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2014 Student Success Award Winners

2014 Student Success Award Winners

Vanessa Andrade, a student at Community College of Aurora in Colorado


Vanessa Andrade

College hasn’t been a given in my family. In fact, when I earned my GED after dropping out of high school in 10th grade, I was the first to earn a degree of any kind. But I consider myself ambitious and wasn’t satisfied, either for myself or as it related to setting an example as a single mother for my son, Romeo. I graduated from Everest College in Thornton in 2011 and worked jobs in medical offices and warehouses over the last several years. But, again, the go-getter in me wanted more. I started at CCA in Spring 2014 to pursue a career in nursing. Juggling the responsibilities of a family with my schoolwork hasn’t been easy. But the reward, I hope one day, is a well-paying job that will lift up my son and me and lend a financial hand to my father and siblings as they struggle with poverty. Pursuing a new path in life isn’t just about money, though. I enjoy school, studying and receiving good grades. And I want to show my son how to remain persistent in academics by staying in school myself. My future as a nurse will revolve around helping others. I also know that I couldn’t have ever gotten to this point without the support of my father, Severo, and the love I experience daily while spending time with my son.
Sam Berehanu, a college student in Colorado


Sam Berehanu

My educational experience began in St. Raguel church school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, before moving to the United States at age 19. I grew up in a close-knit family with my father, stepmother, brothers and sisters, and it was extremely difficult to leave them in order to pursue my academic career across the globe. But my father always encouraged me to do well in school and pursue my dreams. He still does. So hard choices aside, I knew it was something I needed to do. I went to Gateway H.S. my senior year, and it wasn’t always easy assimilating to American culture since it was so different than that of my home country. After applying to various colleges, I decided to attend Community College of Aurora because of the reasonable tuition and proximity to my place of residence. I tested into advanced ESL classes and learned so much from those courses. I am currently taking my prerequisites with the hopes of transferring into a four-year nursing program. It’s my fervent hope over the next five years that I not only graduate from nursing school, but also apply and attend medical school. I have always wanted to be a doctor or to work in the medical field. I want to help people who are in need and in pain. Nursing will give me the four-year degree that will allow me to apply for medical school.

Bobbie J. Bays, a student at Community College of Aurora in Colorado


Bobbie J. Bays

I have wanted to become a nurse for as long as I can remember. Honestly, for the longest time, I felt as if that dream was far out of reach. I came from a very poor family that didn’t value education. I was taken away from my parents at the age of 15 and placed into a situation that was not much better. Through the years, I have become the proud mother of five very beautiful and smart children. I used to own a residential cleaning service, but two years ago I was involved in a horrible car accident that put me into preterm labor with my youngest child, the same day my husband decided to leave us. Having no car, a new baby, and four other children to care for, I needed to do something. The injuries that I suffered left me unable to continue cleaning houses. It was through these circumstances that God opened my eyes, and I knew it was my time to reach my goals. By God’s grace and the help of the people at CCA I am seeing that my dream is within reach. I am so unbelievably grateful, not only for CCA, which has guided me to this point, but for my teacher Jeff Paganini, who took notice and thoughtfully nominated me for this award. Both CCA and Mr. Paganini will always hold a special place in my story.

Jarell N. Brooks, college student in Denver, Colorado


Jarell N. Brooks

In the summer of 2012, I was just another high school graduate about to head into the next phase of my life. I was leaving Overland High School and preparing to enroll at the University of Arizona. Little did I know that my life was about to completely turn around. I was in Century 16  the night of the Aurora theater shootings and injured during the harried escape. The experience taught me about the limited the time I have on Earth, and how every decision I make reflects what happens in the future. It was hard initially to continue with business as usual. The event changed a lot in my life. I wasn’t even sure at first if school was a viable option. But as part of the application process in high school, I had been accepted to CCA, and just a few months after the shootings, I was taking online classes at the college. Now, just weeks removed from graduating and on the verge of going to Metropolitan State University of Denver to pursue my bachelor’s degree, I’m living as normal a life as possible. CCA has provided a good support system, for sure, over the last couple of years. My area of emphasis in my studies has changed along with my mindset. I would like to thank Bradley Jacobsen and Libby Klingsmith in the Student Success Center for steering me in the right direction and guiding me on the classes to take as I pursue a Marketing degree.  When I started going to CCA, my life started to get back on track. I now feel everything is headed in the right direction.
Amanda Buchanan, college student at the Community College of Aurora in Colorado


