Student Success

Honors Students

The Annual Student Success Awards

Sponsored by the Community College of Aurora Foundation

Community College of Aurora has many students who are working diligently to improve their lives and the lives of those around them through higher education, despite facing numerous difficulties.

The Student Success Awards give a simple acknowledgment of these stories. Every year, the faculty and staff recognize students who exercise determination, leadership, perseverance, and attributes of success other than academic performance.


2018 Student Success Award Winners

Yurani Caicedo

Since I was born, the legacy I’ve left within my family, both in my native Colombia and here in the states, was that of tenacity, a passion for learning and my strong will. I love school! I can’t take all the credit for that; I have an incredible mother that inspires me everyday and family that always encourage my non-traditional ways of exploring the world and the importance of an education. It was never an option to be unsuccessful in school – never. I am pursuing a second degree in biology so I can attend medical school and become a medical examiner. I have a deep passion for medicine, learning how the body works, giving the deceased a “voice”, and a deep passion for learning and adventure. I would love to thank my mom. She is the hardest working person I’ve ever known. I would also love to thank my family, friends, son, and all those in my life that continue to encourage my dreams. I would especially like to thank Jeff Paganini, my trigonometry instructor, who nominated me for this amazing honor. Thank you for always believing in me and making math even more fun! I feel blessed, honored, supported and so incredibly excited for the future ahead!

Arron (Bear) Cisneros

I have had to overcome many struggles in my life. When I first started the GED program, I felt like I had to relearn everything. In math I had no idea how to subtract, multiply or divide anything. Now, it’s hard to believe that I’m learning calculus. My reading and writing were under par as well. I also struggled with alcohol and I’m very proud of myself for getting sober. I’m working on seven years sober this December 26! I am also proud of getting my GED and enrolling in the Community College of Aurora. I plan to graduate from CCA in spring 2019 and then transfer to University of Colorado, Denver or Metropolitan State University of Denver. My aunt, Renee Derezewski, inspired me to go forward with my education. She was like my mom and was my best friend. She told me that it was never too late to find your education. When I lost her to cancer, my world changed drastically, but her words have never left me. Those words encourage me every day to finish my education. There are so many people to thank for how far I’ve come: the people at CCA’s GED program, my teachers, and the TRIO program, especially Nnena West, Robyn Jackson, and Andrea Rascon – they have supported me and helped me along the way. 


Tara Dooley

I am a mother of two children and they inspire me to continue my education. I was a high school dropout at 17, and a new mother at 18. After 10 years away from school, I decided I needed a change and enrolled at the Community College of Aurora. I am a first-generation college student and I am proud to have done this on my own. I am also proud of my grade point average, and completing an English honors class with an A. After finishing my degree at CCA, I plan to work as a medical lab technician. I want to thank my kids for being so understanding and patient as I work hard and my family, especially my mom. She always says I am happiest in life when I am learning. She has helped me with anything I need for school. She always asks how classes are and if there is any way she can help. She is my biggest fan and I know she will always be here to support me. Lastly, I want to thank my English instructor Mandy Geddes for nominating me for this award. She guided me through my honors project. She is always helpful and has one of the kindest hearts I know.


Austin Greene

As far back as I can remember, I have had a bittersweet relationship with education. I was always capable of performing in school but found myself constantly distracted. After a seven-year period out of school, I found myself stagnating and with the encouragement of a new relationship, I enrolled at CCA. Being in a classroom setting was a bit of a culture shock, but I managed to adjust. The content in these new courses was challenging and kept me engaged. There are many CCA instructors I would like to thank. Kim Tenure showed me the importance of political participation. Glenn Spagnuolo taught me that passion can be a powerful weapon in the political arena. Darius Smith taught me how to view politics through multiple lenses. Elizabeth Hirsh introduced me to anthropology and exposed to me a field of science I had no idea I would enjoy. Lastly, I want to thank Bobby Pace for his involvement in my academic career. He oversees the Model United Nations program and Model United Nations was one of the most academically enriching experiences I have partaken in and is also one of my greatest achievements. After graduating from CCA this winter, I will pursue a B.A. in Political Science at Metropolitan State University of Denver.


