Ali Alnazzal, Political Science
Ali Alnazzal arrived in the US from Iraq in 2011 as a refugee with his family. "I knew no one and had nothing. I learned everything by trial and error." He worked as an interpreter and ride-sharing driver to meet his family's needs. Ali first enrolled with the CCD for one year, then joined CU Denver and found many opportunities that allowed him to positively engage in the university's communities. Ali has worked with the TRIO Student Support Services program, the Student Transfer and Family Engagement (STFE) office as a Peer Advocate Leader and was also elected to participate in the work of the Age-Friendly University (AFU) committee.
Ali is a member of the BIPOC committee in the Political Science department and was accepted at PI Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society and Lambda Pi Eta Honor Society. In addition to majoring in Political Science, Ali has a second major in International Studies and a minor in Communication. He has recently been accepted into the master's program in Political Science here at CU Denver. In his personal time, Ali says "I like to play piano…I enjoy intellectual discussions, especially with my daughter Danya, and only watch movies based on true events."
Benjamin Peter Denker, Integrative Biology
Benjamin Peter Denker started at CU Denver in the summer of 2021 shortly after being medically retired from the Air Force in February. He was training to be a Pararescue man (PJ) and had received EMT and Paramedic certificates in pursuit of that goal. During that training, He discovered a passion for medicine and wanted to pursue it further. However, Ben says "...life happened, and I was no longer in the military, and I found myself needing a new goal."
He decided to pursue a degree in biology with the goal of going to medical school. During his time at CU Denver, his favorite subjects were organic chemistry and anatomy. He developed a good relationship with Dr. Damian Dunford and Dr. Hannah Anchordoquy during their classes. In April 2023, Ben and his wife welcomed their new son, which has been the best thing that's happened in his life. Ben looks forward to graduating this fall and plans to apply to medical school next year.
Tyrel Seward Sorensen, Anthropology
Tyrel Sorensen grew up in a small, rural community in eastern Colorado. After graduating from Agate High School, he earned a BA in anthropology from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2015 and then worked for several years as a cultural resource management archaeologist. It was at this time that he became interested in the role that religion plays in all aspects of life, especially health and well-being. To explore this topic, he enrolled in the MA in Anthropology program at CU Denver in the Fall of 2021 where his studies focused on medical anthropology and archaeology. His thesis research investigated the role that metaphors, religious or otherwise, play in the cultural construction of illness experiences.
During the semester of Fall 2023, Tyrel was given the opportunity to teach as a TA for the lab sections of Introduction to Archaeology. While doing this he discovered that he has a passion for teaching and working with students. His teaching philosophy is that, in the right hands, any subject can be a vehicle for providing today’s students with the critical thinking and reflection skills necessary to build a better world tomorrow.
To continue in the service of these interests and passions, Tyrel is planning on enrolling in a doctoral program in Religious Studies and digging deeper into the articulations between religion, politics, morality, health, and day-to-day life. Ultimately, he hopes to bring insights to light that will not only be valuable within the academy but also for the world at large.
Jessica Lindsay Romero, Integrative Biology
Jessica Romero is completing a Master of Science degree in the Department of Integrative Biology. For her thesis, she researched the bacterial degradation of the environmental contaminant and potential human carcinogen 1,4-dioxane at the local Lowry Landfill Superfund Site. She has been a Teaching Assistant for the General Microbiology Laboratory for five semesters and received the Integrative Biology Graduate Student Excellence in Teaching Award in Spring 2023.
Jessica has been involved in a number of on-campus programs that promote Indigenous scholarship and community, including Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands, Fourth World Center for the Study of Indigenous Law and Politics, American Indian Student Services, Native American Student Organization, and American Indian Science and Engineering Society. She has also been involved in community work off-campus, namely with the Four Winds American Indian Council to support the liberation of Indigenous Peoples and to raise awareness on modern manifestations of colonization. During her time at CU Denver, Jessica has aimed to uplift Indigenous communities and work towards the restoration of land and water impacted by contamination and exploitative worldviews. She hopes to continue these in her career, and to amplify the voices of individuals with similar backgrounds as hers in science.
Kaitlyn Marie Vagnini, Clinical Health Psychology
Katie Vagnini is a recent graduate of the Clinical Health Psychology Ph.D. Program. As both a clinician and researcher, she examines and addresses intricate connections between psychological factors and physical health. Dr. Vagnini specializes in investigating existential aspects of human functioning in relation to health and wellbeing, such as sense of meaning in life, mortality, and spirituality. During her graduate training, she conducted research with the Cardiovascular Health and Life Meaning Lab (CaLM Lab), the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, and the Eugene S. Farley, Jr. Health Policy Center. She has contributed to peer-reviewed academic journal articles, book chapters, policy briefs, technical reports, and clinical care playbooks, and she has presented her work at regional and national conferences.
Clinically, she has provided care to a variety of populations in both inpatient and outpatient medical and behavioral health settings. Currently, she is completing a postdoctoral fellowship in psycho-oncology and clinical research at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute and the Center for Health Policy and Health Services Research in Detroit, Michigan. Looking forward, she plans to continue her work as both a scientist and practitioner to improve individual and collective health and wellbeing.