2000s Memories

CHANGING DIRECTIONS, by Jacob Murdock, '02

Second to meeting my now wife while decorating for the RHA Haunted House, the most life changing Fort Lewis College moment happened to me shortly after I graduated. After graduation I started working at a small company in Durango. I enjoyed the job, but I knew it was not the right fit for me. Before graduation I had decided not to pursue law school, but knew I wanted to go on for more education. VP of Student Affairs, Dr. Glenna Sexton, had been an advisor and mentor to me through my involvement. Knowing of my career dilemma, she called me one day to let me know about a conference that I should attend for Student Affairs professionals (those individuals who work with students non-academically at colleges and universities). She said there was a graduate school fair at this upcoming conference in Kansas City and she thought that I would benefit from the fair. That phone call led me to discover the world of Student Affairs, which is where I spent the next 8 years of my career. Had Glenna not taken the time to get to know me as a student, and as a person, I may have never ended up where I have. In my experience at Fort Lewis College, this sort of occurrence was not the exception, rather it was the rule. Staff and Faculty at FLC made students feel like they were among family and friends. This is just one of the many reasons Fort Lewis College holds a special place in my heart.

HOW TO CREATE A MAJOR, by Dean Mullen, '06

So I wanted to save the planet like everyone else.  I wasn't just interested in science or humanities alone; I wanted to combine the two into a degree.  I found out that it was indeed possible to do this at FLC.  Self-constructed majors were not uncommon at all, it was well established, but the idea of a new major in environmental studies was not new either.  Some of my professors had already attempted a meeting to generate some common interest in the making of this new major.  It never came to fruition through this faculty driven approach. Then I found myself the head of the campus ecology club, and I was inspired to try my own student driven approach. So I invited people who I felt would all be in support of the degree to a meeting, students, professors and the environmental center director.  I put together a presentation that made a case for the degree on the basis of the job opportunities for individuals with this degree.  I demonstrated how other schools organize the degree and showed that we could do it with only a few new classes.  The students at the meeting explained their own reasons for wanting the major, and it inspired the audience to take charge of the matter.  From what I can recall, Cindy Browder really took charge in drafting the documents.  Other people I remember taking an active role in the process were Marcus Renner, Tina Evans, Laurie Williams, Mark Seis, David Gonzales and Julie Korb, in no particular order. I'm sorry if I have forgotten someone else who participated.  Brad Bartel was the president of the college at the time, and he was also a supporter of the idea.  So now I hear there are 100 majors and I feel good knowing I helped create their opportunity.


Although no immediate, appropriate memory comes up (haircuts in the senate, the mustache project, naked Joe in the paper, flaming-land-sharks, peacock theft, shooting fireworks in the secret tunnels under the school, living in your fancy garage), I'm struck most by what an incredible place it was to be a student. I haven't seen any place like it since, where every component of the school and community works together to create such a dreamlike environment. The campus floats in the mountains above the town. The town bisected by the river full of screaming tourists, or laughing locals, drinking beer (in costume). The weather, and how it somehow always feels good to be outside. The campus small enough to get to know professors you don't even have. Everyone riding bikes and talking in the street. Everything looking so beautiful.


At the end of my junior year I was finishing up a three-year stint working at The Independent, the college paper. I had worked my way up to Editor in Chief, and was essentially in charge of and responsible for the paper’s operation. During the fall semester we had managed to cover some pretty serious news, but in the spring the serious news staff moved on and I hired my close friend and roommate as a business manager. He quickly eased that position into the joint business manager slash weather man, and began writing a small but popular weather column that ranged from prognostication of winter weather phenomenon to accusing the student body president of stealing bagels from the cafeteria. In one of the last issues, my friend, the weatherman, in concert with some of the other editors of the paper, managed to sneak a semi-nude photo of me onto the back page of the newspaper. The photo featured a grizzled version of myself having just emerged from the frigid waters of a grotto in the in Grand Canyon wearing a bandana…as a bathing suit. The photo had been taken on an Outdoor Pursuits Thanksgiving backpacking trip some years before.  While I really wasn’t offended by this prank, and actually felt like it made for a fitting departure from the paper, it did produce some level of controversy and verbal sparring with the college’s administration at the time. In the end though, everything was fine and I was just left with this memory to look back on.

And if you ever hear someone at Fort Lewis mentioning the phrase Sausage Sling, now you know what it’s all about. 

AN ABUNDANCE OF OUTDOOR PURSUITS, by SGT. Joel C. Shanight, Business Administration-Finance Option, '02

I heard of Durango through my mom's roommate at Fort Collins in 1969, Mimzy Chisholm (a HS guidance counselor in Littleton, CO) while I was in Edina High School—during the good ole days of the 90s, while I started XC ski racing, the stock markets was awesome and people where happy. 2 visits to the school and I feel in love with my national geographic dreams and business school callings of living a new lifestyle in Durango at FLC. Its was like living out of a John Denver songs, the good John Denver songs.

