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2012 Student Success Award Winners

Ahouefa Mawunou, a student at Community College of Aurora in Colorado


Ahouefa Mawunou
I was born in Togo and spent most of my life in the city of Lome until moving to the United States in 2001. I won a visa lottery and decided to make the change in search of a better life. I did have some background in the English language from my college experience back home but my communication skills in America were raw. I took some ESL classes in Illinois but had to stop due to a family problem. I knew, though, that I would return to school in the future to pursue a career in the medical field. In Togo, I worked in an outpatient clinic and a pharmacy for three years each. When I relocated to Aurora in 2011, I enrolled at Community College of Aurora and continued to pursue by goal of becoming a registered nurse. I have a long way to go but I will do my best to reach my dream. I’m a Christian and believe that with God, everything is possible. I have an 8-year-old little boy, Godwin, whose daily presence means the world to me. I’m so pleased that he can see the role of education in achieving his own life’s wishes. At CCA, teachers have continuously supported me on my ongoing journey. I would especially like to thank two of them: Meredith Folley and Christopher Jenner.
Aisha Spencer, a college student in Colorado


Aisha Spencer
I’m an Aurora native and love everything about this state. I graduated from Eaglecrest High School in May 2007 with high honors, and also was named a member of the National Society of High School Scholars. With a passion for film, I started attending Community College of Aurora to earn a Writer/Producer Degree from the Colorado Film School but quickly became enamored with theatre. My experiences developing as an actress under the guidance of the wonderful teachers at CCA has unlocked my true calling in life. It’s now my goal to perform in professional theatre. But my time at the college also has had a profound personal effect. I’ve experienced hardships in life, but CCA has given me the opportunity to see myself more than just a girl who has experienced these difficulties. The college has allowed me to look introspectively and to get to know myself completely. The education I’ve received has been much more than a pathway to a degree. The journey I’ve taken, and people I’ve met along the way that have embarked on these shared experiences have been equally important. I can’t express my gratitude to be receiving a reward like the Student Success Award. I couldn’t have attained this honor without the support of the CCA family.
Angelica Gatchell, a student at Community College of Aurora in Colorado


Angelica Gatchell
Anything we do in life is a representation of ourselves, and I believe that defines us. For this reason, I take life at full throttle and give it my all. I am a tech enthusiast with a passion for planetary science. I’ve had a love for animals and space ever since I can remember and can recall the first time I used my microscope and telescope. My natural curiosity was only heightened when I joined a Science Club in middle school, and for a while I wanted to be a marine or wildlife biologist. I attended college briefly to study game design in hopes of working on conceptual art and 3D environments. However, due to a motorcycle accident that left me bedridden for months and the financial hardships that followed, I was forced to drop out. It took me a few years to get back on my feet. I even considered not returning to school at all, but thanks to a few loved ones I was able to give CCA a shot, and I am thankful I did. I’ve fallen in love with science all over again, largely due to a supportive CCA faculty, especially Jim Weedin. I now have aspirations of becoming an astrobiologist.
Anika Walker, college student in Denver, Colorado


Anika Walker
The value of education was taught to me in non-traditional ways from a young age, but the methods in which I learned the value of education continues to be worth it every day. My educational path has been filled with a few roadblocks that made my educational career harder, but the juice will always be worth the squeeze. I plan on graduating from Community College of Aurora with an Associate of Arts degree in Political Science and continue on to get my bachelor’s degree in International Studies as well. However, I cannot take all the credit for my success. Mentors and friends like Megan Kinney, Heidi Pierce and Nicole Avent supported me and pushed me to never give up, no matter the challenges I face in life. In addition, great instructors like Bobby Pace and Katherine Goodman pushed me to expand my mind and knocked me off my high horse, so I owe all of them great thanks because they are a part of my success. But the one person that I cannot thank in person is my Aunt Marty who was a writer. She never accepted less than excellence from me and showed me what doors education could open for me. With great humility and gratitude I accept this award.
Bethany Marie Even, college student in Denver


