CCA is an accredited community college with campuses in Aurora and Denver Colorado

2011 Student Success Award Winners

Michelle Casselman, a student at Community College of Aurora in Colorado

 

Michelle Casselman
I am originally from Oklahoma and moved back to Colorado in 2005, and I have had several different jobs in my life. I was a volunteer firefighter and first responder in a small town in Missouri, and ever since then, I have wanted to be in the medical field. I decided to go back to school in January 2011 and pursue my bachelor’s degree in nursing. I chose CCA because I have several friends who attend this college and were happy with their outcomes. I am doing the integrated nursing program, and I hope to transfer to CU School of Nursing in the fall of 2012. I am looking forward to achieving my goals and finally finding the career I have always dreamed of. This is not just for me, but also for my beautiful boy who is the love of my life. I have the best family and friends who have supported me through it all! It is truly an honor to receive such an award. Hard work, a great school, and awesome professors really pay off!
Monica Madison, a college student in Colorado

 

Monica Madison
I thought that my return to college would solely be about obtaining my degree and moving into a fulfilling career. And yet, I have learned so much more about myself on my journey of education. By being dedicated to my studies, I’ve been given the gifts of wisdom, better character traits, self-reliance, perseverance, and a deeper sense of dedication to all current and future pursuits. When I walked into CCA, I believed that waiting to achieve my education until later in my life was a mistake. I sat in class thinking: most of my instructors and classmates are 20 years my junior and what am I doing here? I now know that I simply wasn’t ready to take on this monumental challenge when I was younger. With maturity comes wisdom and via wisdom, I’m keeping high expectations of myself. I’m very happy that I’m here now versus 20 years ago. My backbone is my family, friends, and everyone here at CCA. My mom, my brother, Ben, my good friends Lisa and Rachael, and all of my excellent instructors here at CCA are there for me when it all gets to be too much or I have some self-doubt. Thank God for all of you and I love and need each and every one of you. I could not make it through this without your support.
Jimi Wayne, a student at Community College of Aurora in Colorado

 

Jimi Wayne
As a young man, I never really thought education that important. Hanging out on the beach, surfing in the under-tow, and brushing off personal responsibilities: this was the pattern I chose. After my father passed away, my life changed dramatically. I began to look at myself with rigorous honesty, and I decided to simply change my life. At the point of my resolve, the doors kicked open and the teacher appeared. About three years ago, I met one of the finest fellows a person could want to meet. His name is Rich Rau, a graphic designer/professor. He would encourage me to do better, to analyze, to welcome critique, and most importantly, to never accept failure as an option. The staff at CCA demonstrates these same characteristics daily. They simply encourage and help me to be a better student and human being. So I have set my goals for a four-year degree in graphic design. At any rate, I really enjoy being a part of the team, and I just think that at the end of the day, it should all equate to some great laughs, good grades, and hard work. Please, for the person out there who might be feeling the under-tow, take the words from my good friend Rich Rau, “Failing is not an option.”

 

Saymya Htoo Wah
My name is Saymya Htoo Wah. I was born in a jungle village in Burma. The Burmese military attacked my village when I was six years old and my family ran through the jungle for many weeks. Many in my family and village got sick and some died. We crossed into Thailand and I lived in a refugee camp for 10 years. Education there was not good. In 2006, my family decided to move as refugees to the United States. Life here was very hard, since we did not know English and we did not understand the culture. I started at a poor school and lived in a bad neighborhood. I met my American family in 2007, and in 2008 I moved to a new high school in Highlands Ranch where I graduated in 2010. I had to work very hard in school because my educational background and English skills were not good in the beginning. I am now in college and have a dream to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and have a career as a nurse or a teacher.

 

Aaron Lewis Jr.
Education and knowledge are the keys to success, and we shouldn’t procrastinate on our education, if we can help it. I am a 60-year-old father that has worked in industry for 32 years, which left no time to complete my education. I always said one day I would get a degree and now is my time. I am realistic about my age, but I want the self-satisfaction from hanging my degree on the wall. I may continue to a bachelor’s degree, because I would like to be an elementary teacher. My daughters are 13 and 14 years old, and I am trying to inspire and teach them that by working hard, they can be all they can be in school and in life. When we moved here from Chicago in 2010, we had just the clothes on our back. I found CCA through the signs on Chambers Road while looking for work, and started with Rebecca Bernstein’s Student Experience class, then took a summer computer course with Jamie Lee Davis at Lowry. Here at CCA, I have found great encouragement, both from instructors and advisors, a beautiful campus, and all the diversity of Aurora. By God’s grace, I will see this through, and maybe someone else will be inspired to start their degree by my story.

