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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 acknowledgement of these stories. Every year, the faculty and staff recognize students who exercise determination, leadership, perseverance, and attributes of success other than academic performance.


2015 Student Success Award Winners

Crystal Armas, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Crystal Armas

Success may not come easy to me, but my passion and desire to succeed ensures that I will persevere despite any obstacles I may encounter. I am the first person in my family to attend college, and past injuries have caused me to struggle with test taking as well as my short-term memory. These issues have not defeated me; instead they have pushed me to work harder. The classes I have taken at CCA and the instructors who have helped me, including James Gray, have given me the tools I need once I leave the college. Although I’m not certain where my life will take me, or what career I will choose, I am absolutely positive that I will become successful because I’ve set my mind to it.

Terrance Black, Jr., 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Terrance Black, Jr.

My passion for music inspired me to pursue a degree. I have dreams of changing the world through music, but getting my education is a vital piece in that puzzle. I plan on graduating from CCA with an Associate of Arts with a business concentration. From there, I intend on transferring to the University of Northern Colorado to obtain a bachelor’s in music, a master’s degree in music business, and somewhere along the line, a Doctorate of Arts. My educational path has not been without obstacles, however. From academic suspension to financial aid suspension, I was forced to deal with regret, guilt and self-pity to turn things around. It took finding a better understanding of my purpose and accepting that it is still possible to succeed in order for me to move forward. I’ve learned that perseverance, obedience, belief and passion can open the doors to greater heights, and I thank God for placing all of these wonderful people in my circle. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.

Aaron Brooks, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Aaron Brooks

The places I have lived have shaped not only my personality, but also my ambitions for the future. I moved to Aurora from Hawaii during the summer of 2014, and before Hawaii I spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest. I love the outdoors and have a real passion for science and conservation. To follow this calling, I hope to pursue a degree in biology after I complete my associate degree at CCA this spring. Eventually I would like to become either a wildlife biologist or a marine biologist in order to further conservation efforts and study animals. I consider myself very fortunate for the opportunity to learn from some great teachers in my short time here at CCA. They have not only helped me to become a better student, but also to become a better person, and I am incredibly grateful for that.

Edward Ali Caglayan, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Edward Ali Caglayan

Growing up, I never thought college was the place for me. The majority of my grade school education was spent breaking up fights and dealing with the behavioral issues of others, with very little emphasis on learning. It wasn’t until I was in the military, after taking a college class to improve my chances for promotion, that I discovered that I wanted to pursue higher education. After completing my Associate of Arts in sociology and psychology from CCA, I intend on continuing in both fields as well as taking courses in criminal justice and education. Thanks to instructors like Dr. Tanya Cook, Kelly O’Dell, and many others, I have been able to see success in both my course work and personal life. I was adopted from a poor part of Turkey, and things could have ended up very different for me. I am very grateful to be where I am today.
Twich Collins, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Twich Collins

When I began at the Colorado Film School, I simply wanted to obtain a film degree and move into the industry, but because of a single teacher, Will Hicks, I was inspired to change directions. It was his guidance that encouraged me to change my focus from directing to screenwriting, as well as to pursue teaching. My goal is to obtain a bachelor’s and eventually a master’s in screenwriting so I can go on to teach others. One of my major achievements at CCA is being elected president of the Student Government Association. I hope that through this role I will be able to make an impactful change for CCA. I don’t see my success as something that I did solely on my own; it is through the help of others that I have gotten where I am today. My life has been a series of connected events that were laid out by God to lead me here. It hasn’t always been easy; my severe asthma has always been an obstacle. When I get sick, I get knocked down for a long time, but because I know that fighting through will be worth it in the end, I never give up hope.

Eric Coogan, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Eric Coogan

After suffering a traumatic brain injury that left me wheelchair-bound and at the mercy of opiate painkillers, I didn’t think I’d be able to feed myself, much less go to college. But with the help of my wife, God, my family and Veterans Affairs, I recovered not only from the physical injuries, but opiate addiction as well. My desire to earn a college degree was inspired by my wife. Her education along with her support pushed me to attend CCA in order to build a career. Once I complete my general education credits, I want to finish my Associate of Science in computer programming and transfer to Metropolitan State University to earn a bachelor’s. Beyond my wife and family, I’m grateful for my instructors at CCA, especially Keith Howard, whose encouragement has helped boost my confidence and made me believe in myself.

Cynthia Fleming


Cynthia Fleming

I was brought to the U.S. from Peru at the age of nine. It wasn’t until I was 16 and in the process of filling out college applications that I came to the abrupt realization that I was one more immigrant pursuing the so-called “American Dream” – a dream I was not allowed to pursue based on a decision I was too young to make. The bitterness got the best of me, and I started making wrong choices and failed to see the value of an education. My priorities soon changed when I gave birth to my daughters. I realized I had to lead by example and decided to pursue my own dreams and make that change for them. After all, the sacrifices my mother made to pursue a better life only fueled my admiration for her. She taught me the meaning of dedication and integrity, so achieving academic excellence is one way to repay her. I am currently working towards an Associate of Arts and plan to transfer to the University of Colorado in 2016 to study English and criminal justice. After graduation, I plan to seek employment at the Department of Homeland Security to pursue a career as an adjudicating immigration officer. I couldn’t have done any of this without the caring guidance of my TRiO advisor, Nnena West, and my algebra instructor, Mr. Paganini.

Gahsaw A. Getie, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Gashaw A. Getie

I know that going to school is very important. A lot of people in my home country of Sudan aren’t able to get an education, but my father told me that if I wanted something, I had to get it for myself. When I came to the U.S., I knew that I wanted to obtain my associate degree so I could work in immigration and help people. It’s not only my education that is important; my biggest accomplishment was supporting my two sisters so they could go to school. When I visited them in Sudan, they had just finished high school and felt like they had no future. I told them, “You promise me that if I support you, you’ll go to school.” And for four years I supported them by working two jobs. Today, one is an accountant at a bank and the other is an eighth grade teacher. I want my seven-year-old son to follow in my footsteps, and in order for him to do that, I have to achieve something to be an example for him. Thanks to patient and easy-to-understand teachers like Daniel Schweissing, I will be able to reach my goals and be a role model for my family.

Gene Gonzalez, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Gene Gonzalez

For over 25 years, I served the United States of America in the Marine Corps. My tours included Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait and Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq. I sustained several severe injuries while serving our country, and during my last year in the military I was diagnosed with a cancer that almost took my life. This near-death experience changed my entire outlook, and after retiring as a proud, honorably discharged veteran, I decided to pursue my education. My first step was enrolling in CCA’s business program to obtain an Associate of Applied Science in business before I move on to Regis University to finish my bachelor’s degree. I struggle to keep up with a heavy academic workload while enduring radiation treatment for the returning cancer, but I am determined to be a successful and responsible student. I continue to be inspired daily by the Marine Corps’ values of honor, courage and commitment. These core values keep me focused and committed to succeed at CCA, Regis and in life. I will always believe in myself and have full faith in my abilities.

Marieka Grigsby, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Marieka Grigsby

Although I struggled with English courses, my eventual graduation has proven to be a huge accomplishment that has made me a stronger person who will never give up. Although I found most of the drive to succeed within myself I have met some wonderful and inspirational people who pushed me even more. Barbara Lindsay, Tamara White and Gabe Fischer never let me give up or accept the bare minimum, which has led me to complete my associate degree rather than simply a certificate. After I finish my Associate of General Studies at CCA I intend on helping at-risk youth, and would one day like to start my own non-profit organization for kids who are struggling in school.
Catherine Head, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Catherine Head

As young as nine years old, I knew I wanted to help others and work with families. My life’s journey, personal experiences and relationship with God have helped me understand the human spirit. Although I attended college before I met my wonderful husband, I put my education on hold to start a family and homeschool my children. After my children grew up, I decided to follow my dream of working with families by obtaining an Early Childhood Education Director’s Certificate. It hasn’t been easy. During this time period, we lost nine close family members, including parents and grandparents, and I became very ill. However, my years at CCA have equipped me with the skills necessary to follow my dream to support families, and I enjoy experiencing God on Earth through my interactions with people. Thanks to the unwavering support of my husband, children and tutor, James Gray, I am certain I will reach my goals.
Joseph L. Krantz, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Joseph L. Krantz

