University of Colorado Colorado Springs

Maya Soifer Irish

from UCCS History Professors
Led to a career in academics

Maya Soifer Irish (’95) was a teenager studying history in Moscow, Russia when she decided to move to Colorado Springs.

She began attending UCCS part-time as an undergraduate in 1991 after her daughter was born. “It was still a commuter school then,” she said. “There were no dorms and there were
a lot of working adults going part-time. I was one of those
non-traditional students.” She graduated with a history major
in 1995.

After having another child, Maya went back to UCCS for her master’s degree. “I realized early that I wanted a career in academics,” she said. “I love doing research. That was a great thing about UCCS. The history professors were actively pursuing research. They encouraged students to read very good books and to take apart the arguments in them.”

Maya’s UCCS professors influenced her own teaching style now that she is an assistant professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She credits professor Richard Wunderli in particular with helping her realize where she wanted to go with her career. She wrote a paper on Jewish and Christian relations in Medieval England for him. “That was the paper I submitted when applying to PhD programs,” she said.
She was accepted to very prestigious schools and received the Melon Fellowship for Humanistic Studies, which covered a year of tuition. She chose to attend Princeton University, where she finished her doctoral dissertation on relations between Jews and Christians in Medieval Spain.

After three years as a fellow at Stanford University, Maya was offered a tenure-track professorship at Rice in 2010.

“I especially like that the classes here, at Rice, are small,” she said. “It’s not unlike UCCS. The students there always got a lot of individual attention from professors. I like that I get to know my students in the same way – not just their names, but who they are and where they want to go with their careers.”


Robert Ortiz

Determination and Opportunity
Helped Robert Trot
into His Dream Job

Robert Ortiz (’14) knew what he wanted to be when he grew up by the time he was in seventh grade.
“I never waivered,” he said. “I’m very fortunate in that I’ve never had that feeling of not knowing what I wanted to do.” Today he is an athletic trainer for the Harlem Globetrotters. It’s a dream job. “If I didn’t have to pay my bills, I would do my job for free.”

Robert’s mother is a pediatric physician in Denver and his father is a huge sports fan. “I thought it would be pretty cool if I could find a job that would mix those two.” He found it in the Al Pacino film “Any Given Sunday.” “There was an athletic trainer in that movie.” It was the perfect combination. “It’s sports and you’re in it as much as humanly possible, but you’re practicing medicine.”

He tagged along after the athletic trainer who worked between his middle school and the high school. He studied at Michigan State University for two years before graduating from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. From there, the decision to come back to Colorado
was easy.

“UCCS has one of the best sports medicine programs in the country,” Robert said. The school also has a partnership with the Olympic Training Center and governing bodies, something Robert took full advantage of. He worked events for USA Swimming, USA Volleyball, cycling and – of course – basketball. “I’m a huge basketball junkie, so I would volunteer at their camps and just get to know people and make connections.”
Ultimately, those connections helped Robert land his dream job. Department chair, Mandi Elder, called some of her contacts in professional basketball and introduced Robert. He started with the Globe Trotters two weeks after graduation. “For right now, I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be,” he said. “My dream has always been to be an athletic trainer at the professional level and that’s where I am.”


Kyla McKinley


from UCCS professors
helped Kayla follow her career  path

Kayla McKinley (’11) followed a traditional path at first, going straight from high school to postsecondary education, living in the residence halls the first year at UCCS, attending the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

She “loved” the program because it covered a wide spectrum, including the medical side of health, such as nursing, but also aspects such as employee health and wellness programs.
In 2011, she earned a degree in Health Care Science, with an emphasis in health and wellness promotion, fully intending to go to nursing school.

Kayla moved back home to Rye (south of Pueblo) and worked as a medical assistant at an OB/GYN center, where she completed her internship, which turned into a full-time position for two-and-a-half years. In July 2013, she married her high school sweetheart, Tyler McKinley.

While she enjoyed working at the center, she was no longer convinced that nursing was the right path for her.
After contemplating the options, she landed a job at the Boys and Girls Club in Pueblo, as a wellness program coordinator, running prevention programs for high-risk youth.

“It was the most spot-on thing I’d done with my degree. I developed my own health class for them, for the after school program. And it was totally up to the kids whether to be involved in it.”
Voluntarily, they took her classes and participation rates for youth ages 8 to 18 were outstanding.
“I realized I loved teaching them so much I went back and got my teaching certificate in 2013.”
These days, she teaches health, physical education and leadership courses at Rye High School. Kayla credits her professors and her degree from UCCS for helping her follow a career path that suits her well.
In particular, she mentions KC Craig, a senior instructor in the UCCS Health Sciences program.
“She’s inspiring as a woman, and she’s super passionate about how she teaches her classes – with a ton of energy. She was always ready and willing to help you figure things out, very supportive. She always stood out to me.”


