Adams State University provides students the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to realize their full potential and enter their career path with confidence. The following students were recognized by their major departments for being outstanding as they complete their degrees this spring.

Marlene Garcia AraizaMarlene Garcia Araiza
Bachelor of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology
Manzanola, Colorado and Matehuala, San Luis Potosi, Mexico
Cum Laude

“As a first-generation student, I am honored to be the fruit of my parents’ hard-work and resiliency to give my siblings and I the chance to pursue opportunities that were not available to them during their youth. I believe that my college degree is not exclusively due to being an accomplished scholar. Rather, the many sacrifices my parents made to help me pursue higher education are reflected in my degree.”

Marlene is grateful for many supportive departments across campus including the STEM professors, peers, the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), STEM Center, National Science Foundation (NSF), and Student Support Services (SSS).

A bachelor’s degree is the first step towards earning a doctoral degree in biomedical science and contribute to controlling parasitic diseases. “This way I have the opportunity to work in a research laboratory to address parasitic organisms and in a clinical setting to diagnose and create treatment plans for patients that are affected by such diseases.”

As a biology major, Marlene was exposed to a diversity of subdisciplines within her degree to expand her comprehension and intrigue on the mechanisms that shape life, from the molecular structures of DNA to the roles of organisms in an environment. “My professors, Dr. Gibson-Reinemer, Dr. Brink, and Dr. Armstrong have been crucial to my continuous development as a scholar and scientist.”

Marlene is the recipient of several scholarships, including the Porter Scholarship, which covered a significant amount of her tuition. I also received two pageant scholarships, one being from the 2020 Colorado State Fair Fiesta Pageant. On-campus, she worked as a peer mentor, STEM support specialist, research assistant, and teaching assistant. In 2019, Marlene served as a congressional intern in the office of Congressman Raul Grijalva in Washington, D.C.

She will graduate from Adams State in four years debt-free. She started her academic career at Otero Junior College, where she earned an associate’s degree.

Marlene was involved in Beta Beta Beta (Tri-Beta) biological sciences club, where she served as a club representative for AS&F and president. She is also a member of the SACNAS and Phi Theta Kappa. In 2019, she participated as a member of the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association and is an alumna for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

As a freshman, I had the expectation to be a perfect 4.0 GPA student, regardless of the sacrifices I needed to make to meet those standards. That mindset and lifestyle made me inflexible, irrational, and arrogant. It took one mistake to send me in a spiral. Now, while I do maintain high standards for myself, I acknowledge my weaknesses and my propensity to make mistakes. I am aware of my strengths but understand my limits.”

Mary BenavidezMary Benavidez
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
Jacksonville, Florida
Cum Laude

As a first-generation college graduate, Mary is an inspiration to those family members still going through their college journey. “To me it means to never allow myself to hinder my own success by placing imaginary boundaries on my own abilities.”

Mary appreciated the high expectations from the Psychology Department. “The psychology faculty have been a source of inspiration since the beginning. I was encouraged to get out of my comfort zone and this led me to pushing myself above and beyond what I thought I was capable of.”

The recipient of several scholarships and her work with Upward Bound as a high school advisor and the paid position as the Associated Students and Faculty Vice President of External Affairs, Mary will graduate without much debt.

“My on-campus support system consisted of people I learned to trust and look to for guidance. They helped me celebrate my successes and helped me learn from my failures, providing the encouragement that I needed to meet each challenge with determination and a positive attitude.”

Mary started Adams State in 1997, took time off to raise a family and after receiving an associate’s degree with a community college returned to Adams State in the summer of 2020. She was active in AS&F; PSI CHI, the psychology club; and the Adams State Music Educators Society. She received first place in the 2022 Student Scholar Days poster and abstract competition.

“Coming here has defined, shaped my character, and helped me to mature into the woman that I am today. I will take everything I have learned and apply it to my life after I graduate.”

This fall, she will begin working on her master’s in counselor education.

Stormy ChambersStormy Chambers
Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Mathematics Education
Manassa, Colo.

“Being the first in my family to earn a college degree opens so many doors for myself and my family. I feel pride in being a role model to students who push to make more of themselves no matter the cards they were dealt in life.”

