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The World Needs More Cowboys – And So Does Wyoming (Southeast Counties)

January 8, 2020

By Micaela Myers

Principals, entrepreneurs, volunteers, teachers, company presidents, professors. All are community leaders, and all have one thing in common—a degree from the University of Wyoming. Not only does the university serve the students of the state, but the university’s graduates serve the state’s communities.

This year, UW launched “The World Needs More Cowboys – and So Does Wyoming” featuring in-state advertising, profiles and videos of alumni from across the state coupled with celebratory events for community members and future students (uwyo.edu/cowboys). Meet 11 alumni who play key roles in their counties and state.

 

Also see:  Northeast Counties  |  Northwest Counties  |  Southwest Counties

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man talking to someone across a desk
Kris Thorvaldson at LPL Financial

Kris Thorvaldson, Carbon County

UW alumnus Kris Thorvaldson earned his marketing degree from the College of Business in 1993 with a minor in management. A graduate of Rawlins High School, he returned to his hometown to serve as an independent financial adviser with LPL Financial.

“UW was the perfect fit for me, as my experience in Laramie allowed me to be independent, yet I never felt alone,” he says. “UW’s College of Business consistently scored in the 90th percentile in national business exams, and I knew I was getting a great education and a solid foundation to be successful. And my UW degree and experience gave me the confidence to explore new opportunities, which eventually led to running my own business and making my community a better place.”

LPL Financial is the nation’s largest independent broker. As a financial adviser since 2003, Thorvaldson’s goal is to provide local, personal, professional and independent advice and service to the people of Rawlins and Carbon County.

In addition to his professional role, he serves on the UW Alumni Association Board, is a past president of the Rawlins Outlaw Booster Club and Rawlins Lions Club, currently serves as the Eyeglass Chairman for the Rawlins Lions Club, was a board member and past president of the Rawlins/Carbon County Airport Board, and has held the chaplain position for the Rawlins Elks Lodge 609.

Thorvaldson and his wife Wendy, also from Rawlins, have two daughters. They enjoy camping, golfing and running together. He has helped coach youth soccer and volunteers to help with Rawlins cross country and track and field.

He remembers his time at UW fondly and recommends the university to future generations. “I think there is a special camaraderie among the people of Wyoming and UW,” Thorvaldson says. “As Wyoming’s only four-year institution, UW is very unique and special to everybody in Wyoming, and I think the young people who attend UW will feel that connection right away.”

He says, “Family, friendship, strength, tradition, loyalty, honor and fun are the words that come to mind on what it means to be a UW Cowboy.”

 

man standing near stairs
Tighe Fagan in UW’s new Engineering Education and Research Building

Tighe Fagan, Laramie County

Students from around the globe can find the perfect fit at UW, alumnus Tighe Fagan says.

“For prospective students looking for a Goldilocks environment of not too small and not too large, Laramie is the place,” he says. “The highlights of UW are the small-town feel, exposure to fellow students from around the world and a quality education. Laramie was just the right size for me. There was a lot going on if you looked for it, but I never felt lost in an ocean of people.

“I received a rock-solid education that put me on par with my peers from coastal universities when I entered the workforce.”

Fagan, who came to UW from Montana, earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1995, followed by a master’s degree in 1998. He’s now a software engineer and partner at Gannett Peak Technical Services in Cheyenne, a company that specializes in software development and consulting. At Gannett, Fagan focuses on technical leadership and software architecture, enterprise software, web applications and business-to-business solutions. He brings 11 years of full lifecycle application development experience, having worked as a software consultant in Wyoming and Colorado for the Wyoming Department of Health, Level 3 Communications, US West/Qwest Communications, Access International Financial Services and Raytheon.

“The university’s computer science department taught me the foundational skills I use in my career on a daily basis,” Fagan says. “As in most careers, a large amount of my training was on the job, but with the breadth of core computer science skills I acquired at the university, I was able to obtain a great entry-level position.”