Kimberly Griffin

I was born and raised in Colorado Springs and lived in a single-parent home with my mother and three siblings. My mother had no formal education and was unable to read or write. However, she understood the importance of respect, kindness, and the will to live. As a child, I struggled with academics and social skills and eventually dropped out of school to become a parent to two wonderful children. In 2014, I finally received my GED. The day before my GED test I promised myself that if I passed the test I would go to college. In the summer of 2015, I registered for classes at CCA and started studying early childhood education. Being at CCA has changed me and my family. I couldn’t have done it without support from Tamara White and Ashley Simpson as well as the TRIO staff especially Andrea Rascon. After I graduate in 2019 with an associate degree I plan to transfer to University of Northern Colorado. Finally, I would like to thank my fiancé, William, and my mom and dad. I also thank Jesus Christ for giving me strength and courage.


Alexis Jurado

I was born in a small town called Powell, Wyoming but raised in Denver. I come from a Hispanic family and was taught to read, write, and speak in English and Spanish. Since I was a small boy I always enjoyed going to school. As I grew older I did not know exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. I have always had a full-time job so balancing work and education has been tough. I will graduate with an associate degree from the Diesel Power Mechanics program in January and will attend commencement in May. I am very passionate about the diesel industry and I have learned so much from this program. The reason why I work so hard every day to accomplish this goal in my life is because of my family and girlfriend. I want to thank everyone that has been part of this journey with me. Education is very important to me and I want to be the best diesel technician I can be. Andrew Singer and Greg Atencio nominated me for this award; I feel like they believe in me and have motivated me. I thank them for supporting me throughout the year.


Joi Kelley

I always wanted to complete my college education and with the encouragement of my family and children, I knew this was the right time for me to finish. My family motivated me to go back to college – my aunt has a Ph.D.; my mom has a master’s degree – I come from a long line of people who believe in education. I am from New York originally and diversity is important to me. I love the diversity in the student population at CCA and how empowering the instructors have been. I am on the right track and will successfully achieve my goal this spring. I am working toward an A.A. degree with a concentration on public health and plan to graduate in spring 2019. My goal is to open my own fitness studio and to make that gym available to students who have family members with special needs. I teach fitness classes and working with special needs children has motivated me. I want to thank my family for their support through college, and most of all my mother who reminds me every day that I am an A student. I also want to thank Kimberly Tenure who nominated me. I really appreciated that she noticed my hard work at CCA.


Amanuel Kidane

I was born in Eritrea and worked as a mass media journalist and also wrote film scripts. I came to the United State in February 2011, seeking political asylum. I am married, and I have a large family with five children. Currently, I work for the Regional Transportation District as a bus operator. The Community College of Aurora is my first college experience. I have attended CCA for two years as full-time student. I have learned many things at CCA and hope to realize my potential by achieving my academic goals. I am studying cyber security because I like IT projects. I will graduate this spring and plan to attend Metropolitan State University of Denver to continue studying cyber security. I believe education is important in the 21st century. People do not care where you are from but rather they care about the skills you possess. I want to thank Jess McDermott for nominating me for this award and supporting my educational journey. Whenever she’s in the office, I can knock on her door and ask her anything. The people at CCA have helped me understand the financial aid process and as a result, I was awarded financial aid and scholarships to help me with college expenses. I am very grateful for that.


Simonia Kotillo

My father always says, “Simonia, everything you see now is nothing because the future is always better.” In the future, I want to complete a B.S. in Nursing and then become an obstetrician-gynecologist. I plan to graduate from CCA in spring 2019 with an A.S. degree. To be completely honest, I am not sure what my future holds. I have faith that I am going to be okay, but I am a realist and my passion might change. Although I have this goal, I fear that the road won’t be as simple as I see it now. My parents work so hard as caregivers. I want my family to not have to break their backs in jobs that cause them to live paycheck to paycheck. I will forever be grateful to CCA for giving me a positive educational experience. CCA has set me up so that I can become a great asset to my family and show my father that he was right about the future. I want to thank Janell Lindsey for all of her help, especially with my summer classes. I know that if I need a letter of recommendation or advice, I can count on her to help me out.