Amanda Buchanan

I attended college for the last time in 1994 but never finished and often had a nagging sense of wanting to somehow redeem myself. Since then, I have taken time at various points to raise my children. I also have had several jobs. But in Fall 2013, I decided that if I was going to get ahead in the workforce, I needed an education to survive. I am currently completing my third semester at CCA, majoring in Nursing. When I was younger, that is what I wanted to do. I guess it always stuck with me that if I ever got serious about going back to school, that is what I would become. I plan to transfer to Metropolitan State University of Denver or Regis University to continue my education after obtaining my associate degree at CCA. I picture myself one day possibly working with people who battle addiction. I have wanted to do this for so long and now I am getting a chance to do it. It is a long road ahead, but it will all be worth it when that time arrives. I would like to thank my family – Steve, Geoffrey, Ty, Tad, and Savannah – for understanding how important the decision to go back to school is to me, and my English instructor, Ms. Davenport, for nominating me for this award.

Monica Chairez, college student at Community College of Aurora


Monica Chairez

I was 17-year-old high school student at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College in Denver when I got married and had a daughter, Danarely. My last semester was memorable for the fact I was bedridden and unable to attend classes. I turned in my assignments every week and earned my degree. That in itself was a personal triumph, since no one in my family had ever graduated high school, much less attended college. I took two years to be a mom, joined the workforce in a retirement home and then began serving as a program leader at Westerly Creek Elementary in Denver. All along, I planned on returning to school and did so when I enrolled at CCA in Fall 2013. Because I’m a young mother, and also due to my work schedule, most of my courses are online. I don’t know how I manage to do it with work and family obligations, but I have. I’ve taken classes in Math, Consumer Behavior, Composition and Reading, and Early Childhood Development. It’s made me see that I can do more than I tell myself and that anything’s possible if I put my head into it. I couldn’t have juggled it all, though, without the support of my husband, Omar; my parents, Jorge and Bertha; and the rest of my family and friends. I plan on obtaining an associate degree and transferring to a four-year school to pursue a future in accounting. I really think I’ll be able to become who I want to be.
Georgina Cendejas, CCA college student in Denver, Colorado


Georgina Cendejas

Throughout my life I have learned many things. I have learned from my own mistakes and how to be a better person every day. I learned that only hard work and dedication lead to success. But mostly, I learned that education is the greatest wealth a human being could ever have. My mother taught me that. She was the only one in her family to obtain a college education, and eventually earned a master’s degree and became an elementary school district director. She told my sister, brother and I repeatedly that school was the most important thing we could do with our lives; that education would change our lives completely. Her favorite phrase was quoting Nelson Mandela, that, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” It didn’t mean as much to me when I was younger. It resonates now. I waited tables for a while. But my mentality is now to heed my mother’s words. I entered CCA last fall at age 29, intent on succeeding in Criminal Justice. My plan is to transfer to the University of Denver, obtain a bachelor’s in Forensic Psychology, and eventually work in a correctional rehabilitation facility or a juvenile jail. Hopefully, my messages can reverberate with them as much as my mother’s did with me.

Tiffany Christian, CCA college student in Denver


Tiffany Christian

I was a homeless runaway by the age of 13 and on my way towards dropping out of school. Alcohol, drugs and verbal abuse didn’t produce an environment conducive to a healthy childhood. Group homes, foster care and juvenile facilities became my teenage years, which paved the way for an adult life filled with a repeating cycle of instability, alcohol and anger. In 2010, I was 30 years old with a daughter on the cusp of her teenage years. Something stirring inside warned me that I needed to change. With all my heart, I wanted better for her. What continued to push me forward was an overwhelming thirst to see what the better side of life could look like if I kept going down the right path. I left my old lifestyle, committed to re-creating myself and began seeing positive changes. Throughout this process, I desired to complete my education, as I would be the first in my family to do so. The past two years at CCA, plus a year in the TRiO program, created a strong interest in working in the field of sociology. I know my personal background and passions will be a good foundation to becoming a sociologist. My plan over the next five years includes graduating from CCA, transferring to a four-year university and completing my BA in Social Justice. We have the power to change our environment – and, for me, it began with my education.

