At the University of Colorado Colorado Springs we talk a lot about reaching higher. It's not just a slogan, it's based on what we know about our diverse and inclusive student body and where the University is going. Our students are serious about their futures and realize UCCS is the first step to accomplishing their dreams. They are focused. They are passionate. They know what they do here will define who they become and how they will impact the world. They reach higher. And they achieve.
The alumni featured here represent the hundreds who graduate each year and the thousands who have successfully graduated from UCCS since 1965. UCCS has helped launch graduates in the fields of nursing, engineering, arts, education and business to name a few. If you have a vision, UCCS will help you see it.
Coming from Eads, a town of about 600 in southeastern Colorado, Adam Saffer (’09) arrived at UCCS, worried he might get lost in the big university crowd.
To his surprise, UCCS was as welcoming and personable as a small town.
“I formed a pretty good community right away, getting plugged into a great network of people,” said Adam, who’s now an assistant professor at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill and a nationally renowned public relations researcher. “My instructors really took the time to get to know me.”
In fact, one of his formative moments at UCCS came when his journalism instructor, Laura Austin Eurich, took him to Starbucks after class to help him work on his writing.
“Things like that made a huge difference for me,” he said.
Students were equally as welcoming and inspiring. Part of the Chancellor’s Leadership Class, Adam found himself in a community of smart young people who wanted to make a difference. One difference he and his friends made was to create a UCCS tradition that would make other students feel at home – an annual homecoming bonfire.
“We saw that as UCCS was transitioning to a more mixed traditional and commuter campus, there needed to be some traditions,” he said. “We started the bonfire with the hopes of it becoming a tradition, and it seems to have done just that.”
The personal symbolism isn’t lost on Adam, who still holds a torch for his alma mater. He earned his BA in just three years and his MA in two at UCCS. Then, he went to University of Oklahoma for his PhD.
His public relations research and studies about network theory netted him the Ketchum Excellence in Public Relations Research Award. He has published in Public Relations Review and the PRSA’s Public Relations Journal, and he has presented at the annual meetings of the International Communication Association, the National Communication Association and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
As much as he loves research and conferences, he also treasures the opportunities to make the same personal connections with his students that so inspired him at UCCS.
Lauren Urbanski: Connections Create Opportunities to Succeed
Lauren Urbanski (’15) doesn’t play basketball.
But, like a star forward, she knows that when you see an opening, no matter where or when that opening comes, you need to go for it.
For Lauren, that opening appeared on a snow day during her sophomore year at UCCS. She used the day off to catch up on errands, including getting an eye exam. She mentioned to her optometrist that she was thinking about pursuing sport management. The doctor smiled, said he might have a nice connection for her, and introduced her to a patient in the next room.
He was the 3x3 Director at USA Basketball.
That encounter at the eye doctor’s helped form Lauren’s vision for her future. But she knew that picture wouldn’t be complete without her tremendous education at UCCS, which positioned her for the career of her dreams.
“For my industry, I don’t think there’s a better place than UCCS,” Lauren said. “Not only would I find more one-on-one relationships with professors, I’d have the presence of the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Olympic Training Center and the professional teams in Denver. I knew the opportunities for internships would be really good.”
She was right. Through her new connections in UCCS student organizations, help from professors, and her eye-doctor connection, she reached out to the sports communities and got internships for both USA Basketball and the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation before she graduated.
Upon graduation, she got a job as Youth Development Program Assistant at USA Basketball, where she currently works.
Although not an athlete, she’s crazy about sports, particularly the way it inspires young people. Among her many duties at USA Basketball is streamlining a coach-licensing program, designed to help coaches from the elementary through high school step up their game.
“It’s a way to enhance the sport at the grassroots level,” Lauren said.
Knowing she plays a part in that -- well, it’s better than sinking a 3 pointer with half a second on the clock. It’s what winning feels like for Lauren Urbanski.
Ashley Cornelius: Find Your Voice
Four years at UCCS helped Ashley Cornelius (’13) find her voice.
And what a voice it is. Her slam poetry has been echoing through the coffee shops and cafes of Denver, resounding with the pain of marginalization and the triumph in becoming the narrator of one’s life.
Oh, Ashley’s voice is heard. In fact, she recently got a job as program director at Art From Ashes, a Denver nonprofit that uses creative empowerment programs to assist struggling youth in finding their voices and moving past their troubled past.
“Poetry helps these kids turn something traumatic or something they were ashamed of into something beautiful,” she said.
Ashley credits UCCS with helping her find that transformation. It gave her so many pathways to try.
“I had like seven majors,” she said with a laugh. After classes, she also dove into every opportunity that came her way: She participated in the UCCS Honors Program, worked as a Student Ambassador and tutor, won Miss UCCS, served as vice president of the Black Student Union, engaged in multiple community service projects and held five leadership positions in her Phi Sigma Sigma sorority.
She graduated UCCS in 2013 with a double major in psychology and communications … and a single regret: She’d always wanted to study abroad. She shared that regret with an old friend, UCCS professor Kee Warner, the associate vice chancellor for inclusion and academic engagement.
Kee said, “Come with me to Africa.”
The graduate school class seemed like a pipe dream. But she applied and received a scholarship from UCCS, sponsored in part by the Global Livingston Institute. At the time, she was a fellow at Colorado Springs’ El Pomar Foundation, which also kicked in financial assistance.
“I learned that you have to voice what you want, even if it seems outlandish,” she said.
In January, 2015, she joined Kee Warner on a journey to Uganda and Rwanda. While in Uganda, she witnessed a school that was attempting to rehabilitate child soldiers, a heartbreakingly difficult effort.
“I saw such a huge need,” she said. “I want to be able to do something to help.”
A few months ago, she applied to graduate school to study international disaster psychology. Her voice, which has touched and helped so many, is about to reach farther than she ever dreamed.
Mark Ruybalid & Joe Saliba: Into the World of Energy and Industry
UCCS alumni Mark Ruybalid (’06) and Joe Saliba (’07) met on campus when they both played on the Men’s Golf Team (Go Mountain Lions!).
After earning a Business degree, Mark (left in photo)worked in the oil and gas industry. While working on a Communication degree, Joe had started Wine Punts, a company he still owns.
Eventually, the two decided, given their backgrounds, they could “build a better mousetrap” in the oil/energy industry. So in 2014, they launched Pikes Peak Energy LLC, an oil and gas exploration company, which has interests in more than 100 oil wells in Texas and Oklahoma.
Currently, they partner with local/national investors, family and friends, deploying more than $5 million in equity investments in projects in the past two years.
Also, they’re working on developing a technology that will substantially lower operating expenses on wells – and all of this success started at UCCS.
“Between golf and the classes we took, it laid a foundation for us to springboard into the world. We made the decision to stay locally – we loved our time at UCCS, and we love Colorado Springs,” Mark said.
In particular, Laura Eurich’s Communication class inspired Joe.
“That’s how I started being an entrepreneur, learning to convey a business concept and inspire the class,” Joe said. “It shifted my view since it was selling, pitching, communicating an idea. It’s a moment I remember vividly, and it’s helped me tremendously with my ventures and everywhere.”
These days, golf still plays a big part in their lives, too.
“We sponsor a professional golfer [Freddie Jacobson], and with most of our deals or projects, we’re at some point on the golf course discussing business. Being on the UCCS golf team molded us,” Joe said.
“Coach Phil Trujillo instilled a work ethic and definitely laid groundwork for me to step into the community. The first day of practice, he told us Colorado Springs feels like a big city, but it’s a small community. So wherever we go, people see the UCCS logo, and we’re always representing something in the community: UCCS, yourself, your family.”