My father passed away when I was young, and I grew up moving around quite frequently with my mother and sister. I attended ten schools before I turned seventeen, which made obtaining a quality education difficult. But my determination to create a sustainable foundation and positive future for my family and myself never wavered. Attending CCA turned out to be my best decision, giving me a realistic and credible option to pursue higher education. I began school with little direction, starting by obtaining my real estate certificate. While meeting those requirements, I decided to take a class that interested me. A political science course with Dr. Bobby Pace inspired me to earn an associate degree in political science. This change in my plan afforded me opportunities I never imagined, including representing CCA at the National Model United Nations Conference in New York, where we succeeded in bringing back several awards. My success has also allowed me to be a positive role model for my nephew who now wants to go to college too! Thanks to the encouraging words of Dr. Pace and Elizabeth Hirsh and the support of my spouse of 12 years, Nicole Meyri, I have since been accepted to the University of Denver where I will be earning a bachelor’s in international studies.

Higus Mekonen, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Higus Mekonen

My passion for becoming a doctor started when I was a child. The white coats seemed glamorous, and I wanted to help people with their pain. After graduating college in Ethiopia in 2010, I worked at several health centers and at Axum St. Mary General Hospital. I wanted to pursue a career as a pharmacist, but that’s when my whole life changed. I moved to the U.S. in 2013 and didn’t waste a second looking for a way to reach my goals. After enrolling in CCA’s English as a Second Language program, I discovered that the curriculum, resources and community were very helpful. In 2015, I received the Future Health Professionals award in pharmacy and also was selected for a Student Success Award at CCA. Though taking classes while working is challenging, I’m persevering with the help of God. After graduating from CCA, I plan to transfer to the University of Denver to complete my studies to become a doctor of pharmacy. Thanks to my family and my instructors, I believe I can do it.
Andrea Mora Ojeda, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Andrea Mora Ojeda 

I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela with a very supportive family; they knew education was one of the pillars of success. Because of my mother’s love of travel, I was introduced to many different cultures and visited places like Colombia, Peru, South America and Europe. Traveling to these countries inspired my passion for music, cooking and dancing. It also shaped my educational path, prompting me to study psychology, sociology and Spanish. My mother always said, “Don’t let anything or anyone get in the way of making your dreams come true,” and I have adopted that as my personal philosophy. As president of the International Student Association and vice-president of the Student Government Association and LatinX, I use the foundation laid out by my family to lead and inspire others to pursue their dreams. I believe that by helping others I reinforce my growth and development as a human being and as part of this community.

Guadalupe Renteria, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Guadalupe Renteria

It was the limitless support of my parents, husband and children that encouraged me to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a nurse. My experiences working with and learning from the elderly inspired me to do more. Through their stories, I became connected with them and desired to help them and change the world one day at a time. After my success at Community College of Aurora, I would like to continue my education at the University of Colorado, Denver. It was through the support of my devoted instructors, including Mr. Paganini, both inside and outside the classroom, that I gained the confidence to follow my dreams.

Twyla R. Rivers, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Twyla R. Rivers

I am a licensed cosmetologist working as an independent contractor in Colorado, where I have lived my whole life. Beyond owning my own hair care line, River Edge, I’m also the co-owner of a t-shirt brand named Pyramid Gold, launching in 2015. One of my dreams is to open my own salon in the state that I have grown to love so much. I graduated from Manual High in 2002 and served as class president for two of the four years. I received my cosmetology license in 2010 from Pueblo Community College and am now pursuing an associate degree in business management at CCA. I plan to use the knowledge I gain to open my own storefront and salon. When I’m not studying, I like to volunteer my time at retirement homes to keep residents feeling and looking their best as well as spend time with my daughter, J`eliyah.

