Your Time to Shine

UW provides ample leadership opportunities that help students make lifelong friends and learn real-life skills.

By Micaela Myers

When asked what sets the University of Wyoming apart, many students cite the ample leadership opportunities at UW, including more than 250 recognized student organizations; the Associated Students of UW; college ambassadors; performance and artistic opportunities; student work; NCAA, club and intramural sports; fraternities and sororities; and much more.

Taking on leadership roles helps students make valuable connections while learning real-life skills for the workplace. Here, meet five students who seized on multiple opportunities to make the most of their time at UW.

Richelle Clifton

Graduated December 2016, psychology and African-American and diaspora studies

woman in graduation robes
Clifton at graduation in December. (Courtesy Photo)

Drawn to UW by the affordability and chance to join her older sister here, Richelle Clifton of Cheyenne, Wyo., took advantage of many undergraduate opportunities, including research, serving as a resident assistant at the UW Apartments, and serving as president of The Bettys a cappella group and the Black Student Alliance.

“UW is a great choice in terms of finances, student opportunities, courses offered and student clubs and groups,” Clifton says. “There is typically something for most students to be involved in and to become passionate about, and that is what college should be about.”

Clifton credits the McNair Scholars Program—a program that helps prepare undergraduate students from groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate education for success in doctoral degree programs—as one of the best things she did in college.

“The program helped me prepare to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), improved my research skills, aided me in making lasting relationships with UW professors and prepared
me for graduate school.”

As part of her McNair research internship, Clifton worked on a historical research project with Professor Tracey Owens Patton in communication and journalism, looking at issues of race and sex in post-World War II Germany. She also worked in the stress and mood lab in the Department of Psychology. “During my time as an undergraduate research assistant, I fostered my passion for psychology and research,” Clifton says. “This time spent working with Professor Carolyn Pepper and the team of students in her
lab is what made me realize that I wanted to study psychology at a graduate level.”

Clifton also found time to cultivate her love of music with The Bettys female a cappella group. “I was the president of the group for my final three semesters and learned so much about leadership,” she says. “The Bettys is all about making awesome music and even better friends.”

In addition, she served as president of the Black Student Alliance. “It was an awesome experience, and I learned so much,” Clifton says. “It’s a group that values the diversity in a college setting, seeks to make all people feel comfortable on campus and strives to make marginalized voices heard.

“I also worked as a resident assistant at the UW Apartments,” she says. “This is a job that can teach you so much about working with people. I worked with over 100 of my own residents, planned and organized weekly events for residents, engaged in an intentional conversation with 100-plus residents to ensure success in school and comfort in their community, and performed administrative desk duties. I also made a lot of awesome friends along the way.”

Clifton plans to pursue her doctorate in clinical psychology and do research on African-American health and mental health. She believes one of the things that sets UW apart is the caring faculty and staff members. “So many amazing professors at UW have made an impact on my academic career,” she says. “UW professors go above and beyond. I am grateful for all I learned at UW, and I feel I grew as a person and a student.”

Kyle Schmidt

Senior, chemical engineering

man in carrying a gun on his shoulder
Kyle Schmidt found a leadership opportunity and new friendships as president of the Shotgun Sports club.

Kyle Schmidt or Rawlins, Wyo., was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Afghanistan. When it came time to use his GI Bill, he chose UW and has found his leadership opportunities as a math tutor and president of the Shotgun Sports club.

The club provides a needed outlet for Schmidt, who has a demanding engineering major. “I’ve grown up shooting, being a part of the hunting and outdoor community,” Schmidt says. “It was something I found that I truly enjoy. We’re very tight-knit, so you make great friends on the team. To compete nationally is very cool. We shoot against a ton of other schools.”

Tournaments take club members all over the region and as far away as Texas and Oklahoma.

This summer, Schmidt will intern with Sinclair Oil Corp. as a process engineer. “The recruiters told me specifically that they love hiring engineers out of UW,” he says. “I’m really excited about that.”

Schmidt chose UW for its affordability and quality engineering program. “I’ve had professors who were unbelievably helpful, whether it was in the classroom or in their office hours,” he says. “They’ve been very willing to help and very generous in that matter.”

