Previous Winners of the Forever Buffs Student Award
2022: Michael Bortnowski (Mgmt’22)
When Michael Bortnowski transferred to CU Boulder in 2019, he noticed a gap in the college experience for students like himself. He took it upon himself to make CU a more welcoming environment for transfer students, many of whom are students of color.
In 2021, Bortnowski campaigned for — and won — a representative position within Leeds Student Government. In his role, he created and led a task force, the Reducing Student Inequities (RSI) committee, to address some of the concerns he observed and felt were echoed by the student body. The committee started with interviews of more than 40 faculty, staff and administrators asking where student voices could improve conversations regarding a more inclusive campus.
The small team also lobbied for the passing of the education bills HB21-1067 and HB21-1173 through the Colorado state legislature, which removed the admissions requirement of mandatory ACT and SAT test score submissions and prohibited legacy preference for college admission.
“With the help of Leeds Student Government senators and countless others, the RSI team galvanized the entire CU Student Government and student governments at most other Colorado higher education institutions to lobby and testify on behalf of these bills’ passage, which both successfully became law,” said Bortnowski.
The following semester, Bortnowski and his RSI team conducted a study to understand the perceptions of community college transfer students about the business school and CU in general. The report has since been used by school administrators and within the admissions and advancement departments across campus, in the spirit of continuously improving the transfer student experience.
As a senior, Bortnowski also created a new tradition for graduating members of the Leeds Consulting Group (another organization with which he was also very invested in): a senior summit, which allowed for students to reflect on their achievements and lessons learned during their time at CU, and how they could translate those key learnings into their upcoming careers.
At this summit, students surveyed their peers, friends and family, asking when the respondent sees them at their best. A respondent for Bortnowski said, in part: “He is bringing people to a place they haven't been before, emotionally, physically — sometimes even spiritually.”
As Bortnowski embarks on this next phase of his life, he will continue to coach and inspire others.
He said: “I believe I have long served this kind of a role without recognizing it until recently.”
2021: Taylor Hirschberg (Soc’21)
Taylor Hirschberg is passionate about the intersections of human health and the natural environment, and how those influence global equity among marginalized populations.
Growing up in eastern Kentucky, he was surrounded by abundant nature and outdoor activities, while also experiencing first-hand the challenges of widespread poverty. This upbringing, in addition to years of working as a humanitarian in underserved communities, has led to his lasting interest in activism for environmental and social justice.
While studying sociology and public health at CU, Hirschberg was very active on campus. In his first semester, he founded the first planetary health club at a public university, which offers wellness activities in nature, networking, speakers and opportunities for community service. That same semester, Hirschberg also joined a lab housed in the integrative physiology department, where he participated in study design and grant writing opportunities that included developing a partnership with Rocky Mountain Healthcare and the Denver Botanical Gardens to create a nature immersion program for older adults living with HIV.
Hirschberg also has influenced several of his peers to pursue degrees at CU, recruiting students from the Community College of Denver. To remove barriers to their success, he chauffeured them from Denver to Boulder, helped with scholarship applications and connected them with affinity groups on campus. Currently, every one of those recruits is in their senior year with a full scholarship.
According to one of those peers, “Every day of every week, Taylor works to make this world a better place.”
After a rash of tire slashing in Hirschberg’s neighborhood, where he raised money for full repairs and later created a microloan program with leftover funds, Hirschberg found journalism as an avenue for activism to tell the stories of those who often cannot speak for themselves. Much of his work has focused on how global events impact the LGBTQI+ community. One of these stories was the April 2020 Out Magazine cover that uncovered the mistreatment of the Venezuelan LGBTQI+ diaspora.
Since graduation, Hirschberg moved to NYC to attend Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, where he is the single recipient of the Hearst Family Endowment. His current goal is to open an academic research center that focuses on forced migration among LGBTQI+ communities.
In a nomination for the Center for Student Involvement’s Leigh Wyman Family Award, which Hirschberg won in 2021, a peer wrote, “In every action Taylor has taken, he exemplifies the Colorado Creed” — a social responsibility code started by CU Boulder students emphasizing honor, respect and integrity.
2021: Thaala Loper (MBA’21)
On her first day at the Leeds School of Business, Thaala Loper was keenly aware that she was the only Black woman in the room. So she dedicated herself toward diversity efforts at Leeds, which she pursued with great force alongside her MBA.
Over the course of her time at CU, Loper devoted her time to service far beyond her academic pursuits. She served those at CU Boulder by providing opportunities for community engagement, education and racial unification.
Whether leading social impact projects or diversity initiatives, Loper consistently dedicated herself towards the betterment of her community.
“I showed my pride in CU by showcasing the importance of diversity and inclusivity at the university,” said Loper. “My hope was to help place CU and the Leeds School of Business in the position of being viewed as a thought leader in racial equity initiatives.”
At Leeds, Loper served as the vice president of Sustainable Business Partners, an MBA club that helps local businesses attain B Corp status, an outside certification signifying high social, environmental, public and legal standards. She was also the co-president of the Leeds Social Impact Consulting club, a student-run consultancy that helps mission-driven companies pursue strategic objectives though semester-long consulting projects.
As part of the school’s MBA Association board, Loper was the vice president of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. In this role, she led multiple initiatives, including a non-partisan Get Out the Vote campaign during the 2020 presidential elections and a racial equity habit-building campaign during Black History Month. She was awarded the Graduate Student Leader of the Year award for this work.
Further, Loper also founded a justice, equity, diversity and inclusion committee to pursue inclusive excellence at the Leeds School of Business.
“I am leaving CU with a treasure trove of skills and experiences, an exciting job at Apple and an incredible array of friends,” said Loper. “Earning my graduate degree was a long-held goal and one that I wish my mother could have seen. Graduation was a proud moment and a reminder of the many sacrifices my parents made so I could pursue my passions.”
