* University of Wyoming press release

LARAMIE -- As a boy, Juan Soto watched University of Wyoming basketball games in the Arena-Auditorium when it first opened in 1982. Now, he is a development officer for the Cowboy Joe Club that raises money so those student-athletes can participate in their sports.

7220 Sports logo
Get our free mobile app

And to make things even better, Soto recently was named one of 40 recipients nationwide selected for the 16th annual Diversity Initiative Program, presented by the National Association of Athletic Development Directors.

"I'm amazed how things have come around full circle!" Soto said. "At the conference, I will be able to learn more about how to promote Cowboy Joe Club and make game days even more special for our members."

Soto will receive a $1,500 stipend to attend the 2023 NAADD Convention from June 11-14 in Orlando, Fla. According to the NAADD website, this year had the largest pool of candidates since the program began in 2007.

Derek Gossler, associate athletic director of development and revenue generation, recommended Soto for the award because he wanted people to hear Soto's story and believe that it is never too late to follow your dreams. Career changes can happen at any time.

"Soto took a non-traditional path into fundraising and athletics administration, but he has been a tremendous asset to enhancing the UW Athletics experience in his first year here," Gossler said. "Soto deserves the award for the work he has done, for the teammate he is and for his drive to learn."

Prior to CJC, Soto was general manager for Altitude Chophouse & Brewery, a general manager for the Library Sports Grille & Brewery, a UW graduate, and a long-time resident in both Wheatland and Laramie. Soto was surprised when he found out that he won the award, mainly due to his age difference from the other recipients.

"The career goals for me are probably different than the other 39 recipients, only for the fact that I am getting a later start in my career than they are," Soto admits. "I'm on the tail end of my career, and they are on the upswing of theirs."

Although Soto has worked in the restaurant industry much of his life, his position at the Cowboy Joe Club has facilitated a deeper connection to the people and places in Wyoming.

"People say if you love what you do, it's not really work," Soto said. "I think there's a lot of truth to that. I get to connect with different people that come from different backgrounds that support the same goal: Wyoming."

For Soto, raising money runs deeper than his own career goals—it's about providing someone with an education.

"The money we raise isn't for a one-time deal," Soto explains. "It's raised for someone to go to school for four years. I didn't have that opportunity, and many people don't."

Similar to many people, Soto funded his college career by saving money and using student loans. Due to the generosity of Cowboy Joe Club donors, Wyoming student-athletes don't have to worry about this. They can obtain a degree without paying anything.

"This is what makes my job as a development officer rewarding," Soto said. "By facilitating these relationships with donors, my work will help our student-athletes achieve their goals."

Even though the money donated is not always translated into winning streaks on the field or court, Soto wants to remind people why they are donating in the first place.

"It's all going to scholarships," Soto said. "Contrary to popular belief with name, image and likeness money or 'pay for play' money, most student-athletes are here first and foremost for an education. They aren't 'athlete-students,' they are 'student-athletes.'"

Besides raising money for scholarships, Soto enjoys fundraising because he genuinely wants to form meaningful relationships.

"I really do enjoy talking to people, almost to a fault," Soto said. "It doesn't matter if a conversation is going good or bad—I do not shy away from people. I would rather have a face-to-face conversation than communicate via email. But maybe that is just the old school in me."

As a development officer, Soto is eager to meet more Wyoming fans and CJC members. For more information about the CJC team, visit cowboyjoeclub.com.

15 Questions You Should Never Ask Someone From Wyoming

- 15 Questions You Should Never Ask Someone From Wyoming

More From 7220 Sports