Schmidt also value’s UW’s size, including smaller class sizes. “It gives you a chance to build a community with the fellow students you’re working with—studying together, working together, doing extracurricular activities. It allows you to gain real friendships. It allows you to see different cultures, too. We have students from all over the world.”

Of course, he also values the outdoor offerings, including hiking, fishing, hunting and skiing. Schmidt has taken advantage of UW’s Veterans Services Center for help with things like understanding the intricacies of the GI Bill. “They are very knowledgeable,” he says.

Upon graduation, Schmidt hopes to work in the refinery side of the oil business, something his leadership roles and experiences at UW will help him pursue. “I love learning about how we take raw materials out of the ground, and we turn them into fuels,” he says.

Paige Hanewald

Senior, secondary English and Spanish education, ESL endorsement

woman in exercise clothing standing with hands together
Paige Hanewald gained leadership experience and helped pay for school working at Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center.

For Paige Hanewald of Casper, Wyo., UW’s fraternity and sorority life provided her with ample leadership opportunities, including serving as president of the UW Panhellenic Council, which provides leadership to UW’s sorority chapters. The role included overseeing the regular implementation of policies and processes that affect the entire sorority community.

“I joined a sorority because I wanted to be a part of something bigger,” says Hanewald, who became a member of Tri Delta her freshman year. “While I found that within my own sorority, I also found that in Panhellenic. I was in charge of recruitment in 2015 and was able to attend conferences, meet women from other associations and really saw the larger purpose that I was working for.”

Last year, as Panhellenic president, she helped ensure sororities held one another accountable, worked efficiently and presented themselves accurately. Hanewald says UW’s fraternities and sororities—14 in all—are a close-knit community. “We rely on one another and have a common purpose that we strive to complete,” she says. “As a sorority woman, I’ve met my best friends here.”

Hanewald also took advantage of UW’s ample study-abroad opportunities and served as a College of Education ambassador. “I’ve been able to study abroad three times on summer short-term faculty-led trips,” she says. “I’ve been able to go to England and Italy for a Shakespeare course and Argentina and Spain for my Spanish credits. I think the study-abroad experiences were some of the best things I did while I was here. The university has always been supportive of studying abroad, especially financially, and that was what really enabled me to do that.”

As a College of Education ambassador, Hanewald enjoyed showing prospective students what the college is all about.

“Doing the English as a second language (ESL) program has been something that really ignited my passion for multilingualism,” she says—so much that she hopes to teach abroad after graduation before pursuing a master’s degree.

“I’m in the Honors Program, and their classes have always been some of my favorites because they’re so unique.” Hanewald adds. She’s also a student worker at Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center: “The leadership role I’ve been given there as well as the support from the other staff has been incredible. I’ve learned a lot from that experience, and it’s helped me pay for everything that I want to be involved in.”

UW is very student oriented, Hanewald says: “Making students your top priority is important, and UW does that very well.”

She also loves the area and says Wyoming’s high school students should realize that coming to UW provides something completely unique to the rest of the state. “Laramie is almost forced to be different because of the population that the university brings,” she says. “I’ve met people from around the world. It has been an experience that I didn’t expect—but a great experience. It has given me the opportunities to get out of my comfort zone.”

For students who want to get involved, UW is the place, Hanewald says: “I’ve been able to participate in so much and take big roles in things that I never thought I would. UW gave me the possibility to do that.”

Mikalah Skates

Senior, international studies, French and political science

woman in track clothing jumping
As SACC president, Mikalah Skates helped create community service events for athletes.

Mikalah Skates of Casper, Wyo., chose UW for the track team and the areas of study she was looking for. The combination of the two has taken her across the country and around the world, offering valuable leadership roles in the process that will help her in her future career as a lawyer. Her involvement includes being the Mountain West Conference Student-Athletic Advisory Committee president to the NCAA and recruiting coordinator for the Black Student Alliance.

“Athletics as a whole has provided me with a lot of opportunities,” says Skates, whose specialty is the 100-meter hurdles. “I’m the SAAC president, and I also represent the MWC as whole on the national Division-1 SACC.”

Her SACC duties include helping create community service events for athletes to take part in, helping UW comply with NCAA regulations and, overall, helping to enhance the student-athlete experience.