From Fall 1999 to April of 2002 I hiked the Grand Canyon trip 4 times over Thanksgiving.  The 1999 trip was led by Walt Walker and he introduced me to the southwest outdoor scene---he is the best in the region by the way, not sure what ever happened to him. He and I literally saved a mans life that year on the hike out—(there was a east coast backpacker who had a stroke and could barely walk. Walt and I alternated carrying the victims pack and the victim the 5 miles out of the Grand Canyon around Horseshoe Mesa). Walt and I talked around a Thanksgiving dinner about the Nepal trip and he wanted me to go on it.  I was surprised to have anyone talk to me about anything—he believed in me more than I did at the time.  I had the money saved from my AFLAC stock that I bought mowing lawns in the 90s back in MN. So I made the decision, signed up and went to Nepal and hiked the Annapurna circuit with Sean Cridland and gang—meeting Conrad Anker and the George Mallory Mt. Everest team which sparked many books and movies dramas.  I was so sick over there from the food but it was worth it.  The positive effects of Karma on that trip are still paying off to me to this day.

GREAT SUPPORT, by Rich Wilson, Business Administration & Computer Science Information Systems, '07

One of the challenges I had when I was at Fort Lewis College was the fact that I didn’t have anyone paying for me to go to school. But what was great is all of the help I received from the admissions office, the Foundation, and even just the community. I always felt like there were many people willing to give me work, to help me succeed. I felt like Fort Lewis catered to students like me—there was always a way to make paying for school feasible. If I wanted to work for it, there was a way. Having gone to college during a trying time for my family, I had to adapt quickly and find scholarships and work hard, but someone at Fort Lewis was always there to help. That’s the first thing that I remember when I think about why I appreciated FLC so much.

MUD FOOTBALL, by Jason Gue, General Biology, '06

The Business department has a pretty serious mud football game every year, so of course, a bunch of guys and I assembled a team. I wound up with a concussion when a guy and I collided head to head. After the game I was supposed to work at the Student Life Center, so I was showering in the locker room but felt really bad and pretty out of it because of the concussion. I went home and from then on, I got a lot of flak for trashing the bathroom with mud. It became a big joke not to let me shower there because I’d leave dirt everywhere. Sadie the janitor was not too happy with me the next day.

THE CONFIDENCE THAT MATTERS, by Lisa Munro, U.S. History, '04

One semester I took a class with Nancy Cardona, an English professor, called Movements of Resistance. We had to write this long paper and for some strange reason, the topics came to me so easily. I wrote about Gandhi’s resistance movement against the British. I got more and more excited about it the more I wrote. Dr. Cardona had just talked about with us the dynamics of resistance movements and what she said made so much sense in this context. I was totally on a roll. The thing practically wrote itself.

Later, after I had turned it in and received a good grade back, I learned that Dr. Cardona had turned my paper in to a writing competition. I ended up getting an honorable mention! It was really surprise. Not only was it unbeknownst to me that she had entered my work into the contest, I felt so overwhelmed and flattered and happy that she had that much confidence in me. It was the first time that I had this official recognition that I write fairly well. When I went back to Fort Lewis to give a talk on my research in March 2010, I ran into Dr. Cardona. Eight years later, she remembered that paper. She reminded me of it, telling me it was one of the best papers she’d ever read…that I set the standard. Professors like her believe that much in their students, and that was an amazing thing she did for me that she may never fully know the impact of. That has never happened to me anywhere else. I was so overwhelming and wonderful.

HELP OVER HURDLES, by Leon Clah, Cellular & Molecular Biology, '10

At one point at Fort Lewis I was really stressed about school and had a lot of things going on. I kept saying I was considering quitting school, and Rob Milofsky said, “Nope. We can’t have that. If you leave, I’ll come and find you.” Those words just stand out to me. Professors like him…they were really focused in keeping me there, on helping me over the humps I encountered in life. And it wasn’t just faculty members. It was the staff, too. I enjoyed the janitors and the campus police. I was very appreciative of many different staff members. And Mary Mendelski, the director of the Colorado Alliance for Minority Participation program, was one of those people who always had an open ear when I needed someone to talk to. When I needed to bounce an idea off someone, she was there. As far as a college environment goes, it’s hard for me to envision a more wonderful and supportive place.