Lamia Roumani, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Lamia Roumani

Immigrating to the U.S. from Morocco in 2003 was the biggest change of my life. Since then, living in America has provided me many opportunities and challenges. As soon as I picked up the English language, I started working as a Dental Assistant in Boston, Mass. It was this job that inspired me to pursue a degree in healthcare, but because I was raising two kids, it seemed impossible. Once my youngest son was one, I placed him in daycare so I could follow my educational path. I am currently working on my Patient Care Technician certificate at CCA and hope to obtain an entry-level dialysis patient care technician position. I want to thank my teacher, Dr. Noelia Cabrera, for nominating me for this award and also my husband for his support. After CCA, I would like to become a dialysis registered nurse and one day start fundraising for low-income people in Morocco who have kidney failure. My mission is to help people who need dialysis but cannot afford the high cost of the treatment to clean their blood and save their lives.

Kristel S. Strother, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Kristel S. Strother

I was born in Holland and raised in a strict missionary household; I pushed back by making some irresponsible decisions once I turned 18. It didn’t take me long to reconnect with God to become grounded and ready for my future endeavors. Now, I am a wife, a mother of three, a worship leader at Newday Seventh Day Adventist Church and a full-time student at CCA. My busy schedule has given me the confidence to realize my full potential. When I saw my husband, whom I always thought was smarter than me, obtain his bachelor’s, I realized that I had many gifts as well. I have had a dark curiosity about what goes on inside a criminal’s mind before, after and during a horrific atrocity. I also realized that there were certain things in the psychology field that came naturally to me. I took this for granted when I was younger. Now, in my early thirties, I am more focused and driven to pursue my career goals, and I know I’ll succeed. I’ve been accepted to Colorado University - Denver where I will pursue my bachelor’s in psychology, and I plan to finish my academic career at Denver University with a master’s in forensic psychology.
Almaz Teklemikael, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Almaz Teklemikael (Alme)

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of coming to the United States to obtain a good education. In my home country of Ethiopia, I studied to become an automotive electrician, which I enjoyed, but I wanted more. I was given the opportunity to immigrate to Yemen, where I remained for three years, and then I went on to Italy for four more years. My long voyage allowed me to learn several languages and about many cultures, and ten years ago I finally made it to the U.S., fulfilling my childhood dream. Almost immediately, I started studying at CCA because I wanted to continue to learn. I am determined to finish my Associate of Science degree at CCA and then transfer to Metropolitan State University to get back into automotive electronics. My patience and perseverance ensures that I will never quit, even though my educational journey is like climbing a mountain. I hope my journey will inspire and encourage others, including my own children, because education can change lives.

Robert Vincent, 2015 CCA Student Success Winner


Robert Vincent

For me, going to school was never about getting an education. I was a great athlete, and the only thing that kept me interested and enrolled was playing football. Though I attended college right out of high school, I didn’t find a place that worked for me and began looking for jobs. The serious reality of needing good employment set in when my wife and I had our daughter. And shortly thereafter, tragedy struck when my mom was diagnosed with and eventually taken by cancer. My father took his own life a short time later and left my 15-year-old brother an orphan. I took on the role of guardian and worked vigorously to support him and my family and watched him turn into a strong young man with a relentless work ethic. He has since been recruited to attend CSU Pueblo. His triumph inspired me to go back to school and finish what I started. I have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to complete my associate degree and transfer to Metro State to study business. From there I hope to one day obtain an MBA and possibly a doctorate and start several of my own ventures. I hope to use my success to start a charity for orphaned children and families in need.
No Student Image - Campus Building


Amanda Benson

I moved to Colorado four years ago, and I’m a part-time student. After I complete my studies at CCA, I intend on transferring to the University of Colorado, Denver to finish my bachelor’s degree in Public Health with a focus on Indigenous and Native American Studies. To further my career ambitions, I will be interning with the Lakota Way Healing Center this summer. When I’m not studying, I enjoy connecting with nature by hiking in the mountains and escaping the world through reading science fiction. My brothers Israel and Marty are my personal heroes, and I am also grateful for the advisors and instructors at CCA who have made me feel so comfortable, especially those involved with the TRiO program.

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