Muorwel Makur M. Malual

Being thrust into a war zone at an early age is devastating, but I praise God for being active in my life.  I was born and raised in the Republic of South Sudan but had to leave my motherland to escape war. I moved to the United States in January 2004 to pursue an education. Although I struggle with many responsibilities, I am absolutely positive that I will be successful in getting my education. Why? Because I have set my mind to it like I did for eight years when I served in the Army. From 2006 to 2014, I served as an interpreter and translator during Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq. The skills and experience I gained as a soldier along with help from instructors at the Community College of Aurora have helped me greatly. Currently, I am pursuing an A.A. in Communication with hopes of transferring to University of Colorado, Denver to earn a bachelor’s degree. I want to be a role model to my sons Mayar and Maker, and my little daughter Akoi. I could not have accomplished what I have done so far without my wife Regina’s support. I would like to thank my TRIO academic advisors Sherita Caraway and Fumnanya Camara. I want to thank Veterans and Military Affairs Assistant Director Judy Steele and Student Success Center Director Janell Lindsey for supporting me.


Elmer Moran

As I complete my goals at CCA, I am so proud that I have finished a part of my journey. I plan to graduate in spring 2019 with an A.A. in Business. I then plan to transfer to Metropolitan State University of Denver to earn a B.S. in Business Management. My family has motivated me to get a better education and supported me in this journey. My sister, who is like a mom, to me has given me the strength to become successful. God has given me the knowledge to finish strong and hope to open my own business. I leave CCA as a different man, full of knowledge and empowerment for who I have become. I had to manage my family’s business which is a restaurant and bakery. It’s very hard to work and go to school at the same time. I would like to thank H. Ray Keith; he was my first instructor at CCA and has helped me along the way. Michael Levell helped me to become a different kind of writer and develop better writing skills; those skills will help me with my business degree and in life. Thanks to all those who made my path better than what I thought. I can now say, my potential was realized.


Jaime Nunez

I came to the United States at a very young age from Mexico. My father made everything for our family possible. He is the biggest reason why I wanted to attend college. I always had the mindset that I didn’t have to worry about money because my family owns and runs a trucking company. However, I changed my mind when I realized how hard my family works to run the trucking company. I talked to my dad on my 21st birthday and I told him that I wanted to attend the Diesel Mechanics program at CCA to help the company. The last time that I saw him that happy was when I told him that I got my Colorado driver’s license. There have been days when I wanted to give up, but then I see my dad come home from work; he is so tired sometimes that he is unable to move from the couch because he’s been sitting in a truck for more than 10 hours a day. My ultimate dream one day would be to work hard enough to support my family and wake up to see my dad posting selfies with my mother while having coffee in some exotic country.


Alexis Oliver

During my sophomore year in high school, I discovered a great opportunity in my pursuit of higher education. Rather than going straight to a university after high school, I discovered the ASCENT program and decided that path would suit me better. Had I not become the ambitious and goal-oriented young woman I am today, I would have not taken the nontraditional path for college, but over the years, I have learned that life can take you places you did not initially plan to go. Regardless of where life took me, my parents, as well as my high school art teacher helped me every step of the way. Being the first in my family to graduate from a college means much more than a diploma or recognition, but I also recognize that it is an important step towards success. CCA has broadened my horizons both in academia and the real world. For example, not only did I learn a lot about illustration from Kristi Backman’s class, she also introduced me to the Denver art scene. I plan to graduate from CCA in May 2019 and am excited to start a business in fine arts/photography/graphic design. Finally, I would like to thank Darius Smith for nominating me for this award. His instruction and encouragement have truly helped me realize my potential. 


