MEET THE GRADUATES: CLASS OF 2018

“My mother and a close neighbor were involved in politics in Montezuma Creek in San Juan County before we moved to Salt Lake City when I was 10. I was always watching the news so I knew what was going on in Utah, the country and the world. Those two things are what piqued my interest in political science — not the politics side, but the research that goes into policy-making and legislation.

My older sister graduated from the U in 1994 with a degree in political science. I knew from her experience and learning about the U that its political science department was one of the best in the nation. I was able to do internships while a student with the Indian Health Service and the Navajo Nation’s Washington office, where I worked on Capitol Hill advocating for Indian Country.

It took me 10 years to finish because I took time to work and had some health issues. My parents and my siblings all encouraged me to strive to complete my degree. I also was encouraged by a university advisor, who told me I could it.

After graduating, I want to help build a better bridge and provide a voice for my home community. We are one of the original groups of Utah Navajos and, a lot of times when it comes to issues we face in our community, our voices get drowned out by groups off the reservation. I want to bring our voices and history to the forefront to help our community grow and also work with indigenous youth in San Juan County. I am planning on working for a year or two and then want to pursue a master’s degree in legal studies, focused on indigenous people’s law, at the University of Oklahoma, which will help me with these goals.”

— Jessaka Nakai, Class of 2018, bachelor’s degree in political science. Jessaka is half Navajo (Aneth Extension) and half Cherokee (Oklahoma)

My dad’s a pharmacist, and my mom’s a nurse, so health care is what I was born into. When I was little, my dad would bring me into the pharmacy while he was working and I loved it. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to become a pharmacist. All these years later, my dad is going to do the hooding ceremony for me at graduation. That’s going to be a very special moment. 

I applied to the U after high school because it was a top 10 pharmacy school in the nation at the time and I thought it would increase my chances to get in if I went there for my undergrad. I became involved in Health Sciences LEAP, a program for underrepresented students in health sciences. That was huge for me. That’s how I met Dr. Mario Alburges for what was supposed to be one semester of research, but I ended up working with him in the lab for over three years. Initially, I had no idea what I was doing, but I was there early, I stayed late, and I think he recognized and appreciated that. He took the time to mentor me, not just in what we were doing in the lab, but in my professional development and in life. He’s been there since I was an undergrad and throughout pharmacy school. It’s special for me that he can see that the investment he made in me paid off.

 

I will give back to LEAP for the rest of my life. I came to this big university on my own with this goal, and not really sure how to accomplish it. LEAP gives you a direction, and they opened doors. If you work hard, stay focused and take advantage of the program’s opportunities, the sky is the limit and you can really accomplish anything.

Nathaniel Cordova, Class of 2018, doctorate of pharmacy. He will soon begin an Acute Care Pharmacy Residency in Orlando, Florida

“I could have branched out a little more, but I got immersed at the College of Fine Arts very early on and loved it.

Last semester, my work started to get good and I’m really proud of one assignment that’s part of the student show in Gittins Gallery in the arts building. The theme was, ‘Portrait without a head,’ about how you represent someone without physically representing them. So, I did my mom and made a 36-inch-long meth pipe. She was an addict and passed away when I was 12 so I felt comfortable that I could tell this story of her, through my eyes, without getting in trouble.

For two years, I was an Emerging Leaders Intern in the College of Fine Arts and helped plan networking events for ArtsForce. It’s a program that organizes networking events and workshops to help arts students articulate ‘Why an arts degree?’ and the value it provides in the modern workforce. We got to reach out to and bring to campus professionals from lawyers to financial planners to help us prepare for life after graduation.

Planning next steps, I’ve applied for some yearlong residencies in New York and Minneapolis that I really hope I get. I like the idea of being able to focus on the work, not handing in assignments for a grade.

Graduation for me means that at the base level, I’m losing my safety net that I’ve had for 20 years. My entire life, I’ve been in school – and that’s the scariest part. The most liberating things is now, I only answer to myself.”

Nemo Miller, Class of 2018, ceramics major and sculpture minor

“Training a service dog is a big commitment. Not only do you have to take food, water, treats, toys and other supplies with you everywhere, but you’re always training, and people stop you all the time, so quick trips take much longer.

It’s hard to explain what I get out of it emotionally, but I think I enjoy what the veterans get out of it so much more and seeing the life changes that occur for them. I’ll never forget when the first service dog my husband and I trained met his veteran. We were at the airport to meet our veteran. We saw him coming around the corner in his wheelchair, and he went straight to his dog, Ares (who he named after the God of War), and said, ‘I’ve been waiting a really long time for you,’ and for a few minutes, the pair were so connected they weren’t even aware of the rest of us around them. We had trained Ares for about six months, but once he was with his veteran, it was like we’d never talked to that dog in our lives because the two bonded instantly. Ares wouldn’t even come take a picture with me without his veteran.”

You can follow Labs for Liberty (@labsforliberty) and the dogs Nichole has trained: @ares_the_servicedog and @lyon_the_servicedog

— Nichole Ranuio, with @lyon_the_servicedog, nursing student, Class of 2018

“I started college at BYU when I was 17. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so after a few years, I followed in my grandfather’s footsteps and joined the Navy. I spent three years serving.

While in the Navy, I got my associate degree. After I was discharged, I transferred to the U.

It’s terrifying not knowing what you’re coming home to and I knew the U was where I needed to be when I came into contact with Paul Morgan at the Veterans Support Center.

The Veteran Support Center has become an integral part of my life at the U. I connect with people who understand what I went through. We can relate in a way that I can’t relate with other students anymore. It’s a place I feel like I belong and it has given me the college experience I wish I would’ve had when I was 17.

I’m going to nursing school next month in Alabama. I want to do Emergency Medicine—and one day hopefully get on a helicopter and be a flight nurse.

I injured my foot while in the Navy and I still have pain in my feet, legs and back. It’s tough having a part of your body not doing what you want it to do and having to rework your life around that. I know as a nurse I’m going to be somewhat limited with what I can do with my foot. My career will be short, but I’m looking at it as this short opportunity until I can no longer physically do it. That has helped me get the best out of everything since I know it’s fleeting.

I have this sense of service toward my fellowmen. To be out in the field responding to those serving would be the ultimate dream—to help them while they’re sacrificing so much.

I’m looking forward to getting my degree and that feeling of accomplishment. I’ve basically been working toward this for eight years. I’m finally crossing the finish line and while sometimes I wish I would’ve finished faster, I’ve learned so much with the experiences I’ve gone through.”

Rachel Martinez, Class of 2018, Russian major


“My score was announced. I remember the long sigh from the crowd filling the air as I missed qualifying for the 2014 Olympic team by just a few points. Considering that I prematurely returned from an ACL injury, defying the odds and opinions of doctors, I wasn’t devastated by the news. I was however terrified about the future.

Little did I know that moment of uncertainty would define the course of my entire education. After much reflection and a tour of the University of Utah campus, attending the David Eccles School of Business was a perfect path for me. I always wanted to go to college for business since I was a kid.

As a byproduct of becoming a professional skier at 15 — leaving home to travel the world while balancing school, negotiating endorsement deals and budgeting expenses — I essentially treated myself as a business rather than a traditional high school student. The University of Utah helped me build on these experiences and hone them into a course of study and possible career path.

Studying business with an emphasis in marketing was one of the most rewarding and natural transitions I could have ever asked for.

I could’ve never imagined that my college education would propel me towards applying one passion towards another. After graduation I plan on pursuing my passion for advertising, and to hopefully one day open my own agency where my passion for business and creativity can flourish.”

Walter Wood, Class of 2018, Business major


We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.