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

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man outside football stadium
Sean Valentine at the UW/CSU Border War game

Sean Valentine, Sweetwater County

To alumnus Sean Valentine, president and CEO of Western Wyoming Beverages Inc., being a UW Cowboy represents pride, power, work ethic and integrity.

Pride: “Being a UW Cowboy is a legacy of representing not only all of the graduates who have come before you, all of those who will follow you, but also the entire state of Wyoming. UW is Wyoming’s university,” Valentine says.

Those who have walked through an airport wearing a Wyoming bucking horse will get a sense of that pride, as someone will undoubtedly say, “Go Pokes” or “Powder River let ’er buck.” But to Valentine, that bucking horse also represents the other traits on his list.

Power: UW has produced corporate CEOs, Nobel Prize winners, New York Times bestselling authors, award-winning journalists, sports franchise owners and a vice president of the United States. “The amazing thing about Wyoming’s power is that the vast majority have never lost their sense of humility and genuine character,” Valentine says.

Work ethic: A strong work ethic is part of the Wyoming culture. This includes doing more with less, letting your actions speak louder than words and a sense of responsibility—knowing if you don’t do it, nobody will do it for you, he says. 

Integrity: Valentine defines integrity as doing what is right when nobody is watching and acting with honesty and fairness in all situations. In Wyoming, a small town with long streets, integrity is even more important.

Valentine graduated from UW in 2012 with a degree in marketing and a minor in accounting and went on to earn his MBA in 2013. “My education at UW was critical for preparing me for my role with Western Wyoming Beverages and as community leader,” he says. Western Wyoming Beverages is a Pepsi and Budweiser bottler and wholesaler in western Wyoming.

“UW was by far the best decision I’ve made in my life,” Valentine says. As a student, he worked as an intern and then marketing assistant in the athletics department, where he learned to balance the demands of a busy schedule and gained an introduction to management. Valentine says the MBA program taught him how to think critically about business decisions, how to be an entrepreneur, how to work as a team, how to network and how to build lasting relationships. During the MBA program, he also experienced a once-in-lifetime trip to Germany, learned about Wyoming’s critical energy economy through a statewide energy tour, and went backpacking in the Wind Rivers for a week to learn teamwork, resilience, leadership and humility.

“While at UW, I also learned the value of community,” Valentine says. “Nowhere else in the country are so many people willing to literally give you the shirt off their back to help you out. This spurred my desire to make sure that whatever I did in life I had to give back to the community and be an active member in civic engagement.”

His role with Western Wyoming Beverages has allowed him to do just that. Since becoming president, the company branded its corporate giving and philanthropy as “Western Wyoming Beverages – Delivering a Better Wyoming” and has doubled down on its giving.

“The event I’m most proud of is our annual Cans for Cans and Packing Out Hunger events, where we collect canned food for our local food bank and then bring all of our employees together to pack meals for the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies,” Valentine says. “In 2017, we packed 30,000 meals and, in 2018, 50,000 meals.”

The company is also involved in growing community events such as the National High School Finals Rodeo and Wyoming’s Big Show. It donates over $130,000 annually to different organizations and community events throughout southwest Wyoming.

Valentine also serves on the UW Alumni Association board of directors, helps with the Cowboy Joe Club, has served on the Sweetwater County Young and Professional Group board of directors and serves on the local organizing committee for Blues ‘n‘ Brews, an annual beer festival and music event hosted in Rock Springs.

He recommends UW to Wyoming’s youth for a variety of reasons, including the fact it’s large enough to meet friends from many places while still feeling at home. “Wyoming offers an unmatched ability to step outside of your comfort zone, get experiences and opportunities that you would never get at another university, build relationships not only with other students but with faculty and staff, all at an incredible value.”

Valentine says, “Being a Cowboy is honestly the biggest honor I could ever have. I’m SO proud to be a Cowboy and University of Wyoming graduate.”

 

head portrait of a woman
Barbara Sessions. (Photo by Lampshade Studio/Katie Roberts)

Barbara Sessions, Lincoln County

Barbara Sessions’ route through college took a few detours but led to great success for this nontraditional student.

It began in 1992, when she graduated Star Valley High School and came to UW. However, her senior year, she was unable to return to complete her degree. Distance offerings were limited at the time.

“As I began my family, I had three beautiful daughters and felt very strongly that at some point in my life I had to finish my degree—not just because it was my dream but also because I was making barely more than minimum wage,” Sessions says. “I also wanted my daughters to understand how important it was for them to go to college.”

Money was tight, and the dream kept being deferred until 2002, when Sessions took a job as a part-time human resources assistant at Silver Star Communications, a regional telephone company that offers tuition reimbursement.

“Because more than 10 years had passed since I had been on campus, many of the degree programs had changed, and I was required to take most of my general education classes over,” Sessions says. Her job moved to full time, and she began taking online classes at Western Wyoming Community College, earning her associate degree in 2005.

“I had three young children at home and a husband working shift work at the local mine,” Sessions says. “It was tough. I would work during the day and run home to spend quality time with my family, and when everyone went to bed I would begin my homework.”

She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in business administration from UW in 2007.

“A week after my graduation, I received my first promotion at Silver Star to my first leadership position. A few years went by, and I still had the desire to continue growing and learning, so I started the online MBA program at UW,” says Sessions, who finished the MBA program in 2016. “This was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. I loved the classes that I took as part of this program and use the knowledge daily.” 

Sessions is now chief operating officer for Silver Star, overseeing all operational, sales, marketing and customer service functions and serving as the liaison for Silver Star on a state and federal level promoting broadband deployment.

She dreams of one day earning her doctorate. “I think Dr. Sessions has a nice ring,” Sessions says. “I would also love to become a professor after I retire from my current position to share the knowledge I have with others.”

Her daughters followed in their mother’s higher education footsteps, with one set to earn her teaching degree this fall, another studying to become an appraiser and the youngest graduating high school next spring and planning to become a history teacher.

Sessions is active in the state and community, having served on the ENDOW executive council, Afton Planning Commission, and Afton Economic Development board, and currently serving on the Wyoming Broadband Advisory Council, Wyoming Business Alliance and Afton Town Council. Sessions also volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, Afton Food Pantry and other community service projects.

“The university instills the idea that giving back is important. My time at UW was so critical to my growth and development as a young person,” she says, adding that the university isn’t just for young people. “If you are not a young student who is just graduating, there are ways to get your degree from your home. The online programs are phenomenal. You have access to the same professors and tools that students do on campus. My life and my family’s have been changed by what I was able to achieve with the support of UW.”

Once you become a UW Cowboy, it will change your life, Sessions says. “Being a Cowboy is something I am so proud of. It means that I honor my family, my country, my community—it is our way of life, it is who we are. You are your word, you are your actions—you are a Cowboy!”

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