Ayan Omer

As long as I can remember I have always loved learning. However, it has not been an easy road. I was born in central Somalia and grew up in Yemen. After my family moved to the United States in 2010, I went to four different high schools in three different states. Even so, I am most proud of my progress in reading and writing English because most of my life I was illiterate. My Greeley West High School teacher, Jessica Cooney, inspired me to go to college by taking me on a class field trip at the University of Northern Colorado. There, I saw people of many different ages, genders, and colors in the cafeteria. It made realize the importance of a college education. As a psychology major at CCA, I plan to graduate in spring 2020 and transfer to Metropolitan State University of Denver to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. I want to thank my mathematics instructor Sasa Jovic for always believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself, and my TRIO advisors Sherita Caraway and Antonio Johnson for pushing me towards my goals. I also want to thank my tutors Sara Beck-Pancer and Alfredo Beltran-Aguirre for being by my side every step of the way and doing everything in their power to help me succeed. Finally, I want to send a big thanks to my family and friends for their support. 


Arabella Orozco

I was born in Havana, Cuba and immigrated to Denver in 1980 at the age of seven. Being a student in the early 1980s was very difficult. I was secluded in the classroom because I spoke a different language and looked different. At the age of 40, I enrolled at the Community College of Aurora intending to become an early childhood educator to advocate for all children and teach them that being different is part of sharing the world. I plan to transfer to the University of Northern Colorado to receive a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. My father was my main inspiration to go back to school because he told me for many years that I can do more for myself. My husband taught me to believe in myself and reminds me that I can do what I’ve always dreamt of doing. I want to thank Ashley Simpson who wrote out my success plan for me three years ago when I was just starting at CCA and has been my mentor and support ever since. I would also like to thank Shirley Smith for teaching me that I do belong in the world of early childhood education and always believing in me.


Beverly Pippin

I was adopted after my sisters and I were abandoned by our biological parents. I am a 31-year-old college student and a full-time mother. I plan to finish my Associate of Science degree in spring 2019 and transfer to Pickens Technical College and complete the respiratory therapist program. After working in the field, I want to continue as a biology major at Metropolitan State University of Denver and continue to explore science. My desire to earn a degree began after I changed my life and overcame a hardcore addiction and met someone who pushed me in the right direction. I would like to thank Rhonda Hattar for nominating me; she helped me through a difficult time in my college journey. During a difficult month, my mother-in-law passed away and my daughter went into the PICU with pneumonia. Rhonda was there for me and let me make up my assignments or tests. I would also like to thank my significant other Jaymie, my mother-in-law, and father-in-law; they have supported me through this entire challenge with encouragement and love. I would to thank my entire family for giving me a chance and believing in me. I come from a hard lifestyle but I turned my life around and I want to show that I can overcome anything and be successful.


Deidra Pittman

At a young age, I desired a better life than the cards I was dealt. I needed guidance or support because I took care of myself at a very young age – I had emancipated foster care. It was hard because I never had enough guidance from authority figures to attend school. I wanted to go back to college and I heard about the Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI) program. Seeking support and safety, Warren Village connected me with Cross Purpose which informed me about SWFI. I love SWFI; the program has been a great opportunity. I would like to thank Carlos Lopez from SWFI; I have been able to talk to him about pretty much anything. I plan to graduate in fall 2018 and walk in the commencement ceremony in spring 2019. I am pursuing a career as a patient care representative. I want to heal people; when my daughter was born she was premature. I was already interested in the medical field but her premature birth drives my passion. Barack Obama said, “Making your mark on the world is hard. If it was easy everybody would do it. But it’s not. It comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. Its whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.” I choose following my dreams.


Alejandro Reynoso

I am the middle child in a hardworking, close-knit family and I am the first to attend college. In 2011, my father suffered a heart attack and I left college and worked full-time to support my family. I worked security at Belmar and at the Denver Sheriff Department. After my father’s health improved, my supervisors recommended I apply to the Aurora Police Academy. I was excited and nervous when I was one of 12 applicants selected out of 1500. I started the police academy but left to take care of my mother when she was diagnosed with diabetes. When her health improved, I started at New America School as a security officer. Before I could return to college my house caught fire and my family and I lived in a hotel for seven months. Despite that, I remained motivated to go back to college. In August 2017, I enrolled in night classes at CCA and currently have a 3.5 GPA. I plan to transfer and earn a bachelor and master’s degree in social work. I want to thank Tasia VanderVegt 
for nominating me for this award. She has helped me out a lot by recommending university programs and helping me improve my writing. I also want to thank my family and colleagues who have supported me along the way.