Stormy is finishing her student teaching at Alamosa High School and plans on teaching in New Mexico. “My professors, as well as my advisor Dr. Weathers, became my best-friends throughout my time in college.” Her mentors were honest with Stormy, explaining that when hitting a wall of knowledge there are two choices, conquer the wall and see what lies ahead or or stare at the wall forever. “My professors always made sure I conquered the walls.”

Stormy received several scholarships and held a few off-campus and on-campus jobs, including tutoring. She graduated in four years debt free, and appreciates the strong support of the Financial Aid Office in helping make that happen. Her work-study supervisor Angela Sandy helped prepare her for a teaching career, by providing the opportunity tutor. “Without this, student teaching would have not been such an easy transition. Angela Sandy has always been a supporter of mine.”

As a freshman, Stormy felt disconnected. As an introvert, it took her time to develop relationships. “Once I branched out, I found myself happy, prepared, and balanced.”

Adams State provided Stormy the opportunity to discover her potential. Coming from a low-income home and having brain trauma as a child made college seem like an unrealistic dream. “Adams State gave me access to individuals who pushed me to become more than what I was given. The community I have built at Adams State University has pushed me to continue my work until I have mastered it and then still find ways to grow.”

Greg CarterGregory Carter
Bachelor of Arts in Communication & Media Studies
Beverly Hills, California
Magna Cum Laude

“Adams State gave me the support system to finish what I started and confidently reach for my dreams.”

Greg plans on earning a master’s in communication and media studies and eventually studying law to enter a career in entertainment law or as a civil rights attorney.

“As students it’s often stressed by our parents to make all A’s and be perfect. Professors like Dr. Bonnstetter, Dr. Hensley, and even my coaches and ASU staffers gave me the courage to embrace my failures and learn from them. Because of this I’ve learned not to focus so much on the destination, but rather enjoy the journey.”

His outgoing personality and interest in communications led to the position as general manager of the on-campus radio station, KASF. He interned as the social media content provider with the Adams State Office of Public Relations and Marketing and interned for the School of Business, running all their social media and creating content.

Off-campus, Greg appreciated the opportunity to intern at ViacomCBS with MTV and The Smithsonian Channel; and at SiriusXM on Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud Network.

He received several scholarships, including an athletic scholarship to play football. “Being a Christian athlete, I try to use my influence to be a positive, honest voice on the ASU campus. I parlayed my love of music into becoming DJ Northbound; playing music at volleyball and basketball games as well as social and recreational campus events. Learning how to use words to inspire hope is why I decided to major in English/Mass Communications.”

He is graduating in four years with little debt. Greg was a student athlete, a student senator for the Associated Student and Faculty Association; a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; and the Communications Board.

“Leaning how to use words and be a great communicator was my challenge as a freshman. I was shy and far from home. As I continued in school, I learned that words in great literature can uplift people to overcome personal obstacles by connecting us, no matter what age, race, religion, or culture difference. As I look through my own personal experiences, I can truly see how hard work, perseverance mixed with my love of football and faith helped encourage me to become a progressive voice for positive change.”

Juan CoyoteJuan Coyote
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
Lubbock, TX

“I am the first to earn a college degree and it means a lot to me. I was on the same path but found a better way. Having a degree shows that one can make a difference in their lives.”

Juan owned and operated the Coyote Barbershop and worked throughout his academic career. “I am happy with what the instructors at Adams have done for me. I wanted to quit many times, but my instructors encouraged me to keep working, hard work will show in the end.”

He will start working on a master’s degree at Adams State this fall and plans to open a life coaching business to try and help the youth and families in Alamosa.

As a non-traditional student, Juan said his professors provided help with homework, resources, encouragement, and coached him on how to be a student. “I had a lot of support from the community. Like many students, I thought about giving up, but most of my clients heard my complaints, and encouraged me to keep going.”

He is graduating in five years with no debt.

Juan enjoyed the opportunity to attend the Rocky Mountain Psychology Association Conference.

