A collection of 11 stories of University of Northern Colorado students who graduated during spring/summer commencement ceremonies May 9-10. Their experiences are sure to inspire.
Bachelor's Degree at Age 19
Graduating with a near-perfect grade point average with a bachelor's degree in Psychology, 19-year-old Alisha Wolfrum has already conducted research that she hopes will help elementary school students learn more easily.
"I collect data to determine whether giving high school students topic choices to write about increases their motivation and quality of their writing," Wolfrum explained. "I love studying people and their behavior."
Helping Others in Her Shoes
Rozana Beluts immigrated to the United States from Eritrea, a small African country that borders Ethiopia, when she was only 10 years old. Her father had been separated from her and her family for six years while he prepared a new life for them in Colorado.
Her experience influenced her decision to volunteer at the Global Refugee Center. There, she helped other African newcomers adjust to life in Greeley by teaching them English and helping with translation, along with assisting with the annual health fair.
'I Wanted to Silence My Critics'
Casey Fogel sustained a brain injury when he fell as a toddler. As a result, countless teachers and doctors warned him that his motor skills were irreparably damaged and he would be lucky if he even graduated high school.
Fogel put aside those doubts as he walked across the stage to receive his bachelor's degree in Psychology and Communication Studies. On top of that, he's been accepted into UNC's graduate program for Human Communication.
"I used the negativity from the experts to fuel my fire," Fogel said. "I wanted to silence my critics. I wanted to prove them wrong. So I studied even harder to make my dreams come true."
Changing Course After Mother's Death
Kimberlee Ward ditched school and didn't want to go back in the seventh grade following the death of her mother, who had been battling a drug addiction and had previously given Ward up to relatives to raise.
"Everything felt so bleak," Ward recalled. Ward realized that she was on the wrong path.
With hard work, she made it to college and now has an impressive resume to show for it: the McNair scholar is the first person in her family to graduate college.
From Scavenger to Scholar
The same day that Ana Caudillo became a U.S. resident, she became a UNC Bear. Originally from Juarez, Mexico, Caudillo's family came to Greeley in 2003 searching for a better life.
During her childhood, Caudillo recounted that she and her family scavenged behind UNC's dorms in search of aluminum cans to sell for money.
While in high school, she took college-level math courses at UNC and it made her even more resolute to pursue her dreams of college.
Teaching Music in Kenya
After volunteering for two weeks during summer 2012 at an elementary school founded by Baptist missionaries in the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, Music Education major Jenni Gooch promised herself she'd return for a longer stay the next summer with enough recorders and rhythm sticks to start a music program for the school's 550 students.
Since the promise included personally raising the several hundred dollars needed to purchase the recorders and sticks and get them to Africa, she organized fundraising competitions among music programs in Denver-area schools and solicited the help of friends and family.
Redefining Herself through Study Abroad
Bethany Blackburn spent 22 months abroad during her undergraduate studies, studying in such places as Germany, France and Ireland - including at the University of Cologne in Germany.
Because of her consistent blogging while abroad, offering tips on how to save money or find the right apartment while living in another country, the Monfort College of Business awarded her the All-Star Scholarship.
Adam LeWinter was one busy guy the past two years while he worked on his master's degree in Earth Sciences at UNC.
There were his classes and research, which involved multiple trips to Hawaii, where he and UNC Professor Steve Anderson used cutting-edge technology to study small changes in the Kilauea Volcano's crater and lava lake that could trigger explosive activity and increases in lava flow.
The project ultimately earned LeWinter a prestigious grant from the U.S. Geological Survey, a Graduate Dean's Citation for Outstanding Thesis and a Dean's Citation for Excellence, recognizing his 3.8 GPA and overall academic achievement.
Finding a Home
For Sociology major Seth Morones, the day he received his acceptance letter from UNC was the day he found a home.
After spending his high school years being shuffled from one foster home to another, he found himself sleeping at a group home for youth or on friends' couches. He realized that he had to take his fate into his own hands and he started applying to colleges.
Arriving at UNC in January 2010, Morones embraced university life, eventually qualifying for both the Honors and McNair Scholars programs, earning the title of Resident Assistant of the Year for 2013 and serving as assistant to the director for UNC's Center for Honors, Scholars and Leadership.
Persevering with a Purpose
Once Myra Hanson made the decision to get a degree from UNC, she didn't let anything stop her.
That decision came a few years ago. She was 50 and her career as a retail store manager had been derailed by a series of layoffs during the recession. She and her husband had separated, and she didn't have a place to live. Although a recent MRI revealed that her MS had stopped progressing, she still suffered from its effects.
Hard Work and Strong Support
Mandy Alvarez's path to graduating summa cum laude in nursing didn't follow a direct route. But the journey — and the people who've walked it with her — have made the destination that much sweeter.
About UNC's Spring/Summer 2014 Ceremonies
- No. of students graduating: 1,996
- No. of students earning bachelor's degrees: 1,580
- No. of students earning graduate degrees: 418 (320 master's, 72 doctorates, 26 certificate/specialists)
- Age range: Undergrad: 19-66; Grad: 22-65
- Average age: Undergrad: 25; Grad: 33
- Graduate's average GPA: Undergrad: 3.22; Grad: 3.79
- Average number of years to graduation (undergrad): 4 years / 11 terms
- Most popular majors (by degrees awarded): Undergrad: Interdisciplinary Studies-Elementary Education, Business Administration, Psychology, Criminal Justice, Sport and Exercise Science. Grad: Special Education, Educational Leadership, Music, Sport and Exercise Science, Nursing, Clinical Counseling.
- International Countries Represented (students earning degrees): 13 (China, India, Indonesia, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirate, United Kingdom)
- Countries of Exchange Students (at UNC, graduating from home countries): 15 (Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom)
- States Represented: 40 (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming)
- Colorado Counties Represented: 43 (Adams, Alamosa, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Chaffee, Custer, Delta, Denver, Douglas, Eagle, El Paso, Elbert, Fremont, Garfield, Gilpin, Grand, Gunnison, Jackson, Jefferson, Kiowa, Kit Carson, La Plata, Larimer, Las Animas, Lincoln, Logan, Mesa, Moffat, Montezuma, Montrose, Morgan, Otero, Park, Phillips, Pueblo, Routt, Sedgwick, Summit, Teller, Washington, Weld, Yuma)
Tentative as of April 18, 2014. Degrees yet to be conferred for spring/summer 2014.