

Spanish secondary education sophomore Daniela Palma-Ramos of Riverton, Wyo., describes herself as determined. “I am going to make my family proud. I am going to get a good career where I can help underprivileged youth and help them achieve their dreams and goals. I am going to succeed,” she says.

Palma-Ramos came to UW as a transfer student from Central Wyoming College. “I am the first of my sisters to graduate from high school and the first to attend college,”
she says. “In all honesty, I didn’t have anyone to help me. I didn’t know about financial aid, scholarships and programs for first-generation students.”

Raised to be independent, she had to learn to ask for help and to advocate for herself. “I have a vision impairment, and overcoming that was honestly just advocating for myself and learning to do things in my own way,” Palma-Ramos says.

“If you don’t speak up, then no one will know.”

At UW, she appreciates her caring professors, helpful advisers and students’ involvement with the community. Palma-Ramos enjoys her membership in MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) and took an Alternative Spring Break to work on immigration issues in Las Cruces, N.M., this March. “Being involved in things that help people or advocate for them is always interesting to me,” she says. “I want to help other students like me. These things teach me leadership skills, and they teach me that there are so many opportunities and so much diversity out in the world.”

After graduation, Palma-Ramos hopes to teach with Job Corps or at a correctional facility.

Her message to all potential college students rings with determination: “You can do anything you want—anything you set your mind to, no matter your circumstances. You just have to persevere and take things one at a time. In the end, you get to say that you did it, and no one handed it to you.”

woman holding a saxophone
Mikayla Peterson chose UW for its outstanding faculty and won this year’s Dorothy Jacoby Concerto Competition.

A Full Ensemble

Senior Mikayla Peterson of Reliance, Wyo., is determined to make the most of her music education at UW.

“I chose UW because of the outstanding faculty in the Department of Music,” says Peterson, who won this year’s Dorothy Jacoby Concerto Competition. “I always loved the idea of teaching music as well as performing. Laramie is unique to have not only one but two incredible saxophone teachers—Professors Scott and Jennifer Turpen.

“Because of practice, research and the ensembles I am a part of, I’ve been provided with new musical and life experiences that will last a lifetime,” she says. Peterson’s travels while at UW include Baltimore, Md., as a 2017 Music Teachers National Association Young Artist Performance Competition finalist; Portland, Ore., to the North American Saxophone Alliance Regional Conference; New York City to perform at Dizzy’s Club with the Wyoming Jazz Ensemble; and Reno, Nev., for the 2019 Jazz Education Network Annual Conference. At UW, she recorded an album with the Wyoming Jazz Ensemble and performed as a soloist in this March’s Dorothy Jacoby Competition with the UW Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to performing, Peterson interns with UW Presents. “This internship is all about presenting the community with different music, theater and dance acts with national and international distinction,” she says. “Because of this internship, I have been able to interact with artists from around the world and make connections that will benefit me through the rest of my life.”

Peterson also has a student job handling the social media for the Department of Music, which helps her learn about marketing. “Everyone in the music world knows that marketing yourself is extremely important,” she says. “I can take the skills I have learned here and apply them to my own websites when I begin to market myself as a musician.”

Next fall, Peterson will be student teaching. After that, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree.

Like many UW students, she believes caring professors make all the difference. “Students should consider UW because the professors make sure that all students have the best experience possible,” Peterson says. “They are adamant about providing opportunities to students that they wouldn’t have if they went to a larger music school.” She adds, “The affordable cost of tuition at UW allows me to study at a high-quality school and pay very little for countless opportunities that will benefit me for the rest of my life.”

two men wrestling
Montorie Bridges battles fifth-seeded All-American Luke Pletcher at this March’s NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh, where he made it to the round of 16.

Giving 110 Percent

Criminal justice senior and star wrestler Montorie Bridges of Altus, Okla., brings determination to everything he does. “If I tell myself I’m going to do something, I make sure I put forth 110 percent of my effort in doing it,” he says.

An All-American last season, Bridges’s regular-season accomplishments this school year included first-team Academic All-Big 12, going 31-10 overall with 11 ranked wins and finishing sixth at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational. In March he traveled to the NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh, making it to the round of 16.

“Being a student-athlete is fun because it gives me more opportunities to connect with the community and use my platform to make more and bigger differences with my position,” Bridges says. “I’ve balanced academics and athletics well. I’ve maintained a 3.76 while being here and competing at the Division 1 level.”

At UW, his involvement includes the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and volunteering with Special Olympics athletes. In addition, he completed an internship with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office last summer.

After graduation, Bridges plans to pursue his law degree. What he appreciates most about UW is the statewide support: “With Wyoming having just one four-year university, you get the support from the entire state.”


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