2019: Jessica Mason (PolSci'20)
When Jessica Mason’s (PoliSci’20) mom dropped her off at CU freshman year, she said, “You only have four years, you should make the best of it: Go.” Jessica hit the ground running.
She joined the student government and began lobbying city and state officials about affordability issues and the pre-leasing process for student rentals — important issues for CU students. Promoted to associate justice of the Student Supreme Court in February of 2018, she’s risen to deputy chief justice, overseeing student government elections and reviewing student legislative actions. Some nights she works until 2 a.m.
“I can affirm her good character, organizational discipline, intellectual curiosity, critical thinking and her unwavering spirit to never give in to life’s challenges,” her academic advisor said.
Jessica, who grew up in Trinidad, Colo. and moved to Pueblo West in high school, has also been a peer mentor on campus and a journey leader, or person who helps new students adjust to the campus lifestyle. Having spent most of her childhood in a town of eight thousand people, she knows a big place like CU can induce culture shock. Today Jess mentors other journey leaders for New Student and Family Programs, helping ensure that thousands of new students make a smooth transition to college.
In between classes, student government, mentoring, and being president of Pi Sigma Alpha, she nannies a seven year-old child three days a week.
“I honestly thrive on being busy,” she said, “I’m not somebody who likes to sit at home.”
A member of Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Coed Fraternity, Jess plans to attend law school.
2018: Alan Sanchez (AeroEngr'17; MS'18)
Alan Sanchez thinks far ahead in time and far away in space. With one course to go for a joint bachelor’s-master’s degree in aerospace engineering, he’s set his sights on a career in spacecraft propulsion. Long-term, he’s ready to ride to Mars to develop a viable human habitat there. On Earth, he’s been doing all the right things to make it happen.
Besides immersing himself in engineering mathematics and philosophy, he’s worked paid jobs while attending school fulltime, including roles with the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the Precision Laser Diagnostics Lab of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He’s been a resident adviser in Libby Hall, a private tutor and a childcare provider at a school where immigrant parents learn English. Today Alan has an internship with Tesla. On the side, he’s a competitive break-dancer with his crew, Bedtime Monsters. Along the way, he’s encouraged and advocated for fellow “Dreamers” — people born in other countries, brought to the U.S. as children and raised here without legal immigration status. Among the CU students with temporary relief from deportation under federal DACA policy, Alan has been very involved in their campus group, the Inspired Dreamers, since before its inception. He has also served as vice president for the CU Boulder Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Mentors and admirers describe him as resourceful, resilient, persistent, confident and courageous. Recently he’s shared his tale with alumni audiences on both coasts, underscoring circumstances others face while expressing gratitude for the support and opportunity he’s found at CU. Already he’s investigating how to pay it forward: In a note of thanks for a scholarship, one mentor reported, Alan asked how he could set one up for somebody else.
2017: Alexander "Xander" Martin (Geog'18)
For more than 800 recent Baker Hall freshman, one person played an outsized role in their lives: Xander Martin was their resident cheerleader, their mentor, their leader and their event planner.
As a Baker Hall resident advisor and student coordinator, Xander jumped into the students’ lives with enthusiasm. A nature-lover, he was especially interested in motivating others to get outdoors. He planned climbing nights in the rec center, organized bus rides to local trailheads and guided hikes under full moons. If students without a car were interested in an outdoor volunteer activity, Xander drove them there himself.
“In my 40 years as a faculty member at CU, Xander rises to the top,” said the hall’s academic director.
During his time in the Baker Residential Academic Program (RAP), Xander prioritized the hall’s weekly coffee hours to share his own college experiences, offer advice and recommend courses to first-year students.
“He ably handles difficult situations through his humor, genuine altruism and compassion for others,” said Baker’s resident faculty member.
Xander aspires to a career in environmental law and policy after he graduates this year. In the spring, he started his work as an intern for the Colorado State Senate.
Said the Baker RAP director: “Xander is the epitome of what we look for in a CU student — caring, hard-working and exerting the highest level of integrity.”
2016: Floyd Pierce (ApMath, Econ'17)
The CU senior from Highlands Ranch, Colo. — a four-year Boettcher Scholar with a 3.8 GPA and a double major in applied math and economics — is also a joiner, a doer and a leader.
Floyd Pierce III knows how to make things happen and spread joy while doing it.
“Floyd Pierce is an eternal optimist with a bright personality,” one CU mentor said.
Bold but friendly, Floyd is often the first to introduce himself to people in a crowded room and regularly seeks out leadership positions.
A member of the President’s Leadership Class and The Herd Leadership Council, he serves as president of the Kappa Kappa Psi fraternity’s Midwest district. He’s a drum major in the Golden Buffalo Marching Band and sits on the engineering dean’s advisory board and is an engineering fellow.
“Floyd maintains a work ethic that is among the strongest I have encountered over the past 15 years at CU,” said the marching band director, who credits him for improving morale within the group.
Floyd also is active in the community beyond CU. He has interned with the YMCA of Boulder Valley and volunteers with the Dairy Center for the Arts, where he works special events and hangs art exhibits. He is currently an intern at the Boulder Economic Council and conducts research for the Scientific Cultural and Facilities District.
Said a mentor: “He’s a veritable Energizer Bunny, showing up for whatever he commits to happily, responsibly and fully charged and present.”
Award Recipients from 2011-2015
- 2015: Paris Angelique Ferribee (Comm, Mktg’16)
- 2015: Juedon Kebede (Comm’15)
- 2014: Chip Bollendonk
- 2013: Quen Ameyaw
- 2012: Brittni Hernandez
- 2011: Justin Macauley
- 2011: Dan Omasta
- 2011: Marni Spott