Bethany Marie Even
I decided it was imperative that I go back to school to finish my education when my life took an unexpected turn 18 months ago. As a single mother with two young children, setting an example for them was important to me. Medicine has been my passion since I was 7, and even though I excelled in a different career for many years, I never forgot about my first love. In the summer of 2011, I attended an informational meeting about the Integrated Nursing Pathway, which connects COMMUNITY COLLEGE OF AURORA with the University of Colorado’s College of Nursing. In the beginning online courses were the best fit for me, allowing me to stay at home with my children as much as possible while finishing my prerequisites for the nursing program. My acceptance letter arrived in the mail this summer, and the emotions I felt were indescribable. This semester has been incredibly difficult, which makes this Student Success Award all that more meaningful. I am so thankful to the wonderful faculty, advisors and staff at CCA who have supported me in my goal to graduate from college. Thank you, Jeff Paganini, for believing in me and nominating me for this award.
Catarina Semakula, college student in Denver, CO


Catarina Semakula
I thought there was no hope for me when I was 15 and my mom passed away. I dropped out of high school and at 20 had my first child. A year later, I decided to go back to school and get my G.E.D and, upon completion, gave college a try. However, it just was not for me at the time. I had my second child five years later and life was looking better for us. But in September 2008, I got terrible news that my 10-year-old daughter was chronically ill. I had to leave my job to take care of my child and decided to return to school. I will graduate this fall with my AGS in Criminal Justice and transfer to Metropolitan State University in the spring. I want to show my kids that no matter what obstacles they may face in life, as long as they put their heart, mind and soul into it they can do anything they want. This has not been an easy road, by any means, but I have a great family. Thank you to my Aunt Jet, my mother figure, without whom I may not have made it this far, and to my two beautiful kids, Cathie and Isaiah, the reason I keep pushing myself. Thank you, too, to my CCA family for its overwhelming support.
David Olorunmola, CCA college student in Denver, Colorado


David Olorunmola
My childhood curiosity with the brain followed right through high school and into my adult life into the field of Neuroscience. As a Certified Nurse’s Assistant, I worked with people who had begun to lose their mental capacities. Over time, my attitude developed more toward compassion for those who lose their abilities to fully use their brain, and I decided I wanted to see if there were ways to help them regain what they have lost. That mindset, combined with my desire to fulfill my talent through learning, led me to choose Neuroscience, a field that studies the mind and brain and the way they work together to make a human unique. I determined that, though challenging, studying Neuroscience will ensure that my scholastic talent won’t go to waste; challenge me to continue to learn as much as I can; and hopefully make a difference in the lives of people who might otherwise suffer from a loss of brain function. Community College of Aurora is the first step in that direction. I would like to thank God for His grace upon my life; my fiancée, Jenny Spencer; and my family for the support they provided me during my difficult times. I would also like to thank Dr. Bethany Reid for nominating me and for the educational opportunity afforded me by the college.
Erika Ramos, CCA college student in Denver


Erika Ramos
Life events prompted a move from my native El Salvador to Colorado, where soon I encountered many problems stemming from my son’s premature birth. He had surgeries on his heart and eyes and received therapy for three years. I had terrible days because of his recovery, while also trying to adapt to a new culture. I began a string of jobs as a cashier, housekeeper and in an accounting department, but finally I realized I needed to start school in hopes of a better future. The first hurdle I faced was learning the English language, which was very hard for me. My first step was to start taking ELA classes at Lowry in 2010 while still working part time. Enrolling at the college was one of the greatest decisions that I’ve made. The instructors and staff gave me the confidence and support to continue. It’s complicated and stressful being a mother, wife and student and even more difficult when dealing with a child with health problems. My goal is to finish my ESL course and study for a bachelor’s degree in Accounting. I would like to thank my husband, Oscar, for tirelessly encouraging me; my son, Oscar, for giving me the strength to continue; and my teachers, Maria Halloran and Meredith Folley, for their relentless faith in me.
Genet Melese, CCA college student in Denver, CO


Genet Melese
I was born in a small town called Abia-Adi in Ethiopia. I graduated from Addis- Ababa University with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Biology. I married my husband in 2006, but he was unable to bring me to the United States until ‘08. We hoped that I would get a chance to go to school soon after I came to the U.S., but that was not easy. My husband and I had to help my family back home financially. As a result, I had to work one full-time and one part-time job rather than going to school. My husband had to do the same. At the same time, my husband continued to encourage me to go to school. He provided me with strength and hope, and, during the summer 2011 semester, I was able to go to Community College of Aurora. It was not easy because I only had one job and couldn’t send as much money to my family. But that semester I had good grades, even though I did not have enough time to study. Going to school and working is difficult, but it only makes this Student Success honor more special. It brings me brightness and strengthens my future. I now hope that one day I will complete my U.S. degree.
Hakim Lahman, student at CCA in Denver, Colorado


Hakim Lahman
When I met my first math teacher in middle school in Oujda, Morocco, Madame Boubabkri, my mind completely opened up. Learning had become a comfort zone for me instead of one of dread. Teaching became my dream. My studies intensified in college, but life happened and derailed the visions of my future for nearly three decades. Taking the step to attend Community College of Aurora was basically the blessing I never could have believed could happen to me to recapture my childhood dream. Without CCA, I wouldn’t be able to complete myself. It was like I had done my job with my kids and family but now I needed to work on my dream, and CCA was there to say, “You’re not alone doing this.” I’m especially thankful to Harold Mardones, Jackie McGrievey and Rich Bogdanovich, who was kind enough to nominate me for the Student Success Award. I almost dropped his Statistics class but he helped me get my feet on the ground and deal with reality by teaching me to not always see things in a mathematical fashion but a statistical way. Finally, James Gray was the first person I met at orientation. I was so nervous to enter college for the first time in 27 years. He sold me instantaneously. The sum total I’ve experienced from that sales job is something I’ll always treasure.
Hui Ma, student at CCA in Denver


Hui Ma
I was born in Shenyang, China, and lived there for 19 years until moving overseas with my sister and mother in 2008. I didn’t want to leave the life I already had and my family and friends but was interested in experiencing American culture. I didn’t speak a word of English when I arrived in Colorado and life was intimidating at first. I enrolled in the New America School, which taught me how to start communicating with people using basic phrases. I enrolled at Community College of Aurora to continue learning the language and, through the ESL program, I started to read and write, although I wasn’t fully comfortable doing either until this year. Some of the ways that process became easier was through interactions with my American-born stepfather, my boyfriend, and numerous CCA teachers, including Meredith Folley and Maria Halloran. Their help was invaluable. I still experience my native culture daily because my household is predominantly Chinese. But I’ve also enjoyed the American way, too. I feel more freedom to express myself. People are very nice here and help each other. Next semester, I will be finished with the ESL program and can begin to concentrate on my next life goals. I hope to accumulate the credits necessary to take a test to possibly join the U.S. Air Force.
Jack Howard, student at CCA in Denver, CO


Jack Howard
I didn’t have enough credits to graduate when I left 12th grade, and while visiting California, enrolled in an adult high school to try and complete my degree. But my original Denver high school wouldn’t merge my coursework and issue a diploma. After falling into the wrong crowd and making some poor life choices, I ended up in jail for about six and a half years over a period of a decade for drug possession. During that time, I did an academic assessment and quickly took the tests necessary to acquire my GED. That dark period of my life was when I began committing myself to an existence far away from crime and dedicating myself to furthering my education to improve my path in life. I enrolled at Community College of Aurora in a personal training course, and after completing the class, I decided not only to pursue that avenue but also fill in the blanks with general education courses necessary to, I hope, some day earn an associates degree. I feel I’m on the right path to attaining my goals. My long-term dream of starting my own business in personal training is more realistic with every class I take. I couldn’t have gotten to this point without the support of my family and the opportunities afforded me by the college, its faculty and administration.
James Fountain, student attending college in Denver


James Fountain
Many students such as myself endure the trials and tribulations of life, not necessarily because we want to, but, because of circumstance, we have to. It is because of circumstance that I find myself working a full-time job and attending Community College of Aurora. No one in my family had ever graduated high school or college. I decided that I wanted to be a role model not only for my children but also for those in the community with whom I work. I do community service for several organizations – volunteering with Ronald McDonald House and Variety of Colorado, coaching youth and high school football -- and I wanted to come from a place of authority to these kids when I tell them to go to college, stay in school, and that there are myriad of options but not failure. I have been able to achieve success in these difficult challenges only through some of the best faculty that CCA has to offer. I’ve even gotten to travel outside of the United States to Europe on scholarship on a study tour. I would like to thank two faculty members: Melanie Briscoe and Jacqueline McGreevy. These two women have had a direct impact of my success by pushing me beyond where I was in my comfort zone academically and prodding me to always apply myself.
Jennifer Bird, student attending college in Denver, CO