 

Michael Moran
Life is too mundane without challenges. I took that statement to heart when my teacher told me that in 5th grade. Since then, I not only give my education my all, but I look for the way to go the extra mile. I didn't know what or where I wanted to study after graduating high school. The Community College of Aurora was recommended to me by a friend, and I decided to enroll just to try it out and make sure I didn’t fall behind while I was deciding a path of study. I lived by my motto and not only found out that I have a passion for teaching and helping others, but also learned many important lessons to prepare me for the real world after I graduate. CCA has been a very friendly and helpful community, and I thank them for their generosity. I am happy to be recognized by them as a successful student, because without them I would not be successful or a student.

 

John Hackl
At age 16, I dropped out of high school and earned my GED a few months later. I spent my entire life working blue-collar jobs. I was fortunate enough to spend the majority of it working in organized labor and was able to earn a decent living. A few years back I reflected on my life and realized that this was going to be as good as it gets. It depressed me to think that for my entire life I would freeze in the winter and sweat in the summer, being dirty the whole time. I thought about going back to school for some time but was reluctant. I told a friend about it and he said, “then go.” That was easy for him to say! Yet, those words stuck in my head. It’s been an uphill battle for me with many obstacles that I’ve been able to overcome. I’m proud to say I made the President’s List two semesters in a row; I graduated in the spring of 2011 with an associate degree in management with an accounting emphasis, and now I’m pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Regis University. For now, I’m still freezing in the winter and sweating in the summer, but I see an end to it in the not so distant future. Thank you to my instructor, Kate Goodman, for seeing my determination and dedication in the pursuit of a better life.

 

Abdalla Omer
Deciding to come back to school is one of the most fantastic decisions that I have ever made. I am from Ethiopia, the Oromia region. I have always wanted to be an educated person, but back home, I didn’t get a chance to go to college. When I first came to the United States, I was told that it is very hard to go back to school and that I could make as much money as an educated person, by working two different jobs. Soon I realized I could not keep working two jobs for my entire life, and then I was laid off from both jobs at the same time! That’s when I decided to go back to school. I began studying English as a Second Language, and I learned about the opportunities open to me. I have been dreaming of working in a hospital since childhood. I am now studying radiology, because biology is my favorite subject and easy for me. I don’t know how long it is going to take to complete this course, but I know I can make it. I want my two sweet daughters to see me once I succeed in my goal, and that day they will be proud of me and follow my footsteps. Finally I would like to give special thanks to my girlfriend who is definitely and tirelessly encouraging me, and all of my teachers: Jane Harding, Jayni Breaux, Valarie Gantzler, Elizabeth Schroeder, Laura Smallwood, Christopher Jenner, Meredith Folley, Ruby Eichenour, Katherine Yeager, who have helped and encouraged me to succeed in my goal.

 

Kagen Dismang
I am a single mother of two wonderful girls, and I attend Community College of Aurora. I have a full time job at a local auto dealership here in Aurora. My life has been difficult while at the same time very rewarding. I struggle with the daily issues that many of us do, whether it’s raising my children or trying to get to class on time, and of course maintaining a job. I am working toward my degree and hope to be the first person in my family to graduate from college. The guidance I’ve received here at Community College of Aurora has been excellent, and I want to personally thank Brad and Mary Stratton for everything you’ve done for me this past year. I also want to say a special thank you to my mom. Without her help, I would not be able to get the education I’m seeking. With hard work and dedication toward my degree I will spend the next five semesters here at CCA focused on being the best and will strive for excellence. It is with great humility and honor that I receive the Student Success Award for 2011.