“I was not in school for ten years before I enrolled at Adams. Starting over after 10 years and being older was difficult. I had to ask many questions and was provided tons of help. Now as a senior, my instructors have mentioned that I have improved greatly.”

Gwen GargerGwen Garger
Bachelor of Arts in Theatre
St. Louis, Missouri

“I feel very lucky to have had so many opportunities in the Theatre Department to learn and perform many different technical positions and performance roles.”

After graduation, Gwen and her partner are moving to Albuquerque, NM, and she will begin her career in technical theatre and stage acting and she believes the Adams State Theatre Department prepared her well for her profession. “Getting experience in light/set design, stage management, run crew, board operating, and performing for/in productions has tremendously expanded my knowledge and skills in theatre. Experience in all these areas will heavily benefit my goal of working in professional theatre in many different capacities.”

She received federal work-study her entire academic career and received several scholarships. Gwen graduates in four years with little student loan debt. “I am very grateful for my parents for their financial support.”

The Theatre Department is close-knit and supportive. “My major professors were always aware and supportive of what I was doing and worked with me to receive practicum credit for my light designs, set design, stage management, dance classes, TA positions, etc. I am extremely grateful to my professors for teaching me and caring for me so much.”

As a freshman Gwen was focused on performing. At Adams State, she grew tremendously in understanding and execution of technical theatre. By the beginning of her sophomore year, she was a master electrician, running the lighting department. She worked in the scene shop and learned how to stage manage. By the end of Gwen’s senior year, she was the production stage manager, overseeing the department’s entire production season. She stage-managed 3 shows, set designed one, and light designed 12 productions. “I also grew as an actor with my experience performing in productions, performance classes, and my years in the improv troupe.”

Daniel GruszkaDaniel Gruszka
Bachelor of Science in Mathematics: Applied Math
Silver City, NM
Magna Cum Laude

“Overall I am pleased with my decision in choosing Adams State University. I have been able to make good relationships with other students and professors that has helped me grow.”

In the fall Daniel will attend Western Washington University to pursue a Master of Science in Mathematics.

“I have always felt that my major professors have my best interest in mind. In my senior year I have had good connections with them that I was able to ask for advice on my future and get their expertise. This helped a lot when deciding to go to graduate school.”

Daniel received the Porter Scholarship as well as the Loser Family Scholarship and the vice-president’s scholarship. In the summer of 2021, he participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) internship. He has been a mathematics tutor and a resident assistant.

“Working as an RA has given me relationships with the housing staff members and they have always been supportive of my goals and accomplishments. Also working in the STEM Center my boss, Angela Sandy, has been very supportive. She has always given me advice and support to help me succeed.” He was involved in an impromptu math club.

He graduates in four years debt-free.

“Overall I would say I have become more confident in who I am, personally and academically.”

Christian LeggChristian L. Legg
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration
Cheyenne Wells, Colorado.

“The small-town feel reminded me enough of home but was big enough to feel like I wasn’t just moving from one small town to another. It is close enough to the mountains that I could do all the things I love such as hiking, fishing, paddle boarding, and just all things outdoors.”

After graduation, Christian will remain in the San Luis Valley and continue his current e-commerce venture. “My overall goal is to one day start my own business here in the San Luis Valley and serve its community in any way that I can.”

Christian really connected with his professors. “They truly care about your success and future; many have become friends and mentors over my years here. Dr. Liz Hensley is truly an amazing person that I trust with any questions or concerns I may have. I truly appreciate all of the support and guidance her and my other professors have given me.”

During his academic career, Christian worked off campus and was an intern with the Alamosa City Clerk. “I learned so much and met some absolutely wonderful people in the process.” He accepted temporary position with the Adams State Public Relations and Marketing Office updating the website. “I never imagined myself working on websites and the PR staff truly made me feel right at home and I learned so much during the process.”

He appreciates the connection with Jen Stoughton, his supervisor in the PR Office. Stoughton was a valuable asset as Christian began looking for jobs after graduation. “I can truly tell that the people of this community care about the students and want to see them succeed in every way.”