Adriana Cordova, CCA college student in Denver, CO


Adriana Cordova

Growing up without a father can be hard and devastating. But with a strong mother like mine, I knew I could be successful. Growing up, I remember seeing my mother struggle with four children and having to work crazy hours just to make ends meet. We moved to Colorado in 2002. It was challenging for me when I first attended school in the United States because of the language barrier, but I didn’t let that push me behind. I just knew that I had to work harder than most of the people around me to make my mother proud. I graduated from Aurora Central High School in 2012 in the top 10 percent with many honors. I have been here at CCA for a year now and love it. All of the staff want to see you succeed and are willing to work with you to make your goals come to fruition. I want to thank my mother and family for being so supportive throughout all of my education. I also want to thank Stacy Brown for nominating me for this award. It always takes that special person to see something good in ourselves that we never see.
Alexis F. Deukam, student at CCA in Denver, Colorado


Alexis F. Deukam

I grew up in Douala, Cameroon, and lived there with my grandfather, Moise, until I won a visa lottery to come to America on my 23rd birthday. Shortly after my arrival, I joined the Air Force and went through basic training for 3½ months. I’m now helping provide needed infrastructure in the Force Support Squadron and love serving in the military. But I also knew that in order to achieve my goal of becoming an electrical engineer I would have to return to school. My supervisor in the Air Force, Master Sgt. Metcalf, told me about the TRiO program at CCA, and I enrolled at the college in Spring 2013, initially to improve my language skills in the ESL program. Now, I am taking college-level courses in subjects like Calculus and Chemistry and making strong progress towards my goals, which I hope will include a future transfer to either the University of Colorado or Colorado School of Mines. The advice and guidance I’ve received from my advisor, Nnena, has been pivotal in my development, and I wouldn’t have made it this far without the support that she has provided. My hope is that not only will I one day have the required degree and skills to repair airplanes, but have the necessary training to go back to Cameroon and help them install alternative energy sources, given the substantial costs of electricity there. I would like to thank my Colorado sponsors, Hermine and Julien, for giving me the opportunity and support necessary to come this far.
Sarah Daniels, student at CCA in Denver


Sarah Daniels

I began taking classes at CCA my sophomore year at Aurora West Preparatory Academy, and despite a heavy workload and some personal travails, I tried diligently to earn both an associate degree and high school diploma. The idea of having a dual graduation appealed to me, even though I sometimes have a love-hate relationship with studying. My fellow high school students may not fully realize the possibilities that exist for them academically. I wanted to serve as an example to them and hopefully prod them to push their own limits to succeed. It hasn’t been easy for me to get to this point. My parents divorced at the beginning of my junior year, which was one of the most taxing times in my educational journey. The support of my older brother, Aaron, who let me live with him while he attended college, was pivotal. Having people at CCA that I knew eased the transition, and the faculty, advisors and staff at the college have made it a comfortable environment to learn and grow. I am currently applying to four-year colleges. Brown, the University of Pennsylvania and University of Chicago are some of my top choices as I pursue studies in International Relations. I am tremendously excited to be selected as one of 17 students who will go to the National Model UN Conference in New York this spring. It’s already been an interesting ride. I can’t wait to see the future twists and turns in my life’s journey.
Huda Dhaif, student at CCA in Denver, CO


Huda Dhaif

I moved to the United States in 2002 from Iraq, having already finished high school and five years studying religion at Almurtdha University in Damascus, Syria. I didn’t speak English very well and desired to continue my schooling. The timing wasn’t right because of the time commitments afforded to my growing family – after the birth of my three children, Hasan, Hussain and Ahmed. I taught children at an Islamic Center on Saturdays, while hoping one day to return to school to fulfill my dream of teaching in public schools and, after that, becoming a principal. Trying to turn that dream into a reality began when I started to study at CCA in 2011. I was an ESL student at first, which helped my English-language skills and prepped me for college-level classes. I chose to study Elementary Education. My husband, Ali, was the first person who encouraged me to study, but that was something about which I was already passionate. Two semesters in the classroom at CCA and reassurance from faculty such as Susan Achziger have convinced me that I can continue on my path to become something important in the community and make my family proud. I know the road will be long, interrupted this fall by my pregnancy with my fourth child. But I will return to CCA in the spring and continue following my heart until my dream becomes reality.
Steven Edo, student attending college in Denver