 

Derek L. Sanchez
Ignorance: We are told that it is bliss, but if that’s so, I have been happy for too long. I am a native Coloradan who has enjoyed the American Dream of achievement through hard work as an electrician for over 15 years. I awoke from that dream three years ago when I was hit on my motorcycle and my career dissolved. After nearly 30 years out of formal education, I enrolled at CCA in the fall of 2010. I have proven to myself, and to some skeptics, that you can rise to the occasion and overcome any obstacle with determination, tenacity, and motivation to persevere. I am in my 4th semester toward my A.G.S. articulated to Metro State in criminal justice. With the support of my loving wife and family, the encouragement of my instructors, and the award of my TRiO scholarship, I have achieved more than even I anticipated. I am now a member of Phi Theta Kappa with a 4.0 GPA and a recipient of the President’s List for summer achievement. I am greatly humbled by the attention and support that I have been given toward my goals. I wish to especially thank Angela Tiedeman and the Student Life department, Kate Yonce in math, Hannah Walker in English, the CRJ Department, and most especially Daniel Sandoval of TRiO, my campus mentor and friend. Thanks also to my online instructors and mentors, Professor Kimberly Bottema and Detective Clifford Hunter, for all your guidance and belief in me. I am at the halfway mark now and as I have told many, if I can survive taking four classes over summer and online, I can survive anything.

 

Saul Hernandez
I decided to go to college, because my wife bet me. She told me to try it for one semester, and if I didn’t like it she would never ask me to go to college ever again. But, how could I fit in at college? I grew up in a rough neighborhood and have been in more fights than I can remember – I’ve even been shot at. Deep down I wanted to be a better person, husband, and father. My middle school mentor, Mr. Russell, always told me, “Don’t let me down,” and I want to make him proud, may God rest his soul! My friend, Officer Tanuz, inspired me with stories of his police work, and made me believe I can change things positively in the criminal justice field. Mrs. Riedlin, the principal where I worked for many years, would tell me “hard work in the beginning pays off in the end” as she shared her own college experiences and inspired me to try college. Looking back, my main motivation was my wife and kids. As a proud father, it is coworker fm jr ee wmej job to make sure my kids are well raised and focused in life. I’ve learned from my work mentoring elementary school students that I can change people’s lives. My wife was in college when she bet me. I now demand as much from myself as she does from herself. The teachers here are amazing. A special thanks to Mike Pfaff and Jeff Paganini for caring about me, and making class fun and comfortable for me, because math was not my strongest area. I know that CCA is the right place for me, and that I am on the path to the life I am capable of.

 

Starr Wirt
I have overcome many of life’s obstacles to finally have the opportunity to return to school and earn my degree. The challenges continued both in school and in life throughout my duration here at CCA, but I have a strong stubborn will and would not let life get in the way of my goals. I will graduate with honors in the spring of 2012, and it’s my determination driven by the support of my CCA family, my best friend, and my stubborn character that will not let life or society limit what I can do. In my time here at CCA, I have gained a caring support system and many friends that have contributed to my success in achieving my goals. I owe a great amount of appreciation and thanks to everyone who has guided my success and lent me a shoulder to cry on. I am proud to be graduating from CCA with my associate of arts business degree to become an alumnus of CCA.

 

Gregory Garduno
I’m a Colorado native, born in Denver in 1957. My mother was an immigrant from Peru; she came to the U.S. in 1953. We lived in the Capitol Hill area, and when I was six years old, she took our family to see a film called The 300 Spartans. It was about the famed Battle of Thermopylae in Greece in 480 B.C. That visit to the movies sparked an interest in history that has remained with me to this day. For decades I read and studied about history, but never thought about it as a career. About three years ago an incident at work motivated me to come to CCA to build on the gifts I have so long possessed. I am now 54 years old, but I have at last found where I truly belong. The skilled instructors and staff at CCA have given me the confidence to move forward with my life. I plan to go to a four-year institution and beyond to teach and write history. I believe knowledge is the greatest gift anyone can give, and I have dedicated the rest of my life to passing on the many lessons of our past.

 

Abdelshafie Mohamed
I was born in 1970 in West Sudan in a small village called Tankcor. I started primary school in 1980, but I didn’t finish my schooling because the civil war started suddenly in 1987, when I was at secondary school. The war changed everything. We moved to the capital city. There, life was hard. I didn’t go back to school because I had to work to support my family. I’m in Colorado now, and I have a full time job, but I still have the opportunity to go to school. So I’m here at CCA today because I would like to resume my education. When I first started, I found the teachers were excellent. I immediately knew that this was a good place to start my schooling, and I’m proud to be here. In this college, I would like to major in computer programming. I hope I get the opportunity to achieve my dream. In my future, I would like to study hard to succeed and to teach others to make a difference.