As a transfer student, Christian graduated after three years at Adams State debt free. He participated in Toastmasters, and was also part of the canon crew for the football games. The canon crew dresses in Civil War era uniforms and fires a canon at the beginning and end of every home football game, as well as after every Grizzly touchdown. “I met so many great people and made some wonderful friends.”

Christian admits to starting his Adams State with little direction and drive. “I felt lost, hopeless, and thought that college just may have not been for me. Then, I found the School of Business. I found professors and mentors that made me feel engaged and truly cared about my growth through the program. I found a field of study that I truly enjoyed and wanted to succeed in. The School of Business gave me direction and truly changed my life for the better.”

Desiree LewisDesiree C. Lewis
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
Denver, CO

“Pursuing a college education is challenging to begin with, but to return to school with a family size of seven, presented a lot of challenges. I’m not the first in my family to receive my college degree. In fact, both my mom and I went back to college after we started our families. It appears to be a family tradition, one that I take great pride in.”

Desiree started college in 2007 and left to raise her family. “My decision to return to ASU came easy because I knew that I could attend college with several resources available to me that would help increase my academic success.” She appreciated student family housing options. “I knew that living in an environment that was designed to help students secure affordable housing while pursuing their education was going to make a huge impact on my ability to stay focused and goal-oriented.”

The Psychology Department and the One Stop Student Services were instrumental in helping Desiree accomplish her goal. “My professors were always encouraging, communicative and helped me change the pre-existing narratives I had about what was possible for myself.” One Stop staff members helped her find resources like the food pantry, arranged payment plans, and found financial resources. “Together, the academic and financial support I received helped me sustain my motivation to complete my degree with Adams State.”

Desiree was a resident assistant and plans to become a resident director after graduation. “I really enjoyed working with students that have similar backgrounds and life circumstances as mine, who are actively pursuing a better life for themselves and their families.

“Looking back on where I started, and seeing how much I’ve grown, there is a great sense of happiness, victory and optimism. This success story has been 15 years in the making, and without the love and support of my husband and five children as well as the educational and professional opportunities that ASU has provided, I would not have been able to accomplish my goal to obtain my bachelor’s degree. In my opinion, this is just the beginning.”

Hadlie RittgersHadlie Rittgers
Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Business Education
Eads, Colorado
Summa Cum Laude

“Being at Adams State provided me with a lot of amazing opportunities. I worked as a student ambassador and met a lot of individuals.”

Hadlie started working on her Master of Business Administration while an undergraduate, which saved time and money. She plans to continue teaching middle and high school business at Sangre de Cristo Schools in Mosca, Colo., where she also coaches middle school girls’ basketball and high school track.

“My professors were always willing to help both during and after class. They helped answer questions about my course work, but they were also just very encouraging when I needed a pick-me-up and also reached out to me about different opportunities or job positions. “

She received several scholarships and worked on campus as a student ambassador, a teacher’s assistant, and as an MBA tutor and was a substitute teacher for Eads School District.

Hadlie worked as a student ambassador at the Adams State Welcome Center. “Going to work was a highlight and I enjoyed getting to interact with my coworkers.” She appreciates all the assistance from Russell Shawcroft, One Stop Student Services director of scholarships. “I always had a million questions and he was always able and willing to help. Without these individuals, my goals would have been much harder to achieve. They really took some weight off my shoulders.”

Hadlie participated in the ethics club and Student Scholars Day Folio Fest, which she took first place in 2020. She graduates in three years without student loan debt.

“When I first arrived at ASU, I was not very outgoing and did not make a lot of friends. I was focused on academics and academics only. I later learned that college is also about making memories and meeting new people. Now, as a graduating senior, I have met a lot of great friends and have a lot of fun memories that I would have missed out on if I would have kept my old mindset.”

Abigail TuggleAbigail Tuggle
BFA in Sculpture
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Summa Cum Laude

“I am very glad I chose to earn my degree at Adams State. I love the small class sizes and being able to make personal connections with my professors. Adams State has great sculpture facilities and a very supportive environment.”

Abigail will take a gap year before pursuing a Master in Fine Art.

“The Art Department professors and advisors encourage students to explore any area of art they are interested in. Even if it is outside of their personal area of expertise, they help students to find the resources they need to pursue their passions. My professors supported me every step of the way, and as a result, I completed a senior exhibition I am passionate about and proud of.”  