Steven Edo

War filled my early childhood, and when my father was killed in a dispute between rival tribes in my home country of Rwanda, I thought my life was ending. I was only 4 when a tourist found me sleeping on my father’s lifeless body. But this beautiful woman saved me, even while my four siblings and my mother were whisked to a refugee camp without me. Betty adopted me and took me to Denmark. Six years later, my family began searching for me, found me in Denmark and a new chapter of my life began at age 10. I returned to Rwanda thinking I had finished my education after graduating high school. But when I asked my birth mother, Julienne, what I should do next, she said,  “By the grace of God you will continue your studies.” She had no money to send me to school, but I was fortunate to be relocated to the U.S. with my family. I attended Hinkley High School in Aurora and my educational journey began anew. I’m currently studying Business at CCA, since my passion is to improve the lives of others by creating jobs so that they can support their families. I want to be a success, so I can support my own family, too, and help them forget its past. My plan in the next five to 10 years is to own a company, adopt orphans and help widows who have nowhere to look for help. I want to thank both of my moms and Shari Holder, who’s helped me with her encouragement and knowledge.
Marcia Hawes, student attending college in Denver, CO


Marcia Hawes

I’m a 63-year-old grandmother who still bears the scars of more than 30 years in corporate America. Those negative experiences made me lose sight of my true self. Coming to CCA afforded me the opportunity to not only to get my feet wet again in a classroom, but also to venture to discover what makes me happy. I’ve taken an eclectic mix of classes at CCA: Jewelry, Ceramics, advanced English and six semesters of Spanish. This is just another chapter in my life, one I’m enjoying immensely. I retired in 1999. I was working on my house and thinking of entering culinary arts school when life intervened and required that I rejoin the rat race. I worked for a pharmaceutical company, tried to start my own business in real estate, and serviced mortgage loans. But once again, I was unfulfilled. My search to do something I want rather than something I’m forced to do continued, and that was the driving force behind my enrolling at CCA. Since then, my husband Ernest and I adopted my 8- and 15-year old grandchildren. I know I have to be strong and available for Maurice and Vontel. But I am also adamant that my journey of self-examination will continue. My current goal is to become a writer and soon I will take Creative Writing. Still, if the vagaries of life have taught me anything, the unexpected is sure to come. Maybe I’ll get to that culinary arts school someday, after all.

Chauvonne Foston, student attending college in Denver, Colorado


Chauvonne Foston

I only attended high school for two months due to life’s circumstances. I left my mom’s house at age 13, and my life was careening down an aimless path. I did manage to earn my GED on my 18th birthday, with my fingers crossed that I’d pass. Three days later, with responsibilities piling up and without a job, I joined the Army. I was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010 and went through a great deal of mental duress and physical injury. I returned stateside about a year later and was placed in a Wounded Warrior Transition Unit, where a team of doctors assessed my fitness for duty for a year and half. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD, I retired from active duty in Nov. 2012. It was time to redirect my life, and returning to school was my chosen path. I have been able to find success at CCA with the help of Steven Zeeh from Accessibility Services, Judy Steele in Military and Veterans Services, and my mother, Shara. I’m currently taking nursing prerequisites with the hopes of becoming a pharmacist in the future. I’ve already been accepted to the University of Denver but may pursue my four-year degree at the University of Colorado, should I get accepted into the Integrated Nursing Pathway program. Returning to school has been fulfilling. I’m involved and all-in when it comes to making a better tomorrow for myself and not just here to earn a piece of paper.
Shelley Marie Hummel,  student attending college in Colorado


Shelley Marie Hummel

I graduated high school in 1991 with a two-week-old baby boy and a 4.0 grade point average. Life wasn’t just about me anymore. I thought: when I am 40, I can do whatever I want. I got married, had two more children and was blessed with four stepchildren. I turned 40 and my husband asked what I wanted as a career in the future. I honestly hadn’t even thought about it. One day, I opened my favorite magazine and found an ad for a midwifery program. I then found that Colorado had a home-birth midwife certification. I jumped right in. After attending an online midwifery program for a year, I realized this was not the path for me. I knew I really needed to go the full route and become a Nurse Midwife and Doctor of Nurse Practice. CCA classes have helped me to bridge the gaps in Human Biology, Anatomy and Physiology. I have somehow maintained a 4.0 grade-point average since I started college. I know I will feel a lot more confident, working as a healthcare professional, with all the educational bases covered, and I am excited to become an educated pillar in my community.