 

Ana G Zamora Avalos
When I married, at age 16 in Mexico City, my education ended. Less than two years later in July 1996, with one baby and one on the way, my husband and I decided to move to the USA for a better life. After being abused mentally and physically by my husband, we separated, and I suffered abuse from the next man in my life, too. My spirit was so broken, but thanks to a wonderful support group, I revived my self-worth and my hope of having a good man by my side. I found my current husband, who encouraged me to return to school. At first, I only finished my GED. I was busy working and raising my two older children and the two young children we’d had together. One day my husband raised the idea of my returning to school. Certification in translation and interpretation seemed like a great idea because I had been informally doing medical translation for family and friends. Now, I have been at school for the last three semesters, and I have put all my effort into my grades. I know that I will finish my certification in translation and interpretation. My goal is to work in the court system to help people to communicate. Mostly, I want to be an example for my kids. My father believes that if you leave school, you will never finish it. I am showing him that this is not true. I want him to feel proud of his daughter’s achievements. My father fights cancer every day, and he has taught me that we have to fight for what we want. He wants to live, and I want to be successful.

 

Thomas Worley
I grew up in tiny Pulaski, IL, one of eight children. I learned to work hard, watching and helping my father build our four-room home and then a building that became our family business: a place for young people to gather. I also worked on our family farm. In 1964, I joined the Army. While in Vietnam, my duties were to collect, process, and escort our nation’s deceased soldiers and civilian casualties of war. This was the most difficult time of my life. It felt like life stood still. In 1967, I returned to the United States, and I met my wife, Anna. We married later that year, and have two children. I worked and attended college, but the war was too fresh in my mind. My wife and I both worked at the VA Hospital. I attended the Emily Griffith Opportunity School and received a License Practical Nursing certificate in 1985. Anna became sick with colon cancer; I was holding her hand as she passed. It still hurts today remembering this moment. Now, I am concentrating on my goal: to triage my fellow veterans who are suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. First, I must thank God, then my mother and father, classmates, and now the tutors, teachers, and administrators who put up with me. I will never forget their efforts. This is what makes this school a great learning environment. Some of the best minds work here at CCA. Thank you so very much for your support and this opportunity to excel in life.

 

Aiti Magar
I was born in Bhutan. I am 24 years old, married, and am the mother of a three-year old daughter. In 2009, I moved to Colorado with my family. I have completed high school and received my diploma in Nepal. When I arrived in the United States, I wondered how I would continue my studies. Fortunately, I found CCA and I am certain I will have a bright future. I want to thank CCA, and I will never forget how being here is helping to shape my life. I am working as a home health care aide and continue to support my family as I study ESL. I want to give special thanks to Bradley Jacobson, Coordinator of Scholar Support and Programming, Jane Harding, Xcel Grant Coordinator, and Sheryl Johnson, Resident Service Coordinator, who have all helped me to move forward in my life.

 

Danielle McCusker
Several years ago, I was hitting rock bottom. I was a single-parent mom who was laid off and had limited options. I needed to make a decision that would save me and my son from a life filled with struggle. The decision to go back to school was frightening, but I had reevaluated my life and determined what was best for me and my son. I chose to attend CCA. Since my return to school, I have maintained a 4.0 GPA, become an executive officer with the Student Government Association, Phi Theta Kappa, and established a Phi Beta Lambda chapter. CCA has provided me with the skills to become a successful entrepreneur. Hitting rock bottom ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. Thanks to my son, mother, father, and husband for motivating and supporting me. A special thanks to Laura Woodward, Angela Tiedeman, George Todd, Timothy Davis, James Gray, Amy Zsohar, Candace McClelland-Fieler, Douglas Rother, Michael Manaton, Kent Bowers, Erica Mathew, Victor Andersen, and Bruce Powell. These faculty members went above and beyond their duties and paved my pathway to success. Additional thanks to Dr. Linda Bowman and her cabinet for providing a great learning environment.

 

Maima Kamara
I was born in Liberia, where I lost my parents during the unrest. I was fortunate to have my uncle who moved my brother and me to Sierra Leone. Years later, we received political asylum in the United States. My goal in life is to become a physician’s assistant. I know becoming a physician’s assistant takes dedication and sacrifice, but I am willing to be patient and strive to get to my goal. My high school counselor encouraged me to take classes at Community College of Aurora while in high school. Now, I am a full time student and Pathway scholar at CCA. I love my advisors, Brad and Will, because they are like big brothers, who guided me during my college career and motivated me to work hard. I love coming to CCA because most people respect you, and you get to have a personal relationship with your professors and classmates. I remain thankful for my strengths, family, friends, and education. I truly love what I stand for, and I will never give up, no matter what challenges arise while I am turning my dreams into reality.