Abigail was awarded several scholarships and was nominated for the 2021 Emerging Leader Award.

She worked in the theatre scene shop her first year and then accepted a work-study as a studio assistant in sculpture. “I really enjoyed both jobs, and I am glad I had the opportunity to do work in my field while attending Adams.”

The Financial Aid worked with Abigail to resolve issues; her  supervisors were patient taught her new skills; the dining hall and custodial staff were always friendly and kind. “This positive environment from everyone at Adams State made my time here enjoyable and contributed to my success both in and out of the classroom.”

Abigail transferred to Adams State from Pikes Peak Community College with an associate’s degree. She graduates debt-free in three years.

“Being here at Adams helped me grow as an artist and as a person. My professors gave me the tools to continue pursuing what I love; I have gained knowledge, experience, and confidence in my work and in myself. I have also gained friends who have helped me to grow as a person.”

Post-graduate Outstanding Grads

Natalie DaganNatalie Dagan
Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Colorado Springs, Colo.

After graduating magna cum laude with degrees in English and psychology, from the University of Colorado-Boulder, Natalie knew she wanted to pursue a master’s degree. “I stumbled upon Adams State University.” As a CACREP accredited, online-based university, she was intrigued. Clinical mental health counseling was exactly the career she wanted to pursue. “The quality of education did not disappoint.”

Natalie felt welcomed into the community immediately. “The professors, whether adjunct or otherwise, were supportive, intelligent, and highly motivated to see their students succeed.” After becoming seriously ill, her connection with kind and supportive professors allowed her to continue her studies, from her hospital bed.

All the counselor education faculty and staff were instrumental in Natalie’s success. In particular, she appreciated the leadership by Mark Manzanares, Ph.D., and then counselor education department chair. “He was a phenomenal teacher. He saw my strength and desire to learn, thus becoming an excellent mentor.” With his support, Natalie gained confidence in herself and her skills. She graduated with a 4.0 GPA, a member of Cappa Sigma Iota, and with several job offers. “I also am leaving with a burning desire to return to Adams to earn my Ph.D.”

Natalie appreciates the support of family and friends. “My parents have been pillars of support for me my whole life. I can honestly say I could not have overcome what I have and accomplished what I have if they weren’t in my life. Because of them, I am strong. They have been in my corner through thick and thin and I could not ask for better parents. The same can be said for my friends, but old and new.”

Through the program, Natalie discovered a new group of people. “This is a community of people that truly understands that feeling of otherness and harnesses it into strengths. I can honestly say that those in this program, students and faculty alike, are some of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met.”

Natalie dealt with hardships from daily stressors to the pandemic to a near-death experience and came out of it stronger. “This could not have been accomplished if it were for my family, my friends, and of course, Adams State University.”  

Robert DuckworthRobert C. Duckworth
Ph.D. in Counselor Education & Supervision
Rockwall, Texas

“I felt an enormous calling to share more about this profession I had grown to love and a desire to pour into the next generation of clinicians.”

He began researching for an online program and found the Adams State Counselor Education program listed in the top ten. “There on the list was this small school I had never heard of in the San Luis Valley of Colorado.” After passing the GRE, he was thrilled to receive an offer for an interview in January 2018. “Though I had some other promising opportunities in front of me, I continued to say there was something special about this small school in the mountains of Colorado.”

As Robert drove down from the Front Range, he was uncertain of what lay ahead. “In all transparency, I was a 40-plus year old African American and had no idea of what to expect when arriving in this small town in southern Colorado. I arrived at my hotel in Alamosa and the people there were so nice and welcoming. They gave me recommendations of where to eat and my dining experience that evening was equally pleasant.”

He appreciated the interviews with the counselor education professors. “They were gracious but asked thought-provoking questions. I was convinced I had found a gold mine in Alamosa, Colorado.”

The department chair, at the time, Mark Manzanares, Ph.D., professor of counselor education, and Cheri Meder, Ph.D., recognized Robert’s need for financial aid. “They heard me and and made most gracious accommodations. For that, I will always be grateful.”