John Itoe, college student at the Community College of Aurora in Colorado


John Itoe

My late father, William, once told me, “Education is the key to success, a life-changing tool and, most importantly, the driving force behind every successful person.” I am trying my best to live up to that standard. I was born in Cameroon and moved to the U.S. in 2010. Two years later, I enrolled at CCA after having been out of the classroom since 2000 in my hometown of Limbe. I love everything about CCA and my new educational experience. I am a part of the fifth cohort in the Integrated Nursing Pathway, and my goal is to complete my prerequisites by the spring of 2015. My life is a busy and fulfilling one. I work part time as a certified nursing aid at Cherry Creek Nursing Center to support my wife, who is pregnant with our first child. At the college, I worked in the Financial Aid Office for two semesters, while also serving as a Student Ambassador and mentor in the International Student Association. That afforded me the opportunity to participate in panel discussions, give campus tours, conduct new student orientations and more. My biggest educational goal is to become a nurse. I know I have a long way before reaching my goal, but will get there. And I know the education I will receive along the way will be the life-changing tool about which my father once spoke. I would like to thank everyone at CCA, particularly the staff in Financial Aid and the Student Success Center, for providing me with encouragement during my journey.
Johnathan Leopold, student attending college in Colorado


Johnathan Leopold

The journey through schooling has been a challenging, rewarding and life-changing experience. But getting to college didn’t always occur exactly as I’d planned. My childhood goal was to play college football, but life took me on another route. I didn’t do well in high school, academically or in sports. I became a single father by the age of 21, which has been a blessing. But all of these events have inspired me to graduate and achieve a bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training. I’ve set some educational goals I plan on achieving first. I want to become bilingual in Spanish. I want to earn a GPA over 3.0. And I want to meet interesting, diverse, unique people. Attaining all three goals would complete my college experience and make the path to graduation more magnificent. I know it will happen because of the people who influence and support me, no matter what. My mom has shown me the love that makes me want to help people. My sister has been there for me in some of my lowest moments and been my rock. Her wonderful children, my three brothers and cousins, all have kept me entertained and allowed me to get a mental break from the stressful journey called college. My 3-year-old daughter keeps me active, and the opportunity to pass on the things I’ve learned in school inspires me every day. These people are important factors in every aspect of my life. And I wouldn’t be here today without them.
Mojahida Khazi, student attending college in Denver


Mojahida Khazi

Education has always been important to me. By attending college and giving myself an education, I am handing myself the keys to success in life. Education has helped me develop mentally and morally. Education will help me financially by getting a good job and becoming who I want to be. Most importantly, education has helped me become a critical thinker. A critical thinker uses logic when deciding on what to do and what to believe. Education can also lead one to the right direction in life. When I took “Introduction to Philosophy” with Sarah Geis, I learned what I had not known about myself, which was that I love philosophy. That realization led me to take an ethics class, which also has become an important part of my daily life. We all have to make ethical decisions every day, and the course has helped me define the nature of an ethical act. Philosophy now consumes my studies, whether it’s taking classes with Thomas Drury or David Spiegel. Now, my goal is to get an Associate of Science degree and a Certificate of Achievement in Philosophy. I then will continue my education with the hopes of studying Pharmacy or something else related to the medical profession. Thanks to my experiences at CCA, philosophy will remain front and center as I continue my academic studies, as I plan to pair it as a future minor to the major I ultimately choose.