Jennifer Bird
I am 31 years old, and the associates degree I am earning at Community College of Aurora is my first experience with college. I was considered “academically gifted” in high school and so was overlooked when it came to college preparation. The attitude seemed to be, “You’re smart. You’ll figure it out.” Only, I didn’t, for a very long time. My childhood was one of single-parentdom followed by having a stepparent who abused me. I immersed myself, escaped into learning and was very withdrawn.  In my early 20’s I developed moderate-to-severe Social and Generalized Anxiety Disorders, which made getting and maintaining a job and other relationships very difficult. I worked off and on as a temp after high school, moved several times to several states, and finally came to Colorado where I spent 2 1/2 years unsuccessfully seeking employment. Finally, I found CCA’s “Getting Started” checklist. It spelled the process out in a way I had not encountered before. I mustered all my courage and applied for college. It has been, without a doubt, the best decision I’ve made in my entire life. I have found new friends, mentors and been able to work through some of my anxieties to pursue my love and passion: Literature.
Juan Garcia Coque, student attending college in Denver, Colorado


Juan Garcia-Coque
Starting college at this stage in my life wasn’t an easy thing to do but well worth all the effort. I have desired this for the longest time, as I lacked the opportunity before in my native Guatemala due to several economic and time limitations. Moving to the United States and finally landing a job in the IT field has been a difficult challenge, especially because it is an environment where constant change is the nature of the business. I needed better tools to help me move forward in it, and I could only gain these tools through higher education. Setting an example for my children to never deny themselves the opportunity for better education is my main inspiration. If that wasn’t reason enough, the country needs to recover the leadership in this field; and the only way this is going to happen is by doing our part. This is mine. Starting my career at Community College of Aurora is only scratching the tip of the iceberg; now I feel confident that, when the time comes, I will be well prepared to move to Metropolitan State University of Denver to finish my baccalaureate degree in Computer Science. I owe all this to CCA. Special thanks to Jeff Paganini for nominating me for this award. This has given me another incentive to always strive for excellence.
Mahmoud Bashir Gendel, student attending college in Colorado


Mahmoud Bashir Gendel
I am proud that I am the first person in my family of 11 to attend college. And not only have I been recognized as a Student Success Award winner, so has my wife, Omima, which makes me even more proud. My progress at Community College of Aurora learning the English language has been a wonderful experience. At first, I was nervous to speak in large groups, especially since all I had known before was Arabic. But I’ve become more comfortable with a lot of help from the faculty and staff. My writing has gone from two sentences in English to producing many typewritten pages. It’s still difficult to communicate at times but I entered the U.S. with only ‘Hi, thank you, yes, no, and sorry” in my vocabulary, and now, my writing hasn’t just improved, I’m surprised sometimes when people talk and I understand. My education is important to me for another big reason. I have always done hard labor, mainly in my home in North Sudan in Africa. I’ve been involved in welding. I helped my late father, a farmer. I worked as a forklift driver, a salesperson and a field technician in Saudi Arabia, too. Now, it’s my goal to be an automobile mechanic, doing something that I love instead of just earning a paycheck.
Michelle Twaddell, student attending college in CO


Michelle Twaddell
Born in less than perfect circumstances, I have risen to become the first child in many generations to enroll in, and eventually graduate from, college. I am the eldest of eight, and I have spent a large majority of my life in jail/prison and group homes/foster homes. This is my first opportunity at a formal education. I volunteer at an all girls group home in Lakewood and hope to find employment there once I receive my AGS and become a Youth Offender Counselor. I have three bright and beautiful children and a loving spouse, Jorge, who holds my hand when times are tough. My best friend and sister, Jenny, is my true inspiration and I admire her strengths in all adversity. Despite my troubled youth, she has always supported me. I owe all I am to her. My stepmom Kellie has also been a great addition to my life and has been a mother to me when my biological mother couldn’t be. She has shown me more love than I would have otherwise known. My father is one of the smartest men I know, and I am thankful he made education so important in raising us all. I am pursuing a better education and a better life through my studies for my spouse, my children and myself.
Omima Abdoun, student attending college in Colorado


