Published: Dec. 17, 2015
Outstanding 2015 CU-Boulder graduates

One plans to inspire teens in music. Another aims to change the world through physics. Still another is cooking up snappy advertising slogans sure to be remembered.

This winter’s outstanding graduates reflect the best of CU-Boulder, from their passion for a field of study to their desire to share their knowledge and make the world a better place. 

Peter Madigan with friendsInspiring underrepresented students in STEM

College of Engineering outstanding graduate Peter Madigan hails from Carbondale, Colorado, where he graduated from Rocky Mountain High School.

Since summer 2014, Madigan has worked with Professor Alysia Marino on a thesis project to develop and test a neutrino detector for use at Fermilab.

Always up for more challenge, Madigan completed a second project in physics education research; presented at the 2014 American Associate of Physics Teachers meeting; and served on the CU-Prime leadership team engaging underrepresented and freshmen in research and physics since 2012.

In his spare time, Madigan volunteered for K-12 PISEC (Partnerships for Informal Science Education in the Community); and taught underrepresented K-8 students at the Casa de la Esperanza housing project and at Sunset Middle School, both in Longmont.

“Of the dozen or so physics and engineering physics undergraduates that I have supervised in research during my time at CU-Boulder, Peter is undoubtedly the strongest,” Marino said.

Alla “Ally” BalabanovaFighting cancer one cell at a time

Alla “Ally” Balabanova, who graduates summa cum laude in biochemistry, is the fall 2016 outstanding graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Balabanova’s family lives in Centennial, Colorado, but came to the United States from Moldova, the former Soviet republic, in 1998 when she was 6.

Balabanova’s honors thesis was based on her research on a cancer-fighting drug that is designed to kill cancer cells while minimally affecting healthy cells. Working in the laboratories of Hubert Yin and Tad Koch, professors in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, she employed a “wide range of advanced methods, from chemical synthesis to spectroscopy to live cell biology,” her honors committee wrote.

Balabanova has opted to take a year off between undergraduate and medical school. She’s decided to become a physician – perhaps a pediatrician. She decided against becoming a pharmacist, having concluded that being a physician would give her more interactions with patients. 

Alexandra “Alex” OlivoFrom tercets to taglines

Alexandra “Alex” Olivo blended her skills in creative writing and copywriting to promote popular products while she studied advertising at CU-Boulder. As both an English major focusing on creative writing and an advertising major focusing on copywriting, Olivo found that her academic interests frequently overlapped.

“Copywriting can be really creative, but also have a purpose,” she said.

She put both those skills to work in the favorite ad she wrote at CU-Boulder. “We are not a cult (join us),” reads her tagline for Spam, playing off the canned meat product’s loyal following.  

She is one of two top graduates in ceremonies hosted by the new College of Media, Communication and Information. Olivo was named outstanding graduate for the journalism and mass communication program. After graduating and spending several months interning and traveling, the Boulder native plans to move to New York City and pursue a career in fashion and advertising.

Michael TrentacostiBuilding terrain parks, houses and more

Growing up just outside of New York City in the small town of Nyack, New York, said he was fortunate to be able to “have a big city feel with small town vibes.” Throughout his youth, he was into improving upon a small snowboard park he built each winter with friends.

As he got older he followed this passion, working as a mountain terrain park builder and designer. Once it was time to consider college, the Boulder environment – with mountains at one’s front door – was a natural fit. Then Trentacosti learned about CU-Boulder’s Environmental Design Program and the light bulb went on.

As part of the program, he built a tiny house in New Mexico, designed and built a wall installation for an art gallery and represented the student body for the program’s creative labs. Now, he’s eagerly preparing to enter the field of architecture and design.

“Upon graduating I am truly proud to say that I am a environmental design graduate!” 

 Samantha Jones with fellow College of Music saxophonistsBorn to teach music

College of Music outstanding student and saxophonist Samantha Jones is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music education. Born in Hawaii, Jones has been involved in music for most of her life. To ensure a well-rounded college experience, she minored in philosophy, joined the Golden Buffalo Marching Band and pursued ballet.

Jones credits early band experiences with shaping her career aspirations as a middle or high school band teacher. Before she lands her first official full-time job, though, Jones plans to spend a semester traveling and substitute teaching.

Pamela Ann MartinCount on her for numbers

When Pamela Ann Martin, originally from Myrtle Creek, Oregon, graduates this winter with a degree in accounting, she’ll be accomplishing a goal she set 20 years ago: to return to college.

Not only did she get her bachelor’s degree, but she also got her master’s degree at the Leeds School of Business. She did it all in three and a half years, maintaining a cumulative GPA of 4.0 and full-time work as a business manager for most of that time.

“I endured health issues, financial difficulties and many sleep-deprived nights,” said Martin. “However, my end goal is in sight and I have discovered the depth of my courage and fortitude.”

Also during her studies, Martin passed two sections of public accountant certification. After graduation Martin is slated to begin an internship with the accounting firm EKS&H in January 2016. She will be in the Boulder office on the audit team. Martin’s plan is to continue working with the company after her internship.

Somehow while reaching these milestones, Martin also found time to spend with her husband of nearly 20 years and three-year-old black Labrador, as well as for her interests in playing classical piano, cooking and hiking.

“I wouldn’t have made it through if it wasn’t for the support of my family and friends,” she said.

Sarah GilchrieseConfronting a pressing issue

Communications major Sarah Gilchriese, who hails from Castro Valley, California, wrote an honors thesis entitled “Organizational Discourse and Discursive Closure on College Sex Assaults: An Autoethnography About Filing a Title IX Complaint” and received her department’s academic achievement award.

After graduation, she plans to continue her research and attend a master’s program in organizational communication.

She is one of two top graduates in ceremonies hosted by the new College of Media, Communication and Information.