Stephanie Aker Lopez, student attending college in Denver, CO


Stephanie Aker Lopez

I enrolled at Community College of Denver in 2010 without a clear plan. I wanted to be a nurse, but hadn’t applied to any programs when I discovered CCA’s Integrated Nursing Pathway. That became a goal as I stayed at CCD to earn my prerequisites. In actuality, I applied twice to the INP but didn’t get accepted, in large part because of academic issues from years earlier. But I wanted to be part of the INP so badly and was undeterred by the obstacles. Three straight semesters of straight A’s finally opened the door for me. I started at CCA in Fall 2014 and while it’s been rigorous, I am filled with pride at the work I’m doing and will continue to do. To be honest, the work is kicking my butt. I’m just as proud to say I’m kicking it right back. Before this, there had been some huge accomplishments in my life. I am the mother of four grown children, and I recently remarried my new husband, Rich, who shares my compassionate side. I’ve spent a significant amount of time mentoring and speaking at women’s domestic violence transitional housing, where I was once a resident. I’ve faced significant tragedy in my life and I want to meet people when they are at their most desperate. The plan is to graduate and travel to Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in the world. My life experience hopefully can help improve the lives of others and allow them to obtain the happiness that I now enjoy.
Allen Mahaffey, student attending college in Denver, Colorado


Allen Mahaffey

It had been nearly two decades between my days at Smoky Hill High School and when I decided to enroll at CCA. My path in life took me into the trades of Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and Sheet Metal installation and never really veered. I currently work as a service mechanic with Denver Parks and Recreation. It’s a good career, one with upward mobility, and I thought that being a blue-collar mechanic was all I’d be doing. But I’ve always had a passion for art, ever since I was a child when I spent most of my spare time building or drawing. My wife, Rebecca, graduated from CCA last year and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. It served as an inspiration for me to return to the classroom. Initially, because of my experience in construction, I considered studying engineering. But I kept coming back to my passion for art and realized I wanted and needed to express myself in that fashion. Art has always relaxed me and kept me mentally active. At CCA, everyone has been supportive as I’ve followed my passion. They’ve fostered a caring environment and truly have cared about the direction not only I’ve chosen, but also the paths of my classmates. I hope the choice I’ve made will prompt my three boys – Malachy, Cadence and Brennan – to follow their true passions one day. I’m enjoying the ride, and if I’m an inspiration for them, all the better.

Tásháoñ Mintaya Martinez, a college student in Colorado


Tásháoñ Mintaya Martinez

When I was little I dreamed of being the perfect student, getting a scholarship and moving on to a university. In actuality, that was hard to accomplish. Throughout school, events occurred that had the potential to make me fail. But I’ve embraced three influential words that allowed me to continue on and set an example for many like me: communication, observation and understanding. In 2009, I managed to obtain a certification in Medical Prep from Pickens Technical College. That experience made me value myself more as a student. There were some that previously tried to get me to doubt my abilities. I was an English honor student in high school and felt that all horizons were open, until a teacher told me I would never make it. I turned that negativity into a positive and graduated in 2010 from Gateway High School. I had given up on school to take care of my family until I came to a realization that education was the path towards truly fulfilling my dreams. It was at that time that I made my decision to attend CCA, prompted by friends who told me that it was an amazing school. At CCA, the support and love from my family and friends and encouragement of a couple teachers made me feel invincible, comfortable, understood, helped, and complete. I may have not been the perfect student, but always give my best, and what I have learned and grown to appreciate is that I am smart and beautiful, and that it’s OK to fail forward.
Parastoo Malakoutidana, a college student at the Community College of Aurora in colorado


Parastoo Malakoutidana

I grew up in Iran and after high school, I had hoped to become a computer programmer. Life circumstances intervened and I instead became a graphic designer in Teheran for 14 years. I was self-taught. I also didn’t have a degree, which proved to be an obstacle when I came to the United States three years ago seeking a job. As I plotted my course for the future, and after searching futilely for work at advertising agencies and print shops, I began to move in another direction. I wanted a job that I enjoy. Computers and math are strengths, and I envision a stronger future by shifting my career focus to IT management. That profession, I believe, is a means to earn respect, increase financial freedom and gain independence. After 24 years away from the classroom, it’s been an amazing experience being a student again. I never attended college previously, but I enjoy learning, and have done that at CCA. I hope to one day not only complete my associate and bachelor’s degrees, but earn my master’s, as well. I am confident that I am on the right path at this time. Yet, my dream to be successful would be impossible without God’s favor, the support of my husband, John, and my amazing instructors.
Teddy Mekuria, a college student at the Community College of Aurora in Colorado