 

Dawn Lynn Martinez
I am so grateful to be able to attend Community College of Aurora after being out of school for 25 years. My first semester was challenging because I did not understand college requirements. Then I was accepted into the TRiO program where I was welcomed and worked with Eileen Blasius, who has set up supportive services to help me with my success. With the commitment and passion of the teachers, tutors and TRiO program, I can look forward to earning my Associates of Arts Degree. Currently I participate in Celebrate Recovery where I lead small groups of women who are dealing with the hurts, habits, and hang ups in their lives. My hope is to educate myself so I can help individuals restore their spirits and invest in their futures. I am passionate about people and hope to give back to a community that has given me so much. For my five children, I hope to show them that you can achieve your dreams with hard work and dedication. Together, we can be positive examples in our community and influence our world.

 

Rohit K. Dhungel
I was born in Bhutan, country of the Thunder Dragon, lived in Nepal, the lap of Mount Everest, and now live in the United States, the land of opportunities. At the age of five, my family and I were forced into exile. I lived 17 years as a pennilessness and pessimistic refugee in Nepal. Yet, I never quit my academic studies. Those days in a refugee camp taught me I should be optimistic about my life and possess altruism for humanity. For 17 years, I was served with every basic need. So now, I plan to devote myself to the medical field. With strong support from my family and motivation from school staff, I proudly joined the CCA community. My destiny is to be a doctor, and CCA has paved the way, along with the affiliation of University of Colorado College of Nursing. After I am done studying, I will serve people around the world who are in exile as I was in Nepal. Thanks to CCA for adding one more brick of courage, motivation and reinforcement in my life and giving me a chance to face a completely new experience. Special thanks to Rich Bogdanovich for nominating me for this auspicious and milestone award and taking time to listen me.

 

Deontaye Burton
As the youngest in my family, I learned vicariously through the experiences of my older siblings. We were not the wealthiest family growing up, so I always felt as if it was incumbent upon me to pull my family forward. I wanted to enhance my knowledge and make myself a better person not just for myself, but for the family. I am a psychology major with aspirations of becoming a psychiatrist. The Community College of Aurora has cultivated my ability to learn, and I am enamored with learning whether it’s psychology or history. I honestly enjoy failure and arduous challenges to a certain extent; they fortify me mentally and allow me to appreciate my hard work and forthcoming success. Thank you to my family for contributing a great deal to my education and fueling my aspirations. I would also like to thank Dr. Peggy Norwood for nominating me and being a great professor and my academic advisors William Dickerson and Bradley Jacobson. Thank you so much CCA.

 

Ruby Messenger
I’ve lived most of my life in California and moved to Colorado when I was 16. I had a very hard time in high school and was frequently depressed and isolated. Grades didn’t matter to me, I had no plans to go to college, and I was perfectly content to do nothing with my life. But after a year at CCA, I feel inspired to complete college and get a journalism degree. I’d like to thank everyone at Community College of Aurora for helping me turn my life around.

 

Jasmyne Pierce
Once I graduated high school, I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to go to school. My mom suggested CCA, and coming here was by far one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Now I love college and enjoy the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had here. I want to make college part of my life forever, because I have become so knowledge-thirsty. Once I leave CCA, my goals are to get a bachelor’s degree in biology, go to dentistry school, and become a pediatric dentist. I would also like study by other passions: singing and dancing. Throughout all this, my mother has been my number one motivator and supporter. Everything I have I owe to her and I love her very much. My younger sister Jaylah also encourages me, and I want to support her through college just as my mother has done for me. I’d also like to thank Patti Molai for nominating me for this award. Patti has also been a great person in my life. She has been there to give me advice, and she has helped me to find my way. She really took me under her wing and I thank her for that too.

 

Tasha Wenner
I am a single mother of a three year old, and I also work full time. I was never very good in school, elementary, junior high, or high school. I dropped out of high school…twice. I barely managed to scrap up my credits to graduate, and prayed I could just float through life being done with school. I worried that I would have problems with college, but now I know that I have to apply myself, for myself and my daughter’s future. Now that I am back in school, I am not only enjoying myself, I am actually achieving my goals and not just scraping by. I will continue to push myself to attain my goals, and try to be deserving of this award.

 

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