THE CARTOON VERSION OF THE FORT, by Ricardo Cate, Elementary Education, '06

One semester at Fort Lewis, my advisor told me I was one credit hour short of my English requirements. I was able to sign up for one credit helping out on the staff of the Independent, the school newspaper, so I did that. I was always interested in how newspapers ran, and had been working with the Southern Ute tribal newspaper submitting my cartoons for a little while, so I knew a little. But when I got in the class, it was like everybody knew what they were supposed to do already. The paper seemed to run fairly smoothly and I wasn’t really sure where I belonged, so I ended up just kinda sitting in the back, doodling with my notebook for the first two or so classes. I think everyone almost forgot about me.

In the third or fourth class, I was in my usual spot doodling, and the staff was freaking out because an ad fell through and they had half a page that was completely empty for that issue. They were all buzzing about what they could do to fill the space when I piped up with a suggestion: I had my drawings in my notebook. I asked, “Do you want to put one of these in there?” So they all gathered around and looked at what I had and thought they were really funny. They all started laughing and got a kick out of my sense of humor and picked their three favorites to fill the space. Soon, I came back with an idea to create a cartoon strip about college life at Fort Lewis called Fort Leisure. It wasn’t long before they were making room for my strip, and later, these funny horoscopes I wrote. Fort Leisure ended up being a pretty big hit. And that’s how I got my start doing cartoons at FLC.

Because of my contributions to the paper, I was nominated to attend the American Indian Journalism Institute in Vermillion, South Dakota, in the summer of 2005. There, I met Kelly Johnson and Denny McAuliffe from the Washington Post. Denny went on to start reznet.org, which is an online tribal newspaper. I met a lot of prominent writers and editors and journalists, and those connections did so much for my cartooning career.

YOU ARE YOUR LIMITATIONS, by Claudia Tiepelman, Sociology, '01

What I loved about FLC was that it was a small enough school where I never felt like I was a number—I was an actual student. One professor who really stands out to me even today is Carey Vicenti, who was an Apache judge and taught political science and sociology courses. The thing that really stuck with me about him is that any one of us has the ability to become a judge, at the state or tribal level. He always instilled in us that only you are your limitations. Whatever we wanted to do, we could do it.

KABOOM!, by Jeremy Hamilton, Engineering Physics, '02

My freshman year I had an 8 a.m. class with Joel Gohdes in the Chemistry department.  It was one of those classes I'll never forget.  The first day of class, he brought in balloons filled wit hydrogen and oxygen.  Hydrogen is really combustible, especially when mixed with oxygen.  During the first minutes of class he wanted to demonstrate the powerful characteristics of molecules, so he put the balloons next to a flame and KABOOM!  No one was expecting an explosion and we were all now very awake!

A year or so later, I was getting ready to give a talk to the American Indian Science and Engineering Society's annual high school conference.  As I prepared, I was thinking of the different ways I could get their attention and I thought I could incorporate that attention grabbing chemistry trick from Dr. Gohdes' class.  I talked to Dr. Gohdes and explained what I planned to do.  He liked the idea and set me up with the hydrogenated oxygen balloons and everything I needed to create a memorable blast.

That morning, the talk began at 8, and the students and I talked about staying focused, how to stay on the path to college.  I took out one of the oxygen-filled balloons and put it near the flame, and BOOM!  The hydrogen balloon went off with a loud report and I said, "This is how great your future looks!"  I took out the second balloon that was filled with hydrogen and oxygen and said, "Couple that with an education and …" BOOM! The second balloon explosion rattled the windows of the conference hall.  People in the front row were ducking for cover.

The talk was a success and it was definitely a great way to make my point.  But about 45 minutes later someone format he dean's office showed up and pulled me out of the room.  The conference hall was located in the CUB and so was the dean's office.  Needless to say, they were not too happy with my explosive talk.  They asked where on earth I'd gotten permission to do something like that and they reminded me several times that I was no longer allowed to incorporate hydrogen blasts into my talks,  I believe his exact words were, "Don't let me catch you doing that again."
But for me, I'll always remember the way Dr. Gohdes taught us with more than a textbook.  He got us out of the classroom.  He got us excited about what we were studying.  That stuck with me to this day.

MEANINGFUL CONNECTION, by Roxy McKnight, Art, '08

For one of my education classes at Fort Lewis we were working with high school students.  We were paired up with students in this summer reading program - students who needed additional credits to pass.  One of the assignments was to have the students listen to song lyrics and analyze them on their own.  I had this one student who I just wasn't reaching.  The songs we were doing, he just wasn't interested in at all, and all of the songs he was bringing in were so inappropriate!
So, I just racked my brain trying to think of a song that would click with him.  I found this song by Atmosphere and brought it in for him.  And it really spoke to him - he got really into the project.  I think it was the first time he made a conniption with a teacher or an authoritative figure.  It reshaped his attitude that not all teachers are these cardboard figures who don't try to understand you.  I believe it opened his eyes a little bit.

