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Awards and Accolades

Par Excellence Award 2011: Luz Robles

Luz Robles

Young alumni—defined as those who left the University of Utah no more than 15 years ago—are in the throes of carving out their careers. But there are inevitably a talented few who speed up the process by establishing themselves early on as movers and shakers.

One such individual is Luz Robles BS’00 MPA’05, who is this year’s Par Excellence Award recipient.

Robles was elected to the Utah Legislature in 2008 as a State Senator, representing District 1 (Salt Lake Valley’s west side). But even before that, she began establishing a résumé with an impressive array of achievements and appointments, especially notable given the relatively brief time she has spent in the state.

Originally from Mexico, Robles arrived in Salt Lake City in 1996 to attend the University of Utah, receiving a bachelor’s degree in business marketing and a master’s in public administration. Passionate about victim’s rights, and committed to promoting equity and justice for all people, Robles has served as diversity coordinator for the Utah Domestic Violence Council, and as a health policy analyst for Utah Issues, lobbying the Legislature to support health care for low-income families. She currently sits on the U’s College of Social and Behavioral Science Advisory Board, and on many other boards and committees in the community. In 2005, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. appointed her director of the State Office of Ethnic Affairs.

Robles is currently vice president and Hispanic/Latino market manager at Zions Bank and was previously director for Zions Business Resource Center. A recipient of the Pete Suazo Award for her dedication and commitment to the Hispanic/Latino community, Robles sees the late senator as a role model, representing District 1 constituents just as Suazo once did.

Robles lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, Jorge, and their daughter, Aileen.

Philip and Miriam Perlman Award for Excellence in Student Counseling 2011: Nevon Bruschke

Nevon Bruschke

Advising and guiding students to ensure that they receive the best academic experience possible at the University of Utah is one of the most important jobs on campus. Without direction by a professional who understands the complexities of higher education, students can wander aimlessly—or even fall through the cracks.

In recognition of the importance of providing students with a secure safety net during their college experience, the Alumni Association each year presents a staff or faculty member with the Perlman Award for Excellence in Student Counseling.

Nevon Bruschke BS’72, a student advisor in the Department of Art and Art History, is this year’s Perlman Award recipient. She serves as the principal contact for more than 600 students, including pre-majors, majors, minors, and certificate students enrolled in the department’s art, art history, and arts technology degree programs.

Bruschke is pragmatic yet creative in her approach to counseling. She has simplified the degree requirements in tables and checklists that include a sample four-year schedule for each of the department’s eight areas of emphasis. She designs her own information leaflets, and is known for her dedication to her job. Says Elizabeth A. Peterson, associate professor and former department chair, “Patience and genuine caring for each individual guide her every interaction.”

Bruschke has also instituted some innovations that help faculty do their jobs better. She developed the department’s first systematic high school student recruitment program, improved the transfer student art portfolio review process, and implemented unique retention strategies. “[Her] commitment to the department, the college, and the University is unparalleled,” says Peterson.

Luz Robles and Nevon Bruschke were honored at the Alumni Association and Young Alumni-sponsored Spring Awards Banquet held in April.

Founders Day Scholarship Recipient, 2011-12: Mohamed Ahmed Dirshe

Mohamed Dirshe (left), recipient of the 2011 Founders Day scholarship, with his father at the Alumni Association’s Founders Day Celebration and Banquet, held in March.

The Founders Day Scholarship, a full tuition award, is presented each year to a University of Utah student who has overcome difficult circumstances or hardships.

It is rare to find a young man who has confronted more adversity during his lifetime, and yet is still so dedicated to pursuing a higher education, than Mohamed Ahmed Dirshe.

Born in Somalia, Mohamed is the eldest son in a family of nine children. During the Somalian civil war of 1991, he and his family were attacked by bandits in their small hometown near the city of Mogadishu. His 2-year-old brother was killed, his father injured, and Mohamed, age 8, was blinded. The family fled, and for eight months, walked toward Kenya, where they sought sanctuary in the Dadaab refugee camp just across the border. There, Mohamed lived for 14 years, learning Braille and English. He now speaks Somali, English, and Kiswahili.

In spite of his blindness, Mohamed was often the best-performing student in his class—to the surprise of his classmates and teacher. But when he reached the eighth grade, Mohamed found that the Kenyan refugee school didn’t have the resources that would allow him to continue his education. As a result, all he was able to do to fill the time was to listen to the BBC and soccer games on the radio, which prompted his interest in international affairs and turned him into an avid soccer fan.

In August 2006, Mohamed and his family left Kenya for the United States, through a U.S. government program and Catholic Relief Services. Settling in Utah, a place he had never heard of, Mohamed completed a six-month training program at the Utah Division of Services for the Visually Impaired in 2007, and received his General Education Development Certificate (GED), with high marks, in 2008. He then enrolled at Salt Lake Community College, where he received his associate degree (with honors) in August 2010 and made the Dean’s List, which requires maintaining a GPA of 3.5 and above for five semesters.

Now, Mohamed is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Utah. He is determined, self-motivated, and studious—with help from computer software that allows his computer, including the keyboard, to “speak.” Mohamed’s ultimate goal, he says, is to obtain a degree in law and serve as a leader in the community.