During the first semester, imposter syndrome set in quickly. “I began to doubt if doctoral work was for me. This entire staff always let me know they believed in me and the work that I would one day do in counselor education. Their scholastic DNA is all over my professional identity. There is not one of them of whom I am not fond.”

Robert will never forget the spring semester 2020 shortly before COVID 19. “I recognized the enormous weight I was carrying by working, completing a doctoral program, running a small private practice and filing insurance, going to sporting events to support my children, and serving in my local church.” An accidental drop of his computer that contained a thumb drive with over a year and half of his doctoral program, led to a little breakdown. “My daughter led the charge that I had gone too far to just quit now.  The rest of the family followed her lead and shared in her sentiment.” His mentors at Dallas Theological Seminary, his best friends, church family, and co-workers were always there with encouraging words and prayers. “Those prayers and positive affirmations have paid off.”

One year prior to Robert’s anticipated graduation, he was offered a director of counseling position at Dallas Theological Seminary. “This afforded an opportunity to cast the vision for serving students who would one day go on to be some of the great pastors, missionaries, parachurch leaders, counselors, Christian educators, and theologians and I retained my teaching role as an adjunct professor in the Counseling Ministries Department.”

Robert will continue to supervise post-master’s associates in the State of Texas, revamp his private practice, and offer consulting services, where applicable, to corrections-related agencies across a state. “I am encouraged to offer consultation and direction of mental health services that would complement restorative justice models for those who are often from marginalized and underprivileged populations.”

Alicia GulerAlicia Guler
Master of Arts inClinical Mental Health Counseling
Fort Collins, Colo.

Alicia learned the true value of being able to support others through their growth and healing from her own experiences in counseling. She chose Adams State because of the program’s accredited status and flexible schedule. “Because of the format of this program, I was better able to balance life and school.” She also felt the internship requirements would prepare her for the field after attaining licensure.

Throughout the process, Alicia felt supported by the faculty, particularly Laura Bruneau, Ph.D., professor of counselor education; Mark Manzanares, Ph.D., professor of counselor education; Jonathan Benz, Ph.D., assistant professor of counselor education; and Caitlyn Nelei-Nunnemaker, Ph.D., adjunct instructor of counselor education

She plans to pursue a doctorate at University of Northern Colorado. “Overall I am thrilled to continue my work at a Ph.D. level and know that my time at Adams State University has helped me grow into the clinician I will soon become.”

Amanda PruittAmanda Pruitt
Ph.D. in Counselor Education & Supervision
Nacogdoches, Texas

Amanda’s professional career includes community practice, and faculty and administrative positions in higher education. During her time at Adams State University, she transitioned into private practice and now operates her own group practice supervising and mentoring students and new graduates, as well as serving her community.

Amanda chose to pursue a doctoral degree in counselor education and supervision at Adams State because of the excitement and engagement the faculty expressed when she visited the campus for the first time. She wanted a doctoral experience which would include developing relationships and mentorships between faculty and students, as well as one that would appreciate her unique qualities. “I wanted a doctoral experience which would include developing relationships and mentorships between faculty and students, as well as one that would appreciate my unique qualities. I found this experience at Adams and it set the foundation for my doctoral education.”

As a first-generation college student, and one that started college with a GED, a doctoral degree was something Amanda never truly imagined she could achieve. “The greatest thing that Adams State gave me was the opportunity to prove to myself that I could obtain an education to the greatest extent possible in my field despite my humble educational beginnings, despite a pandemic, despite disability, and despite motherhood. In fact, these characteristics were seen, appreciated, and supported by Adams State.”

This experience changed Amanda’s family’s life, giving her the “boulders to throw at my glass ceiling.”

Amanda will add to her growing list of publications focused on practice and academic experiences, including: “Suck it up, Buttercup”: Status silencing and the maintenance of toxic masculinity in academia” and “Collaborative documentation for behavioral healthcare providers: An emerging practice.” She will draw from her dissertation, “Counselor educators’ online teaching self-efficacy and their beliefs about student competency in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic” to not only pursue publications, and to expand this specific research.