“SACC has developed me in so many different ways as far as being able to speak in front of people, and I’ve gotten so many travel experiences from it,” Skates says. “I’ve made a lot of connections. It’s nice to know that what I’m doing is truly trying to improve the student-athlete experience.”

The community is what sets being a UW athlete apart, Skates says: “We have so much support from the entire state, and I really think that makes the athletics department more of a family and community-oriented.”

This year, Skates also became involved with the Black Student Alliance. “We try to spread diversity and understanding,” she says. “We hold events for everyone to come to.”

Just as the state is supportive, so too are the professors, Skates says: “Being able to know a lot of the faculty and staff—both on the academic side and the athletic side—and the personal experiences and encounters you get with them are not something you get at larger universities. They’re willing to really make themselves available to students to make sure they’re getting the experience they need.”

Last summer, Skates spent three weeks on a faculty-led, study-abroad trip to Ghana: “That was a really cool experience to get a different perspective on the world.”

This semester, she’s studying abroad in Morocco. “I’m truly passionate about what I’m studying and really focused on the human rights aspect of things, so having professors who share my passion for things like that and getting to study abroad and see the work in a different way helps you think critically,” Skates says. “The international programs at UW are phenomenal.”

These experiences are helping prepare Skates for her future career. “After I graduate, I would like to go to law school and study international human rights law,” she says. One of the law schools she’s considering is UW, which has a strong international human rights program.

Shawna Wolf

Senior, music performance

woman playing an oboe in a musical group
Shawna Wolf discovered her love for composing music at UW.

Shawna Wolf of Buffalo, Wyo., headed off to Alabama for college her freshman year. But it wasn’t long before she missed Wyoming and her twin sister, who was attending UW, so she soon transferred.

It was at UW where she discovered her life’s passion: composing music. “When I took intro to composition, I wrote the best piece of music I’ve written so far,” Wolf recalls. “It’s a five-minute piece about birds for solo violin. It went from there. I never could have expected that. I thought it was just a class I had to take.

“I think that my entire experience here has been really unique,” Wolf says. “Every composer needs to follow their own path. That’s something I didn’t know but Assistant Professor Anne Guzzo knew entirely. She let me build my own path, which worked really well for me because I’m determined and ambitious. She put all kinds of opportunities in my lap for me to explore on my own, which was really awesome. It helped me build a really strong resume for graduate school.”

Wolf was invited to attend the Wyoming Composers Festival in Jackson, Wyo., as a composition fellow. “At the festival, I got to work with Alex Shapiro, who is a famous female composer, for an entire week, and I also got to work with violinist Holly Mulcahy. I worked closely with her on a violin piece that I’d been commissioned to write and that she now performs on tour. We also worked with musicians from the Grand Teton Music Festival. It was a great stepping stone.”

The festival was just one of the unique opportunities Wolf has taken advantage of. She also attended Re-envisioning the Laboratory: Sci-Art Symposium at UW aimed at bridging the gap between art and science. “I don’t think I would have had the chance to get involved with that anywhere else,” Wolf says.

Similarly, Wolf interns in zoology and physiology Associate Professor Michael Dillon’s lab. “We are currently working on getting a microphone so that we can record bee sounds and better understand how they communicate. My project idea is to use these bee sounds and apply them to a piece of music that conveys this communication. I’m excited about it.”

Last spring, she worked with professors to compose music to a theatrical production about the impact of pesticides on bees. She also performs with the UW Symphony Orchestra.

“The composition experience as a whole has meant so much to me, and it’s changed my entire life—my outlook as well as my future goals and aspirations,” Wolf says of her time at UW.

“The unique thing about Wyoming is that there’s a lot more community, so there are a lot more opportunities to get involved with whatever you care about,” she says. “Community is really important to me, and Wyoming gets a 10 out of 10 for that.”

Wolf plans to attend graduate school for a master’s in music and then work as a composer. She highly recommends UW to incoming students. “For Wyoming students, I want to tell them not to discount the idea of coming here just because it’s close to home,” Wolf says. “Being close to home is actually a blessing. Even if you live in Laramie, UW is a whole different world. For people looking at Wyoming from outside, I’d like to say that there’s so much that UW offers you.”

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