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USU-Uintah Basin Graduation Must Go On

Wednesday, May. 17, 2017

Jessica Wooton

USU-Uintah Basin commencement speaker Jessica Wooton turned up to give speech the day after rolling an ATV while out in the research field. She's pictured (center) with USU President Noelle Cockett (left) and USU Vice Provost Rich Etchberger.

The day before Utah State University-Uintah Basin’s graduation, Jessica Wootton, wildlife science graduate and one of the commencement speakers, was out in the field doing what she loved. Early Friday morning, she was driving an ATV, spotlighting Greater Sage Grouse to blind and trap them and continue their research. At 12:30 a.m., Wootton was climbing a steep slope, lost control, and rolled the ATV.

“It never occurred to me not to give my speech,” said Wootton. “My accident wasn’t life threatening. I was banged up a bit from the crash, but I didn’t feel it was enough to keep me from speaking at commencement.”

Once Wootton arrived at the hospital, she discovered her left thumb had an open compound fracture, and would need surgery to fix it. The surgery was scheduled for later that day at 3:30 p.m., Friday afternoon. USU-UB’s graduation, where Wootton was expected to speak, was the next day at 4 p.m.

The surgery was a success, and the next day Wootton was at USU-UB’s graduation ready to speak. USU President Noelle Cockett attended the graduation, and joked at the Dignitary Luncheon that she was “glad to hear it was an ATV and not the Sage Grouse that attacked [Jessica]”.

A Uintah Basin local, Wootton enjoys anything outdoors, where accidents are expected to happen. “Whether we’re hiking, trail running, or fishing, my ten-year-old son and I like anything that gets us outside and moving,” said Wootton. She currently works for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR), hoping to get on full time while she begins work on earning her master’s in natural resources.

“Jess was a great student to work with because she was always enthusiastic to work on any wildlife project,” said Vice Provost Rich Etchberger. “Once I was looking at the images from a trail camera I used to monitor a golden eagle nest deep in the backcountry. When I analyzed the photos, I was amazed to see Jessica at the nest. She later told me she had been working on a raptor nesting project when the trail camera took her picture.”

Speaking at graduation despite a rough ATV crash the day was a perfect example of the common characteristic among USU-UB students of resilience to trials and having a strong desire to push through them. USU-UB’s family-like community empowers students to accomplish things they never would have thought was possible. Describing her experience at USU-UB, Wootton said, “I didn’t expect my college experience to be typical, considering I am a single mom raising a ten-year-old. The professors here are great and very helpful.”

After everything Wootton has overcome, including earning a bachelor’s degree as a single mother while working for the UDWR, and speaking at graduation the day after an ATV crash that resulted in a surgery, you can almost guarantee that nothing will stop her from earning a master’s, accomplishing anything she sets out to do.

Contact and Writer: Dana Rhoades, 435-722-1788,

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