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.

Mark agreed.

“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.”


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.


Beryle Frank

A Foundation

built upon paths to find his true calling

Beryle Frank (’08) went to UCCS to figure out what to do with his life. His classes and extracurricular involvement tell the story of a young man searching for something.

Born in India, he was sensitive to those who were looking for a place to fit in.
He founded UCCS’ Asian and Pacific Islanders Student Union and was a member of the Student Diversity Council. He helped organize a health fair that provided free HIV testing. He worked as a mentor at a local elementary school.

He wanted to do good, to make a difference.
Beryle changed his major like some students change their hairstyles, starting in engineering and architecture, changing briefly to business, trying sociology, then settling on biology.
Looking back, Beryle wouldn’t change a thing, not even the paths that seemed to lead nowhere.
“Ultimately, it all set a foundation for where I would end up,” he said, sipping his chai latte. “It was the culmination of all those things, introducing me to so many different people, giving me a more pluralistic view of the world.”

Today, Beryle is a physician assistant for Colorado Springs Health Partners, working out of all the major hospitals in Colorado Springs.

“It’s a pretty great profession,” he said with a smile.
It’s his job to interview patients, find out their symptoms, medical histories,  and current medications. Then he writes a treatment plan and collaborates with doctors and nurses to refine it.
During a recent interview, a woman came in complaining about vomiting and nausea, convinced she had a digestive-tract ailment. But Beryle had a hunch that the problem was actually a clot in her lungs. A CT scan proved him right.

“That could be fatal if not found,” he said. “She was so grateful.”
Beryle was moved by her appreciation. It was one of the many moments which convinced him that all of his wanderings have led to the right path.


Adam Saffer

A Transcending

Personable experience

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.


Nashla Dawahre



Nashla Dawahre (’06) planned to be dentist. Now she’s thankful she discovered something entirely different through  her experience at UCCS.

Now director of student services for the Florida Virtual Campus – the institution that connects all Florida state-run universities through their online programs – Nashla realized after graduating with a double major in biology and Spanish that dentistry wasn’t her passion. But she didn’t know what to pursue instead.

She connected with the director of recruitment for UCCS that summer by chance and was offered a position as a temporary admissions counselor. It was a six-month assignment. “I had no idea it would become my career,” Nashla  said. “I just thought, ‘Well that sounds amazing. I’ll work at this place I love and then I’ll figure it out.’”
Nashla was involved in tutoring at the language center during her time as a student. She served on student government and directed the campus orientation and welcome program. She knows UCCS well and enjoyed talking to perspective students about it. So, when she learned the position could be long-term, she happily began working full-time in  student services.

Nashla earned her master’s degree in public administration from UCCS in 2010 and rose to become the lead academic advisor. The thing that strikes her about UCCS is the way the school maintained its focus on individual students even as it grew rapidly. “Even though it has grown so much since I started in 2001, it felt like it was the same,” she said. “I would  get emails from professors about specific students who missed classes or who were struggling. It’s huge having those personal connections.”

Nashla credits her relationships with her professors for her own deep involvement in the school and the community. “Everything I did, I did because someone in the department or a professor brought the opportunity to me and encouraged me to pursue it.”


Peter Shaskey-Frederick



When Peter Shaskey-Frederick (’05) was a kid, he thought he could dig a hole to China. “So, I started digging.” About 20 years later,  he was teaching English at Sheng Da University in the Henan Province.
Peter’s path was not a direct one. When he graduated from Palmer High School in Colorado Springs in 1992, he didn’t know what he wanted to study and it took him 10 years to decide.

Working in Aspen while his wife, Bianca, studied at Colorado Mountain College, Peter met people from all over the world and realized he’d always been interested in Asian history. He even had a black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu.

He returned to Colorado Springs in 2003 and committed to finishing his degree in history. Instructor Judy Price taught Shoguns of Japan, one of Peter’s first classes. “That’s when I finally thought, ‘Oh yeah, I’m definitely in the right place.’”

Peter’s time at UCCS was an inspiration for his life’s path. He worked as a teaching assistant for Price and his Asian American literature professor, Paul Harvey, and saw what it took to be effective. “I learned good teaching practice from Paul Harvey. He really took an interest in students and was a true mentor and coach.”
Once finished with his bachelor’s degree, Peter decided to stay at UCCS for his master’s. He graduated with a master’s in history and a certificate to teach English in 2009.

After a year in China, Peter and his wife moved to Korea, where he teaches English to sports medicine and rehabilitation majors at the University of Ulsan. “I’ve found a job I really love.”
He has been at the university five years and plans to stay at least two more. He and his wife have adopted two dogs and enjoy hiking in the mountains and traveling during Peter’s eight weeks of vacation each year. “This is a really pleasant life.”


