Doctors did not think Joe Akmakjian (B.A., ’13), born with muscular dystrophy, would live past his 12th birthday. However, the journalism and technical communication graduate celebrated his 24th birthday by going skydiving, attached to a professional skydiver. Named National Goodwill Ambassador by the Muscular Dystrophy Association in 2017, Akmakjian encourages individuals with neuromuscular diseases to push the boundaries of what they can do: “Chase your dreams, and keep a positive attitude.”
Baxter Black (D.V.M., ’69) began his career as a large-animal veterinarian but found his calling in writing. The cowboy poet’s humorous, common-sense take on modern life – spread throughout the land via weekly columns, books, radio, TV, and live shows – has earned him a vast and thoroughly entertained following.
Before Mary Cleave (B.S., ’69) became one of the first women to complete NASA flight training and serve as flight engineer for two space shuttle missions, she was riding around Horsetooth Reservoir on her motorcycle doing field research. The biological sciences major answered an “Astronauts Wanted” posting on a whim. After 172 orbits of Earth, operating the space shuttle’s robotic arm, and traveling 3.94 million miles, Cleave’s advice is to always keep an open mind. She received the William E. Morgan Achievement Award, the CSU Alumni Association’s highest honor, in 2015.
Amy Van Dyken Rouen is a champion with the heart of a fighter. As a transfer student in 1993, she had given up on swimming and set her sights on becoming a teacher. CSU swimming coach John Mattos coaxed her back into the water. It was the right call. She posted the fastest time in the 50-yard freestyle and was named NCAA Swimmer of the Year in 1994. She went on to win six Olympic gold medals (1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney). Nearly killed in a 2014 ATV accident, she was told she would never walk again. The fighter kicked in. One year after the accident, Van Dyken Rouen was standing on her own. She started Amy’s Army to provide grants to others with spinal cord injuries. To honor her stalwart courage, CSU’s West Drive was renamed Amy Van Dyken Way – the first time a campus street was named for a former student.
John Mosley (B.S., ’43; L.H.D., ’04) served with the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black military pilots formed during World War II. He served 25 years and flew missions in Korea and Vietnam before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He later served as special assistant to the undersecretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
Dancer Denna Thomsen (B.A., ’07) didn’t think she needed college – she just wanted to move to Los Angeles and begin her career. She leapt into academics anyway, choosing CSU for its high credentials. After graduating, she danced for superstar singers, including Madonna at the Super Bowl. After that performance, she decided to act on her conviction that dancers are storytellers too. That decision became AXIOM Dance Theatre, a successful venture allowing her to share her own choreography and help revive the historical centrality of dance.