Omima Abdoun
Work had been a large part of my life growing up in a big family in Sudan, North Africa. I owned a small civil engineering company before moving to Saudi Arabia with my husband and taking a break from my chosen profession to raise my two young daughters, Emtisal and Retaj. But even though I had experienced success in business, I wanted more. Coming to the United States on a visa lottery in February 2010 and attending Community College of Aurora has allowed me to get closer to my dreams. I wanted to experience a different culture, language and country, but above all, I wanted an American education so I could learn to speak English and expand my knowledge so that I could perhaps one day return home and become one of my country’s top civil engineers. At first, it was difficult to communicate and people had trouble understanding me. But I improved quickly because people like Maria Halloran, Chris Tombari, Meredith Foley, Jane Harding and Elizabeth Schroeder and the help of my husband, Mahmoud, who also attends CCA and helps me study. I’m glad that my two children can see me as a role model and what education can mean to their lives, like my mom and dad did in always pushing me to study. And I’m so happy to have done so at CCA.
Rob Hatcher, student attending college in Denver


Rob Hatcher
I am a 41-year-old Colorado native that is about to embark upon my sophomore year here at the Community College of Aurora.  I’m a non-traditional student that has returned to this educational path after a 20-year break and am working to eventually achieve a Master’s degree in Tourism and Events.  Having been raised in the home of high school dropouts, my college aspirations were largely unsupported.  Therefore, the path that has led me to CCA has been long and often presented obstacles that sometimes appeared impossible to overcome.  Fortunately, I never lost focus on my educational goals and through determination and constant application  (not to mention many sleepless nights studying) I now present myself to you as: the current student body Vice President; a Trio Peer Mentor; a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society; founder of the CCA Film Fans club; and founding officer of the CCA Poetic Motions club.  I am truly honored to have been nominated for this award and wish to thank CCA, the student body, an amazing group of educators, and especially my loving wife for supporting me as I continue along this path towards my goals.
Ryan Manzanares, student attending college in Denver, CO


Ryan Manzanares
I had been out of school for five years when I enrolled at Community College of Aurora in Fall 2009. I was quiet as a church mouse and feeling intimidated. But as I prepare to graduate in May, I leave a changed person: confident, loquacious and proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. People at the college like Rachel Ankney helped me get over initial fears. Angie Tiedeman fully got me out of my shell, pulled out my good qualities and encouraged me to be outgoing, while assuring me that it was all right for people to see me as I really am. It built a self-confidence that allowed me to skyrocket academically and grow socially. I joined Phi Theta Kappa, where I served as vice president of both fundraising and leadership and became chapter president. I was voted president of Student Government last spring and am honored to represent CCA as the vice chair for the state Student Advisory Council. Soon, I’ll be headed to a four-year college, and beyond that, hopefully, law school. My family, friends, Angie, a billion teachers, and the college administration have been there every step of the way to support my endeavors. The woman who would keep her head in the books and wouldn’t talk to everyone three years ago is now long gone.
Yesenia Galvan-Rosales, student attending college in Denver, Colorado


Yesenia Galvan Rosales
I was born and raised in Mexico. Most of my family was bilingual but Spanish was my sole means of communication. I decided to come to the United States pursuing a better future and education.   I want to become a powerful businesswoman and my time at Community College of Aurora is one of the first steps I’ve taken in following my passion for Business. CCA has provided all the right tools for me to succeed. Wonderful people, from teachers to staff, students to tutors and others have provided encouragement and guidance. People in this college believe in you. They invest personal time in you.  Since my first day at the college, I knew that studying was not going to be easy but definitely worth it. Succeeding at CCA does take time, dedication, passion, empowerment, vision and a love of what you do. Sacrifices have to be made, but the recompenses will be fulfilling. I have many plans in mind, I am eager to know what the future holds and I want to be prepared and educated for whatever comes my way. I am capable of meeting high expectations, I am determined to succeed in life, and with power, confidence and passion I will lead myself on a path to greater opportunities.



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