Emma Rojo

Starting high school unmotivated, undetermined, and at a low point, there were many challenges I faced when pushing myself to further my education. I dealt with obstacles like mental health issues, financial struggles, and family problems and it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I decided one day that this isn’t the life I want to live, and this isn’t the person I want to be. I finished high school after dropping out and I am so thankful and proud of myself for finishing. I finished at the top of my class, with bigger goals than ever before. I did it to better myself, my education, and my life. I plan to finish my Associate of Arts degree in spring and then transfer to a university to earn a bachelor’s degree and find a career in professional photography. My younger sister Anita has pushed me to put my all into everything I do. She has become my support system and biggest inspiration in this life. I want to contribute something impactful and positive to this world because I feel like the world needs it. I would also like to thank Stacey Stormes for nominating me and helping me the last two years in my photography journey; she has been one of the biggest sources of support at CCA.


Brenda Salais

I never imagined that I would be where I’m at today as I’m the first in my family to attend college, and had to learn to navigate the college process. Both my mother and father were raised in Mexico, and came to the U.S. at a very young age. My parents worked tirelessly, and each worked two jobs, and they had many sleepless nights in order for my siblings and I to have what we have today. Growing up in an Hispanic community, I’ve witness the discrimination around and toward my community, and towards my parents, which has motivated me in my academic and career plans. I am studying Criminal Justice and hope to become a probation officer and translator with the courts. I plan to  graduate in spring 2019 with an A.A. in Criminal Justice and then transfer to Metropolitan State University of Denver. I want to help people speak up about injustices they have experienced, and not be afraid to have a voice because of their race. I want to thank Courtney Butler who has helped me tremendously. She has gone out of her way to provide me with help, and she is someone I can go to for anything. I also want to recognize my family for their support. Because of them, I will continue to work hard every day.



Grace Ushindi

I was born in Democratic Republic of Congo and grew up in Kampala, Uganda. From an early age I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field, but there weren’t many known female roles models while I was growing up, but that did not stop me from chasing my dreams. I wanted to help malnourished children, orphans, and victims of the war. My biggest dream was to work with organizations like Doctor Without Borders. In 2016 I moved to the United States of America and I enrolled at the Community College of Aurora in 2017. When I started at CCA, I was very lost, and I did not know what I was doing, especially being a first-generation college student. Luckily, I met Kate Noon-Ulvila, who nominated me for this award. She gave me the best advice. She told me “Grace, I believe that you can bring your dreams to reality; everything is possible – just believe in yourself.” She helped me improve my stress management and goal setting; she introduced me to TRIO where I receive support and tutoring while pursuing my education. I am currently pursuing my Associate of Arts and taking human services classes. I plan to transfer to a four-year university to pursue a bachelor’s in global health and minor in nutrition.


Stanley Velasquez

I moved to the United States in 2016 from the Dominican Republic. The reason I moved here was to join my partner who was from the United States. Moving to a new country has been a struggle, but it has also taught me how to become strong. This move has given me the chance to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a nurse. I am currently pursuing an Associate of Science in Nursing at CCA. Once I complete the associate degree, I plan to transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree as a registered nurse. At CCA, I have participated in Student Government Association and Student Alliance LatinX. I currently work as a Student Ambassador in the Center for Recruitment and Orientation. Since April 2016, I have volunteered with a non-profit organization named HEAL Denver (Health, Education, Art and Leadership). As an outreach worker with HEAL, I have tested clients for STD’s and STI’s. I continue to put all my effort in helping clients and making a positive impact within the community. I understand this will help me to grow within my educational journey to become a great nurse. I would like to thank Adriana Cordova for nominating me for this award. She has encouraged me and picked me up when I have felt discouraged about classes and motivates me to continue in the nursing field.

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