Teddy Mekuria

I graduated from high school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1987 before working in several government offices. I did human resource management, property management, and served as a personnel officer. I made my way to the United States in February 2012 with my wife, Zinashwork, and daughter, Etsubdink, with the thought that I would need to return to school and change my career focus. I settled in Colorado last summer. Friends I knew attended CCA and led me to enroll here. They spoke highly of the instructors and staff, facilities and curriculum, and it was convenient to my place of residence. I knew upon my entry to the college that I wanted to pursue a career in nursing and was excited to learn about the Integrated Nursing Pathway and its partnership with University of Colorado. Nursing means a great deal to me personally. My father died four years ago of colon cancer, and the care that he received from his nurses prompted my future career choice. I am passionate about helping people in the health sector and one day hope to become a nurse anesthetist. I find the science of anesthesia fascinating, so I’m focused on working hard to attain my goal. I’m confident my dream is attainable thanks to the unwavering support of my family. I also owe special thanks to many of my CCA instructors for their guidance, especially Daniel Schwiessing, Meredith Folley and Ruby Eichenour.

Eh K ‘ lu Paw, a college student at the Community College of Aurora in in Colorado


Eh K ‘ lu Paw

The Karen people are historically from Burma, and I identify myself as Karen. But I was actually born in a refugee camp in Thailand due to the political conflict between my people and the Burmese government. My family and I have been in the U.S. for six years. We moved halfway across the globe because we believe that God has a plan for us. My family always encouraged me to continue my education so that someday I might be leader of the Karen people. I came to CCA when I graduated from high school because I wanted to improve my education. My immediate goal is studying music before becoming a missionary so that I can help my people. The Karen are one of the biggest groups that lives in Burma. Even though we have large, imposing armies, we are not united because some of our leaders are Christian and some are Buddhist. This disagreement between religions has brought substantial damage to our community. Our people need someone who they can look up to, someone who can bring peace back to us. I truly hope that our religious disagreement will end someday. In short, I am attending college to get an excellent education. Perhaps my journey as a missionary helping the people of Thailand and Burma will be just one of life’s steps that will put me on the path to achieve my family’s dreams for me, as well as a stepping stone towards my own visions of the future.
Ellen Sandlian, a college student at the Community College of Aurora  in Colorado


Ellen Sandlian

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been driven by a love of learning and a desire for success. But for much of my life I made no effort to define that success. Success to me was whatever my teachers and society told me it was. It was a four-year university. It was a career. It was a house. It was 9 to 5. All through my life, I poured energy into whatever I was told I was good at, and very rarely anything that I just wanted to do. This internal pressure took its toll, and I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety as soon as I entered high school. I struggled with these things for many years and they still affect me, but I held the attitude that my mental health was no excuse. After coming home from an out-of-state university after only a few months, I was still desperate to continue my education but had no idea what I wanted to do. I came to CCA disheartened and confused, but with the realization that I didn’t have to know what I would be doing 10 years down the road. To this day, I keep an open mind, but I’ve decided that my love of learning and desire for challenge should play a role in my life. I’m now pursuing a career in teaching. I still worry sometimes, but I believe the support I receive from my wonderful family and from CCA can give me the world and then some.
J D Powell, a college student at the Community College of Aurora in Colorado


J D Powell

I was born and raised in Arizona. At age 13, I began moving around due to my father’s job. I’ve lived in Nevada and Texas, before  recently settling in Colorado. But it wasn’t until I began my studies at the Colorado Film School that I found where I truly belong.  I planned to become a novelist. That didn’t pan out as intended. Many of my friends who had read my work felt that I should add a visual component to my storytelling skills. An article I read in the “Hollywood Reporter” naming CFS as one of the nation’s top-25 film schools put me on the path to CCA, where I’ve spent the last three semesters. One of my proudest accomplishments was winning Best Production 1 for my short film, “The Nothing Box” in the Spring 2014 Student Show. The win was a major affirmation of what numerous people had been telling me about having the talent to succeed in the film industry. The film itself was a study in perseverance. I was forced to revise the concept and script two days before beginning editing due to unexpected circumstances. I couldn’t have made that film without my lead actor, Brandon Apel, and a skeleton crew. I’ve learned so much already at CFS and owe many thanks to the folks there, including Nevelyn Black, Lauren Chavez, Jennifer Scott, and Frederic Lahey. The support of my parents, Shirley and Stephen, has been pivotal too, and will continue to be as I pursue a future in the movie industry.
Maria Scordato-Landis, a college student in Colorado