Meral Sarper



Meral Sarper (’14) pursues her passions with exuberance. After graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and minors in Leadership Studies and Sustainable Development, she began working for Transportation Technology Center near Pueblo.

Eventually, she entered an entrepreneurship competition, which inspired her to leave her job to launch her own venture: Pueblo Permaculture.

“I went in with everything and it really worked out. I had to be a risk taker and follow my heart.”
Simultaneously, she received the last spot in a graduate teaching assistant program and loves being back in an educational environment.

Soon after her strategic career change, she received grants and now works with schools and daycare centers, starting gardens or composting.

Meral shares the ancient knowledge of sustainable paths to food sources. In addition, she inspires others to find and validate localized energy solutions, such as hemp, algae and other regenerative forms of fuel.
She credits UCCS and the Office of Sustainability’s recycling program and Mt. Trashmore event with changing her perspective of the world and her role in it.

“As a young student, that event really opened my eyes. This is just one day of trash at UCCS, so multiply that across the city and state. If I don’t start caring about this and inspiring others, then we’ll have a huge problem when we start having kids.”

Helping to write a grant application for the UCCS Green Action Fund motivated her to include indoor vertical gardening and composting as a lifestyle.

In addition, several faculty at UCCS provided guidance and inspiration by weaving community, harmony and sustainability into their courses, including Dr. Julie Albertson, Mechanical Engineering; Professor Kevin Gilford, Assistant Sustainability Director, Office of Sustainability; and Dr. John Milliman, College of Business.
“There’s a ripple effect that happens when you follow your passion. As Millennials, we need to rise to that occasion and make that change in the world. And UCCS is where it all started for me.”


Drew Johnson

Empowered To  Succeed

Drew Johnson (’13) holds a different opinion of higher education than he once did. After dropping out of high school, he worked in call centers and retail before running his own business for two years.

In fall of 2007, he started at Pikes Peak Community College, becoming very involved in campus activities, including serving one year as student body president.

When he transferred to UCCS for a Business Administration  degree, he continued that momentum and focus. He found scholarship opportunities, including Reach Your Peak and the Chancellor’s Leadership Class, and also co-founded the Green Action Fund.

There were several instructors or professors who were “absolutely amazing,” including Dr. Ken Sylvester, adjunct Gary Smith, Dr. Dustin Bluhm, and Dr. Tom Duening, who really challenged Drew.
“UCCS is such a supportive environment. I’m so thankful for the resources to teach me and empower me to succeed. It’s a real education instead of just a degree.”

As part of his Leadership Class requirements, he volunteered at Blue Star Recyclers, a “wonderful experience,” and later accepted a full-time position, staying for 18 months.

In June 2014, he launched his own company, TechWears, creating jewelry and (reversible, adjustable) circuit board neckties from recycled electronics.

Since the beginning, these popular products have been shipped to 14 countries and 22 states. He also makes rings, pendants, cuff links, earrings and bracelets.

“It’s just been a rollercoaster ride.”
TechWears keeps growing – in the 4th quarter of 2015, for instance, volume increased 35 percent year over year.

Principles he learned at UCCS have helped him, such as creating entrepreneurial ventures in spaces with few competitors – and moving quickly, so other companies cannot catch up. Also, the opportunity to allocate and disperse funds, while being fiscally accountable to other students, through the Green Action Fund, helped prepare Drew for his career.


Jose Moreno


Experience in an academic Environment prepared Jose for the job of a lifetime

Jose Moreno (’07) didn’t want just theory.
He wanted a college that would take him into the meat of his major and give him real-world experience.
He found that at UCCS, where a marketing class threw him into a serious “cutting edge” project: rebranding Cutco Cutlery. He took the lead of the team, competing with other groups around the country. Their branding plan took first place.

“It was cool to be able to get a little taste of something  I wanted to do,” Jose said.
While at UCCS, Jose also emceed many events and learned most of the skills that would take him to what he considers a job of a lifetime: director of community relations and charitable giving at the Fiesta Bowl, one of the country’s premier college football competitions.

“I love the ability to give back to the community, utilizing this great platform we have,” Jose said. “We gave $1.5 million to nonprofits last year.”

That money goes to help underprivileged children, support the military and much more.
During the big bowl game in early January, he looked up at the University of Phoenix Stadium’s Jumbotron and he saw a video about his team’s efforts.

“It was such a great feeling to see all my behind-the-scenes work in front of everybody’s eyes,” Jose said.
Jose regularly speaks at colleges and high schools about what it takes to succeed. He’s seen it on the sports fields and he’s seen it in corporate America. His advice: Network like crazy, embrace every opportunity and remain fearless.


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.