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Western Graduate Students, Faculty Member Receive Distinguished Achievement Award

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Recipients conducting important research in four disciplines

Western Colorado University’s School of Graduate Studies is delighted to announce the recipients of the 2024 Distinguished Achievement in Graduate Studies Awards. These awards celebrate exceptional students who have demonstrated outstanding academic performance, leadership, and community impact throughout their graduate careers. The Graduate Faculty Mentor of the Year award spotlights a faculty member’s extraordinary commitment to the holistic development of graduate students—intellectually, professionally, and personally.

This year, the awards were presented to four remarkable members of our community.

Etinosa Igunbor
Leonardo Leyva Jimenez
Cole Cooper
Laura Pritchett, Ph.D.

Etinosa Igunbor received The Award for Excellence in Scholarship, Research, or Creative Work in Graduate Studies in recognition of his outstanding academic record and the quality of his culminating thesis. Igunbor will graduate in May with a Master of Environmental Management after taking on extra coursework beyond the program requirements. He designed and implemented rigorous and impactful research on the effects of wet meadow restoration on soil moisture.


Leonardo Leyva Jimenez received The Impact Award in Graduate Studies, which recognizes one exemplary graduate student for their character, service, outstanding contributions to their field of study, and academic achievement. As a Lead Mentor in the Mentor Endorsement Program, Jimenez supported mentors through their year of coaching a new teacher in the classroom, and he has consistently demonstrated a commitment to fostering positivity in our public schools. He will be graduating in May with a Master of Arts in Education.


Cole Cooper received The Award for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ+) in Graduate Studies, which honors a graduate student who demonstrates outstanding commitment to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice either through community outreach and engagement, research, scholarship, or creative work. Cooper’s master’s research focuses on better understanding the healthcare disparities among the Gunnison Valley’s Hispanic population, particularly the Cora people, by learning the Cora community’s health beliefs and partnering with Gunnison Valley Health to apply his findings. He will graduate in May with a Master of Behavioral Science in Rural Community Health.


This year, the Graduate Faculty Mentor of the Year Award went to Laura Pritchett, Ph.D., director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing’s Nature Writing Concentration. This award recognizes Dr. Pritchett’s exceptional commitment to mentoring and supporting graduate students throughout their academic careers in a year when she published two critically acclaimed novels. Her willingness to share her journey as an author is an invaluable opportunity for her students to see how creative work can move from the concept phase to the bookstore shelf.


“The Distinguished Achievement in Graduate Studies Awards are a testament to the intellectual rigor and commitment of our students, and the strong culture of mentoring among dedicated faculty across all of our graduate programs,” Associate Provost Dr. Kelsey Bennett said. “These individuals not only excel academically, but they also enhance the vibrancy of our university community through their diverse contributions to their respective fields of knowledge and creative work. We are immensely proud to recognize their achievements and look forward to seeing the ongoing impact of their work.”

The awards ceremony took place on May 3 at the University Center, where students, faculty, and families gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of these outstanding scholars.

For additional information about the School of Graduate Studies at Western Colorado University, please visit western.edu.

Author Credit: Seth Mensing

Photo Credit: Emma Brophy, Olivia Reinhardt and courtesy

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