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Ryan McGoffin is the fall 200 MSU Denver Provost

The language of life

Ryan McGoffin is using his interest in linguistics to make a difference in the field of organ and tissue donation.

November 17, 2020

By Ashley Hughes

Ryan McGoffin’s first try at college, right out of high school, ended not long after it started. After struggling with addiction, the Colorado native left school to seek treatment in California. Once back at home, McGoffin was looking for ways to restart his life and found a job at the nonprofit AlloSource, which works with lifesaving cellular and tissue allografts.

His new job helping with organ and tissue donations was an eye-opening metaphor – a path that provided a second chance to others.

“I am extremely grateful for the second chance I was granted,” McGoffin says. “I work every day not to waste it.”

McGoffin’s new path not only propelled him to new, fulfilling career opportunities but led to Metropolitan State University of Denver, where this fall he will graduate summa cum laude as the Provost’s Award winner, earning a 4.0 GPA in English.

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McGoffin is interested in the ethics and regulatory side of organ and tissue donation and plans to apply what he learned in his linguistics classes to his quest for a law degree and a master’s degree in bioethics. He says he’s “fascinated by the intersection of language, law, philosophy and psychology.”

“There’s been a lot of interesting things happening lately on a federal scale around organ-allocation laws,” McGoffin says. “I could hopefully have some substantive impact on those changes in the future.”

At AlloSource, McGoffin moved up the ranks to biologics technician, working primarily on stem-cell grafts for regenerative medicine. His passion then led him to Donor Alliance, the federally designated organ-procurement organization for Colorado and Wyoming.

“I see what is essentially the worst day for one person or family and the happiest day for another,” McGoffin says. “So there’s a weird dichotomy between life and death that I’ve faced every day. On the one hand, it’s really inspiring to see the generosity in people, but you also see the fragility of life.”

While he continued to expand his skills and knowledge in the field, he also decided to dip his toes back into the higher-ed waters at Community College of Aurora. He then transferred to MSU Denver, where he fell in love with the linguistics program.

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One of McGoffin’s professors, Andrew Pantos, Ph.D., considers him to be “one of the three strongest students I have had the privilege to teach in my career thus far” and is particularly impressed with his critical-thinking skills.

Linguistics Professor Marina Gorlach, Ph.D., says McGoffin’s research projects “reflect his authentic way of thinking, creativity and serious approach to studies.”

After scoring in the 99th percentile on the LSAT, McGoffin has been offering free tutoring services to students studying for the test. He also has had discussions with his advisor about how to establish a more robust prelaw advisory program at MSU Denver.

McGoffin has been enrolled as a full-time student while maintaining his job at Donor Alliance. He’s also an active volunteer with Donate Life Colorado and a member of his company’s public-speaking bureau. The tours and informative talks he gives to surgeons, students and the general public are an opportunity to speak about the importance of organ and tissue donation and how it can give others a second chance.

“I hope my story will inspire others to know that no matter how dark times get,” he says, “everyone deserves a second chance.”

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