Assistant Professor of Political Science Tim Chambless MS’77 PhD’87 notes: “Mohamed was an outstanding student in my Political Parties class during Fall Semester 2010. He came to class fully prepared. He was ready to think critically, to problem solve. He would listen actively, unable to take notes, then would ask me highly substantive and sophisticated political and governmental questions. He was hungry to learn.”

Chambless notes that Mohamed’s presentations to the class were remarkable in that, unlike other students, he spoke from memory—“without the use of class notes, which his peers could utilize. When he concluded, his classmates and [I] gave him long rounds of applause.”

At present, Mohamed participates in the Utah Council of Blind Youth and the Blind and Visually Impaired Students Association of Utah (BSAU), which he established in the fall of 2009. His goal is to bring together all blind and visually impaired students at the U to share their experiences and contribute as functioning members of society.  Outside of his studies, most of his time is spent helping his younger siblings in their schooling.

Mohamed hopes to become a U.S. citizen in August 2011. In the future, he intends to serve the community of the visually impaired by lobbying for them, helping them get better access to education, find employment, and become self-sufficient and full-fledged members of society.

Young Alumni on the Move: “Service, Scholarship, Spirit”

Young Alumni officers, 2010-11: Tim Conde, vice president; Addie Maudsley, president, and Julie Davidson, vice president.

Out of some 230,000 (more or less) University of Utah alumni, the “young alumni”—those who left the University no more than 15 years ago—are by far the largest component (about 60 percent). Addie Maudsley JD’00, the current Young Alumni Board (YAB) president, says, “The Young Alumni Board is committed to carrying out our motto—service, scholarship, and spirit. We continue to look for ways to get more involved on campus and in the local community.”

Service to others has always been an important focus for the board. During the holiday season, members of the YAB and their families gather at the Alumni House to put together gift packages for residents at the Arlington Hills Care Center. In past years, members have also volunteered to serve meals to residents at The Road Home (a Salt Lake City homeless shelter), provide stuffed animals to children in counseling at the Children’s Justice Center, mail health-care packages to villages in Africa, and prepare dinner for refugees in the Salt Lake City area.

Over the last few years, the YAB has added a number of new programs, including a Speaker and Networking Series offered periodically throughout the academic year. The series has so far featured such personalities as football coach Kyle Whittingham and Tech Ventures’ Jack Brittain.

Three of the FUSS founders stand next to the FUSS barbecue pit (L-R): Brandon Riley, Jeff Herring, and Jeremy Barlow.

And, in the wake of the success of The MUSS, five core members of the YAB—Jeremy Barlow BS’99, Brandon Riley BA’98, Jeff Herring BA’98, Michael Haney BS’00, and Chris Evans BS’96—spawned The FUSS, the “Fanatical (or Former—take your pick) Utah Support Section,” designed to keep the spirit going among youngish Utah fans who still want to be part of a wild and crazy group. As with The MUSS, FUSS members enjoy tailgating before football games, maintaining friendships, and adding their voices to the growing chorus of Utah fans who fill the stadium to capacity every fall. The current president of The FUSS, Coleman Richmond BA’07, says, “The FUSS is basically The MUSS for the rest of us! There’s a great spirit and camaraderie among FUSS members.”

A license plate demonstrates FUSS spirit.

Most recently, the YAB instituted the Career Pathways Series in partnership with the University’s Career Services Office, which provides advice to alumni and current students. The first event was launched in March and featured a panel of professionals who are currently employed in the nonprofit sector—from The Road Home to the YWCA and the National Ability Center.

“Runnin’ in Red” participants in the Young Alumni 5K.

“The Young Alumni Board values partnerships with various entities on campus, and one of the messages we hear from young alumni and students is the need for career mentoring,” says Nanette Richard BS’90, director of Alumni Relations and YAB supervisor, about the event. “So we formed a partnership to create the Career Pathways Series. It was clear from the response to our first event that this is something the students and young alumni appreciated.”

One of the most significant initiatives that the YAB undertakes each year—in terms of contributing to the University and its students—is raising scholarship funds through a 5K Run/Walk on Homecoming Day. Over the past decade, the event has expanded such that it now attracts more than 750 runners. There are prizes for categories including “Most Outrageous Ute Fan,” and “Runnin’ in Red,” and inevitably, there are a few participants who show up festooned in outrageous and ultra-red outfits. The organizers recently added a 1K Kids Fun Run, which has proved enormously popular—perhaps more with proud parents than with the children themselves, who wonder why they have to run around the Union parking lot and what all the fuss is about. In the end, it’s all about raising scholarship funds, which over the last 10 years have amounted to more than $273,000. “Sponsors value the fact that the money we raise goes back to students in the form of scholarships” says Tim Conde BA’00 JD’04, current co-vice president of the YAB. “There is greater need for scholarships as tuition continues to increase.”

U of U mascot Swoop helps line up young runners to start the 1K Kids Fun Run, which helps raise scholarship funds.

The YAB is working on a new initiative to garner additional scholarship dollars for students in need: The Red Roots campaign, which will target first-time young alumni donors through social media. “There are a huge of number of graduates who have been out of school from zero to 15 years,” says Julie Davidson BFA’02, Red Roots campaign chair and current YAB co-vice president. “Like other members of our board, they’re raising families, are in the middle of building a career, and don’t have a lot of discretionary income. However, they feel that it’s important to give back in smaller amounts—for a really good cause,” she adds.

Learn more about the YAB and the programs it supports at

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