2 doctoral students from Fremont County receive award for suicide prevention project

(Laramie, WY) – Two projects were selected for the first Stewart Family Serviceship Awards through the University of Wyoming’s School of Politics, Public Affairs and International Studies (SPPAIS), and office of Service, Leadership and Community Engagement (SLCE).

One of the projects is from local doctoral students Tina Nirk, from Lander, and Rachel Ratliff, from Riverton, in the Counselor Education and Supervision Ph.D. Program in the College of Education, for “Project-Checkpoint: Creating Effective Care Transitions and Safety Plans for Persons Vulnerable to Suicide.”

The other project selected for a Stewart Family Serviceship Award is from Ashleigh Pilkerton, from Albany, Ore., a doctoral student in the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in the Department of Zoology and Physiology, for “COWGIRLS in STEM: Computational Outreach for Wyoming Girls in STEM.”

The serviceship award is funded by the Stewart family in honor of their late parents, Clyde and Jerrine Stewart, of Sheridan, who served as daily examples of “people immersed in family, community and work.” The couple helped to address community needs and real-world challenges. The award continues their legacy by supporting students working on their own applied community service projects that address needs and challenges on a local, state, national or global level.

UW College of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean Danny Dale says that, through the efforts of Kendall Hartman, a longstanding Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors member, and the Stewart family, the college now has an award that provides significant support for students to address an important community need.

“The Stewart award allows us to support a student community service project in the same way that we support study abroad and research opportunities,” Dale says.

SPPAIS Professor Jean Garrison, who also is the Malcolm Wallop Civic Engagement Program director, says, “It has been an honor to work with the Stewart family to launch this unique service award.

“Those of us who served on the selection committee were amazed and humbled by the projects proposed by UW students. We look forward to seeing how these projects evolve and to share out their results with the community,” Garrison adds.

h/t UW

Nirk and Ratliff’s project addresses the “heavy mission” of preventing the loss of life to suicide — a problem in which Wyoming ranks second in the nation. Their project focuses on an important gap following the period after a patient is discharged from the hospital and before follow-up with community aftercare.

Nirk says she and Ratliff developed the idea behind Project-Checkpoint to offer services to Albany County residents having difficulties in their lives.

“I have been forced to recognize that vulnerable people are all of us. The pandemic reinforced that for me, and I feel a responsibility to offer my humanity, having lived through personal difficulties,” Nirk says.

Ratliff adds that the project will help “give that extra little bit of help to individuals who need it.”

“Sometimes we all need a little extra help, personally believing that every life is important, has value and purpose, and knowing that sometimes people in crisis need help between leaving the hospital and getting to their first appointment is a vital gap for some,” she says.

As Ph.D. students in UW’s Counselor Education and Supervision Program and part-time clinicians at Behavioral Health Services at Laramie’s Ivinson Memorial Hospital, “Tina and Rachel are well situated to implement this ambitious project for our community members,” Garrison says.

Pilkerton’s project addresses the ongoing challenge of women represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, despite the high demand for talent in the STEM workforce. According to data, women hold only one of every four STEM jobs nationally.

“With funding from the Stewart Family Serviceship Award, I aspire to close the STEM gap in Wyoming by connecting STEM experiences to girls’ lives; promoting active, hands-on learning; and emphasizing ways STEM is collaborative and community-oriented,” she says.

UW Professor Stephanie Anderson, head of SPPAIS and the International Studies Program, who served on the awards committee, praises the selected projects.

“Nirk and Ratliff have identified a weak link in the suicide-prevention support system. Their project will save lives,” she says. “Pilkerton’s STEM project will help Wyoming’s workforce acquire important 21st century skills while opening up opportunities to young women around the state.”

To read more about each of the student projects and the students’ bios, go here.

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