For me, it was a meaningful connection with a student.  It was definitely a cool Fort Lewis moment.

DUAL BIRTHS, by John Weldon, Interdisciplinary Studies & U.S. History, '09

I was a nontraditional student at Fort Lewis so, for me, school and family life was very intertwined.  I got married right as I started going to FLC and my son was born on the night before the last day of my last semester.  So I guess it really kept me focused.  I was always busy with family and school, juggling it all.  I had a few professors in particular who were very supportive of my life and I remember even bringing my older son to school one day to a children's literature class.

I remember when my baby boy was born.  He came the night before a can't-miss meeting for student teaching during my final semester.   I remember I spent all night at the hospital and I went to this meeting to get started with student teaching in the morning.  It was hectic but the professors were supportive.  They understood.  There were many people with families, so I never felt alone.  

FORT LEWIS LINEAGE, by Crystal Morgan, Spanish, '09

I come from a long line of Fort Lewis alumni, so I always have had so much family support.  My entire family is pretty attached to the school.  My grandma was the valedictorian in 1944.  My mom graduated in 1981.  And my younger sister is a student there now.  I think that history, the connection, is what made me see that Fort Lewis College was where I was supposed to be.  It was really so connected with my family and my life.  Growing up here in Durango, after high school a lot of people want to leave Durango.  Not me.  Now I'm away for graduate school and I can't wait to get home.

UNDISCOVERED JEWEL, by Michelle Ferguson, Business Administration-Finance Option & Accounting, '10

The small class sizes, the beauty of the campus, the dedication of the professors…those are the things I think of when I think about Fort Lewis.  I think Fort Lewis is an undiscovered jewel.  I hope it stays that way, in some ways, so it will stay small and people who know the secret will always have that special knowledge of the place so many don't know about.  I feel like I got a better education there than I would have at a better, larger more prestigious school.

GRANDMOTHER'S SONG, by Justin Boyd, Student Constructed Major-American Indian Studies, '06

I was given a song by an elder at Fort Lewis College called the Grandmother's Song.  There are certain songs that come to people at important times in their lives, and those people are to harness the spirit of the song and celebrate the meaning of it.  That was at a time in my life where I needed to grow spiritually and intellectually.  And I did through that song.  I learned a lot about my life and its relationship to mothers and grandmothers and mother earth.  I sang that song and drummed to it on the buffalo drum at our graduation ceremony.  I blessed the graduates, the teachers, the administration, all while reflecting on my life and how it was woven through women.  I was raised by my grandmother and it meant a lot to receive that song and share it with others at my graduation.  

SANDPAINTING, by Colin Ben, Southwest Studies, '02

As a senior majoring in Southwest Studies (with a concentration in Native American Studies) I had the opportunity to  conduct an interdisciplinary research paper on the relationship between Navajo sand painters and Anglo traders in the Four Corners area.  I documented the history of Navajo sand painting and focused on how it has transformed from ceremonial use to a secular/commercial purpose.  It was exciting to interview sand painters and traders to hear their perspectives of how the art of sand painting has evolved over time.  The person-to-person conversations made it very real - hearing directly from the artists and the traders themselves - and it was a very personal topic for me, because I come from a family of well-known Navajo sand painters.  Presenting that as my senior research paper was a great capstone to my undergraduate career at Fort Lewis.  I will always be proud of the work I accomplished.

MOVING FROM THE "SMALL STATE" OF ALASKA, by Crystal Nixon, Psychology & Sociology/Human Services '02

When I first got to Durango, it was supposed to be me, my brother and my cousin. My cousin flew down to Durango two days before we did. She got there, cried all night, and flew back the next day. We both grew up here and never lived anywhere else. She was the valedictorian of our class, and it was all set up for her. But she just couldn’t handle any of it. I remember calling her saying, “We’ll be there in 48 hours. Hang in there!” We were in Wyoming. She said, “I can’t do it. It’s so big here. I can’t do it.” I do think she would have hung in there if we’d been there with her those first days. She never did go to college.

So, for me, I don’t know if I could have handled it without my brother and the support. My roommate was from Alaska, too, and she was a big support. Alaska—we call it a small state because everyone knows everyone. For me to walk into my new apartment and see my roommate’s pictures from Alaska hanging on the walls was a huge comfort. We ate the same kinds of foods, and had lots of similarities in our cultures. We’re both very respectful when people would stop by. I remember a friend asking one time, “Why are you guys always so nice to us?” I’d always offer people something to eat, to drink. It surprised others that we always offered that. My answer was, “Doesn’t everyone do that?” I think that was an eye opener that being that way might be a part of our culture. Anyway, it was nice to share that with someone immediately.