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Faces of 2019 Fall Graduates: Finding a Place at UNC

Faces of the 2019 graduating students who shared their stories

December 4, 2019

Meet eight of the over 930 undergraduate and graduate students who are graduating on Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14. Learn about their time at the University of Northern Colorado, their future plans and advice to incoming and current students.

Lu BenkeLu Benke

  • Hometown: Laporte, Colorado
  • Area of Study: Doctorate in Educational Psychology, emphasis on reading
  • Reflection on time at UNC: I've been a student at UNC from just after my 60th birthday in 2010 until after my recent 70th birthday. It has been more exciting and fulfilling than I could have imagined!

    Previously, I spent more than35 years as a children’s librarian in public libraries and loved my career, but I wondered how my work connected with the process of children learning to read. After I met with Dr. Jim Erekson in 2010 and discussed my options, I decided to go back to school at UNC for a master's to find the answers to my questions. That journey was so satisfying and energizing that I continued with the Ph.D. program in Educational Psychology, using an approach tailored to my goal of learning how public libraries contribute to the learning process of young readers.

    Along the way, I had the great fortune of working alongside fascinating and talented faculty members as a graduate assistant. I loved learning about the history and workings of UNC and felt like I was contributing to UNC by sharing my expertise from my library career. I also was surprised and pleased by how much I learned from my fellow students and the diverse learning community at UNC.
  • Overcoming barriers: As strange as it might sound, the highest hurdle for me was understanding and practicing what it meant to be an effective teacher. After all, I hadn’t really returned to school with the goal of becoming a teacher, but rather to become a researcher and writer. Even the title 'teacher' was hard for me to accept and apply to myself. Teaching as a graduate teaching assistant helped me with my goal of understanding how children learn to read.

    The first time I taught an undergraduate course, I agonized over every class, but my advisor worked with me to figure out what was causing my resistance. Ultimately, it was a matter of changing my earlier beliefs that teaching was narrowly defined as telling students what to think. With his and others’ help, I believe that teaching is about providing students with a myriad of individualized opportunities to learn and supporting them if they choose to learn. I went on — not only to teach another course, substitute teach, guest lecture and tutor — but to also enjoy it and feel like I was actually helping students.
  • Future plans: I want to give back to the field of children’s librarianship by sharing and exploring the insights I've garnered during my time at UNC. This means continuing to conduct research, write research articles, present at library conferences and workshops, write grants and train library staff. To that end, I've started my own consulting business, Linking Libraries and Literacies.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: I offer my advice to those who, like me, are senior enough to wonder if they are too old to return to school and obtain an advanced degree. While at UNC, never once did professors, staff or fellow students make me feel as if I were an anomaly with my gray hair and wrinkles and a lifetime of a career already under my belt.

    Not even during the hardest statistics courses did I second guess my decision to go for a Ph.D., not because I was so proficient — because I decidedly wasn’t — but because I felt supported by my fellow students and the instructors in my efforts. So, when is it too late to get a Ph.D.? Dead. Dead is too old. It is not too late. Go for it!

Kimberly LeongKimberly Leong

  • Hometown: Colorado Springs
  • Major: Human Services
  • Reflection on time at UNC: My time at UNC has been full of learning and growing. Throughout my time here, I felt supported continually. One of my most memorable experiences was during my sophomore year when I was diagnosed with three learning disabilities. This diagnosis was really hard to come to terms with, and it was challenging to understand what it meant for me as I continued to pursue my degree. It made me question where I find my worth and strengths.

    As I navigated those questions and the diagnoses, I never felt alone. My professors were so understanding and supported me in whatever ways they could. The individuals who work at the Disiability Resource Center cared for me well and fought on my behalf to make sure I had what I needed. The friends I had made while at college surrounded me with comfort and reminded me that I'm more than a diagnosis and that differences are not something to be mourned but celebrated.

    During the rest of my time in college, I learned to see my learning disabilities as a strength because it enables me to have empathy for others who are dealing with challenges in life and school. It also taught me that I'm able to do hard things! The community that I've been part of at UNC, and the growth I experienced during my time here, has shaped me into who I'm, and I'm so thankful for that!
  • Overcoming barriers: Being diagnosed with three learning disabilities during my sophomore year was overwhelming! It required me to think deeply about my identity and where I found my worth. Going on the journey of learning to accept and celebrate the fact that my brain functions differently than most taught me the power of vulnerability. Initially, I was embarrassed to tell professors and other students, so I kept it quiet. Before long, I learned that when I was willing to share my struggles with other students, it made them feel less alone in struggles that they were facing. Instead of isolating me, my diagnoses became something that connected me to others.
  • Future plans: I hope to work with individuals who are diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities in healthcare settings. I'm also considering going back to school someday for a degree in nursing and want to use my degrees to serve those who are often overlooked.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Be bold in making friends! The first friend I made in college happened after I started a conversation with her while we were waiting in line. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone, and be your real and honest self — it might feel scary, but it is worth it!

Ashley CampanellaAshley Campanella

  • Hometown: Thornton 
  • Area of study: Master's of Science in Chemistry 
  • Reflection on time at UNC: I transferred to UNC in spring of 2015 and earned a chemistry degree with Forensic Science emphasis and Criminal Justice minor in 2017. Afterwards, I started my master's in Chemistry at UNC where I continued my research with Professor of Chemistry Michael Mosher, Ph.D.

    My time at UNC was awesome because I made some incredible friendships, got to know Greeley through various part-time jobs (my favorite was at Patrick's Irish Pub), volunteered at North Colorado Medical Center and was involved with many clubs that included starting the Brewing Science Club. I traveled to four national meetings and made my department proud, and there is so much more during my time here. I'm sad to see this chapter end but am so incredibly lucky to have my support system that will continue cheering me on!
  • Overcoming barriers: The barriers I encountered while at UNC included struggling to balance my schedule, working full-time and teaching without prior teaching experience, finding resources during my undergraduate career, and having three chronic illnesses, which was difficult to get help for those, as well.
  • Future plans: I recently bought a house, so I'm looking forward to building a new life in Boulder and am looking for positions in the industrial chemistry area that will benefit others.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: My advice is to stop overthinking everything, enjoy the time you have and ask for help even if you think nothing will happen. Most professors and teacher assistants are understanding when there is communication between you and them. Also, take fun and interesting classes while you can!

Alexi CordreyAlexi Cordrey

  • Hometown: Brighton
  • Major: Psychology
  • Reflection on time at UNC: My time at UNC has flown by, and it has not been a traditional journey. I transferred to UNC for my second semester of my freshman year. After completing my freshman year, I completed half of my classes online after moving back to my hometown. I definitely prefer to take on-campus classes as I get more out of the class and am able to get to know my professors and peers better.
  • