Lexi Walker

Photo by John Eisele/CSU Photography

Outstanding Grad: Lexi Walker
College of Health and Human Sciences

story by Mark Gokavi
published May 8, 2023

As a first-year student in high school, Alexandria “Lexi” Walker’s father was diagnosed with the rare autoimmune disease sarcoidosis, which affects lungs and lymph nodes. The cancer-like affliction required steroid treatment, which made his teeth deteriorate.

That sparked Walker, the Spring 2023 outstanding graduate from the College of Health and Human Sciences, to consider dentistry.

“That was hard on him because he is a salesman,” Walker said. “Talking to everyone every day, he was super self-conscious, and he would cover his mouth, and he did not want to laugh or smile. He had always been a confident man my whole life. But then him receiving the dentures and seeing that confidence come back was inspiring to me.”

The Colorado State University senior with a major in nutrition and food science from CSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and a chemistry minor is graduating in only three years because she earned 47 college credits in high school. After a one-year online master’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Northern Colorado, she plans to enroll at a dental school.

“I knew I wanted to go into dentistry to not only take people out of pain but give people confidence,” she said. “And if you do not have confidence, I think it radiates throughout your life. And it might not seem like it at first, but a smile really does go a long way.”

Walker would later need her own words.

covid-19 changed plans

Lexi Walker Sketch

“I knew I wanted to go into dentistry to not only take people out of pain but give people confidence.”

— Lexi Walker

On her journey to graduating as valedictorian of Bennett (Colorado) High School in 2020, Walker planned to attend New Mexico State University.

But the family all got COVID-19 during the pandemic’s early days. Walker was worried about her father, Randy, because he was immunocompromised.

“He had to go into the hospital a couple of times because his breathing was getting really bad, but he ended up being OK,” she said. “My mom was the one who never really recovered.”

Her mother, Katherine, was healthy until the coronavirus. So as a tough 2020 continued, Walker’s mother urged her to consider CSU. At that point, Las Cruces, N.M. seemed hundreds of miles too far away.

“CSU was kind of my backup – the only in-state school I applied to,” Walker said. “It was March 12. I had called to do a tour here the day before they closed everything. “We all toured, including my mom. She loved it. And she was keener on me going here than I was.”

losing her mother

Lexi Walker and parents

Lexi Walker and her parents.

Walker finished high school online and moved into a CSU dormitory in August as her mother’s health was failing down the road from Fort Collins.

“She kept going to the doctor. They kept telling her it was OK, like nothing is wrong,” Walker said. “Then it was August, and she was too sick to take me to move-in day. I was really questioning, myself, like ‘Am I doing the right thing? Should I stay home? Should I not even go to college at this point?’”

Walker’s mother, who was adopted and did not have college opportunities, would not hear of it.

“My mom really emphasized, ‘You have your goals. You know what? You need to go. Go do it right.’ We did not expect to lose her the following month. On Sept. 11, 2020, she passed away. It was a very, very quick downfall. Her diagnosis ended up being both kidney and liver failure brought on by COVID-19.”

Walker tried to smile and keep going.

“She was just so proud of me,” Walker said. “She named me Alexandria after the library in Egypt. She said that I was always going to be her studious girl.”

finding her people, and her person

In her second month away from home, Walker felt even more alone.

“It was hard. And it was also isolating because we didn’t go in person for classes,” she said. “I wasn’t really making friends. I did not have a lot of support systems at CSU.”

Walker started studying with classmates and expanding her social circle. In October 2020, she met a person who would change her life, her now-fiancé Brandon Bender.

“He asked me, ‘What do you want to do with your future?’ I was very much in a funk; I did not know if I was doing the right thing or anything,” Walker said. “He reminded me what my goals were and what I needed to keep doing.

“I want to help people. I want to be a good person. I want to help my community and just make the world a better place. We’ve been together ever since and just got engaged in August.”

leading clubs, helping the homeless

Colleen Burke, one of Walker’s instructors and her nominator, said Lexi excels as a microbiology undergraduate learning assistant and a dental assistant.

“She is involved in many clubs and societies in order to make the most of the college experience,” Burke said. “She has received three scholarships and created a dental package to give to homeless shelters.”

Walker has been a member and treasurer of the Pre-Dental Club, and is currently president. She is a member of the Nutrition Club and Academic Advancement Club, and is a Puksta Scholar. Walker works at the CSU Health Network and at Open and Affordable Dental and Braces in Denver.

Walker said her leadership positions help her communicate and aid other students. She volunteers at the local homeless mission, both cooking and serving food.

The Puksta scholarship led to her project to produce an educational pamphlet and gather dental hygiene supplies from local dentists. She supplies them to the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, which concentrates on food and clothing but not dental care. Good oral hygiene protects the unhoused population from gum disease and other health issues.

Lexi Walker at MURALS

Lexi Walker presenting one of her posters.

Walker presented her project at CSU’s MURALS symposium and was recognized with third place in the “Service Learning and Leadership” category for her presentation “The Intersection of Oral Health and Overall Health.”

“They’re always extremely grateful and just so thankful,” Walker said. “It’s a humbling experience, and it puts things into perspective.”

next steps

Walker did a service-learning trip to Peru and is helping to plan one to Ecuador this summer through MedLife, another CSU organization. 

But first is CSU graduation. Walker will be the first in her family to earn a college degree. Her mother earned a GED, and her father did not have the financial or family resources in the wake of his own father’s suicide when he was 14. Walker said her older sister had a rough patch and that higher education was not an option, though her younger sister may attend college.

“For me, it was always my goal to get higher education and do something in the medical field,” she said. “My parents emphasized giving back to your community. That is something I want to continue to do throughout my entire career.”

On May 13, Walker will walk across the stage at graduation. Her father, sisters Faith and Elizabeth, grandmother Joy Prost and her fiancé will be there.

There will be smiles all around.

Grad Cap 75x53

outstanding grads

The Class of 2023 represents the very best of Colorado State University, showing courage in the face of adversity in the pursuit of their degrees. Read more stories of some of the outstanding students who are graduating this fall. read more