He sums up his university career as a life lesson in perseverance and an education in the fundamentals of computer science. “My time at the university exposed me to a lot of personal and professional hurdles,” Fagan says. “These experiences spanned preparing for a particularly difficult exam to leaving the university for a semester due to medical reasons. Throughout all of these challenges, I was able to acquire my degree with the support of the greater university community. This includes my classmates, instructors and my family. I learned the immense power of relying on the help of others to persevere and achieve my goal.”

Fagan lives in Cheyenne with wife and three children. He’s active in the community, serving as a board member for the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center Foundation and the UW Department of Computer Science. Fagan also serves on the steering committee for the Wyoming Business Alliance and as infrastructure strategic coordinator for Forward Greater Cheyenne, in addition to being a member of Wyoming Entrepreneurs.

To Fagan, the term Cowboy reflects someone who is an independent thinker and a risk taker at heart. “I came to the university hungry for knowledge and explored an eclectic set of coursework outside of computer science,” he says. “My beliefs were challenged and shaped during college, and I have tried to maintain a level of open-mindedness to always remember that what I believe to be true may actually be false. I have had to push myself in life to take risks. One of the biggest was co-founding a company and being involved in various entrepreneurial efforts.”

 

woman at table in barn area talking to people
Sydney Burek working with third graders at the Platte County Fairgrounds

Sydney Burek, Platte County

Thanks to her college professor, Sydney Burek found an internship with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which led to her future career.

“The University of Wyoming is where I was introduced to my current career path,” she says. Burek majored in agricultural business with a minor in rangeland ecology and watershed management. One of her professors recommended the NRCS internship program. The NRCS is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides technical assistance to farmers and other private landowners and managers.

“During the internship, I discovered there was an entire career path that would keep me working with plants and rangeland,” Burek says. “I never knew there were such opportunities. My coursework matched up so well to the work I did as a range conservationist with the NRCS. My learning helped me to feel comfortable and confident in my career.”

Burek graduated in 2011 and became a full-time conservationist for NRCS, where she works with landowners to address natural resource concerns on their operations. “We put together management plans and design any structural practices that may be needed, as well as offer cost-share programs to implement these projects to alleviate the resource concerns,” she says.

Her education also helps Burek make a difference in the community as vice president of the Laramie Peak CattleWomen, assisting the Wheatland FFA team with plant identification and range-related topics and serving as the assistant leader for the Wheatland’s Finest 4-H Club and leader for the 4-H Platte County Leadership Team. Burek also presents in classrooms throughout Platte County on agricultural-related topics and helps on field days. Each Memorial Day, you can find her placing flags on graves, and Burek is the current American Indian and Alaska Native special emphasis program manager for the Wyoming NRCS Civil Rights Advisory Committee and current co-chair. In addition, Burek is the past young women’s president and current second counselor for the Relief Society for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wheatland.

Burek finds UW alumni connections wherever she goes: “The friends and relationships

I formed at UW have continued to grow after college. I continually work with the individuals I met while at college. It’s amazing how ‘small’ and close the UW graduate community is.”

For Wyomingites who grew up in small towns, Burek says UW will make you feel right at home. “Growing up in a small town, I was very nervous about going to a university, but UW had many characteristics that made me feel like I was still in a small-town community. The majority of campus is in a single location. I was able to walk to all of my classes with no worries of being late or getting lost. The smaller class sizes and course structure created a great learning environment. My professors in the agriculture and range departments were very down to earth, personable and very willing to help. I not only gained a great education, but I continue to have these professors to turn to with questions and advice.”

At UW, Burek also enjoyed participating in a wide variety of campus activities and making lifelong friends.

“Being a UW Cowboy is an honor,” she says. “I’m part of a tight-knit, supportive community where everyone is willing to pitch in to lend a hand. It’s more of a family that I am proud to say I’m part of!”


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