Maria Scordato-Landis

I worked in corporate America for 35 years after graduating from Illinois Benedictine College. I moved around to different companies and held numerous positions: administrative manager, product manager, corporate accounts manager. But when I moved to Colorado in 2001, I was laid off, and while in my 40s, opted to make a change. I was becoming increasingly passionate about health and wellness, so I decided to become a personal trainer. I later worked for a supplement company and for a chiropractic office, spent two years at Trinity College and became a Naturopath. Yet, once again, life intervened and I reassessed the direction my life was taking. I began focusing on kids because I didn’t have any and I wanted to give back. I worked as a volunteer at preschools and as a full-time employee at the Jewish Community Center. The thought crossed my mind around that time that I could merge both of my passions: health and wellness – including the melding of Eastern and Western medicine – and children. I enrolled at CCA and began studying Early Childhood Education before transferring to Red Rocks Community College this past fall to complete my academic goal of becoming a Pediatric Medical Assistant. I am now a Certified Nutrition Counselor, as well as a Naturopath. But more importantly, I’m enjoying the beauty of Colorado with my husband and two cats, and excited about the future that lies ahead.

Mara Whitehead, a college student at the Community College of Aurora in Colorado


Mara Whitehead

I have always been passionate about filmmaking and am so grateful for the opportunity to continue pursuing it in an academic environment at the Colorado Film School and CCA. I am committed to my visions and look forward to the possibilities that my passion for filmmaking will bring. I am thankful to be able to continue building on my skills and preparing for a career in the film industry. During my time here, I have gained a vast knowledge in my field, including working on multiple projects, such as music videos for local musicians and A&E Digital Series documentaries. In addition, I was nominated for “Best Production 1” and  “Best Screenplay” in the 2013 Colorado Film School Student Show. I owe my current successes in film to the education I have received at the Colorado Film School. Thank you to my family, professors and friends for their continuous support.

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Asmait Ghebrehawariat

Seven years ago, I fled my home country of Eritrea in order to pursue my dreams. Back home, I had graduated from a technical school in auto mechanics, and then did my national service in the military before opting to flee. In my country, it’s the government’s decision whether one can continue his or her schooling after completing military service. I couldn’t accept the ‘no’ I received for an answer. So I secretly left Eritrea during a medical leave from prison, where I was held due to my religious beliefs. It was, and has been, difficult leaving my mother, sister and three brothers behind. I’m unsure whether we will see each other again. But I wanted to get a higher education and pursue my dreams. Just getting to the U.S. was hard. I spent 2½ years in a refugee camp in Uganda before coming to this country. I’ve only been at CCA for a few months, but it’s been wonderful. Going back to school after so many years, you forget the kind of focus it takes and the feeling you experience learning alongside so many people. Now that I’ve adjusted, I feel like I am heading in the right direction. My plan is to transfer to a four-year college and someday become a mechanical engineer, and perhaps, invent something for the world. When I get to speak to my family, we don’t speak of my new life. But I know that they would be proud of me. It’s been a difficult road, but one I’m glad I’ve embarked upon.

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Kerrie McCallum

It had been a decade since I attended college when I joined CCA in 2012, and much had occurred in my life leading to that point. I dropped out of the University of Northern Colorado shortly after attending high school after both of my parents died unexpectedly. It was just me in the world, and I felt I had to make sure I could take care of myself. But at my core was the desire to help others. That’s one key reason I turned to massage therapy when I left UNC. I specialized in prenatal and injury care and was able to witness first-hand the improvement those services facilitated. That was extremely rewarding. Still, I desired to give more of myself. Even though I already was volunteering locally, my goal became to join the Peace Corps, and it was with that idea that I re-entered the classroom, in order to gain the necessary knowledge to become a medical volunteer somewhere out in the world. At CCA, I was able to gain nearly all of my prerequisites to transfer to Adams State University in Alamosa to study nursing. Loading up on credit hours at CCA in Sociology also now means that I’m on track to hold a double major upon graduation. I couldn’t have gotten this far without the support of the faculty at CCA and its willingness to work with me, despite my heavy academic load and a full-time job. I always felt a sense of community there, and it will always be a part of my journey.



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