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Published April 26, 2019
Jess Fahlsing, from Rock Springs, and Dylan Rust, of Green River, are the recipients of the University of Wyoming’s highest honor as top graduating seniors.
The two Sweetwater County students are the winners of the Rosemarie Martha Spitaleri and Tobin Memorial Award, which recognizes the most outstanding graduates from the 2018-19 undergraduate class.
The award is based on academic excellence and achievement, service to the university, participation and leadership in the community and campus activities, and citizenship qualities.
Fahlsing, who will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in gender and women’s studies, as well as minors in honors, creative writing and queer studies, carries a 3.97 grade-point average. Fahlsing’s parents are Sue and Paul Fahlsing, of Rock Springs.
One nominator says Fahlsing has grown to become an active member of campus, and it is Fahlsing’s service work that stands out among all nominees.
“I have known Jess since the first semester at the University of Wyoming, and it has been an honor and a pleasure to watch Jess grow over the past years, from a rather reticent and uncertain freshman to an engaged, active and dedicated member of the community, both on and off campus,” says Erin Abraham, an Honors College visiting assistant professor.
This past year, Fahlsing was the co-chair of the Matthew Shepard Memorial Group and served on the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice and the Martin Luther King Jr. Days of Dialogue committees. Fahlsing serves as a mentor for the Honors College, a leading facilitator of Laramie’s PrideFest, and is an active member of Wyoming Equality, Spectrum and the United Multicultural Council. Fahlsing also is a member of UW’s Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
After taking time off from studies to contemplate future plans, Fahlsing returned with added focus the last few years, Abraham says.
“Jess has grown in the process to become an important and valuable member of our community, whose dedication has improved the lives of so many, from students to faculty to the wider Laramie community,” she adds.
Emily Monago, UW’s chief diversity officer, admires Fahlsing’s ability to connect with, and engage and motivate broad audiences of people.
“What strikes me most is Jess’ willingness to work hard to bring ideas from thoughts to action or implementation. Jess is highly motivated about learning to help others be successful and to move society toward creating a world free of hate, harassment and discrimination against any individual or group, regardless of their social identities,” Monago says.
Fahlsing says leadership roles have made it possible to give back to the community, which contributes to bringing an intersectional framework of social justice.
“I never expected to be where I am today, in terms of my hardships, failures and even my successes,” Fahlsing says. “Throughout it all, I try to center around love. My experiences of leadership, contribution and scholarship at UW enabled me to become the person I am today.”
Rust will graduate with a 4.0 grade-point average and is a molecular biology/physiology major, with honors and psychology minors. Rust’s parents are Shelley and Pete Rust, of Green River.
Nominator Pamela Langer, a UW molecular biology associate professor, says Rust plans to become a surgeon, specializing in kidney transplantation.
“Dylan distinguished early as one of the most mature, motivated and strategic freshmen who have entered our molecular biology program,” Langer says. “Dylan’s goal was to become a physician firmly grounded in the latest medical technologies while participating in health care policy decisions.”
Rust has prepared for a medical career by engaging in research through the Wyoming IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program. Rust was a molecular biology research fellow, plus being selected for two highly competitive summer programs at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; and at Harvard Medical School as a kidney medicine fellow, both as an undergraduate.
The Green River native’s rigorous pursuit of research opportunities is a significant part of why Rust is the recipient of UW’s top undergraduate award, according to another nominator.
“I have written Dylan a number of recommendations and references over the past four years, but this is the one I am most excited to provide, because it marks a culminating point in what has been a tremendously successful undergraduate career,” Abraham says.
She also praises Rust’s consistent commitment to volunteer work and extracurricular activities.
Rust has been actively involved with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, working with the same “little brother,” and also is involved in service work through UW’s Mortar Board and as a wellness ambassador.
“These efforts involve many of the same leadership skills Dylan uses in other roles but, perhaps more importantly, serve as evidence of Dylan’s character and integrity,” Abraham adds.
UW has afforded Rust the opportunity to grow personally and professionally.
“I have applied to medical schools and have been fortunate to interview at a number of top-ranked institutions, and should be hearing decisions soon,” Rust says. “I hope to represent the University of Wyoming well as I continue my education and throughout my career in medicine.”
While at UW, Rust also has developed lasting relationships that he hopes will impact others.
“While academics are very important to me, and I strived to do well, it was the relationships that I formed with faculty, staff and other students that have made my experience here exceptional,” Rust adds. “UW has given me so much, and I feel that I have been able to give something back during my time here as well.”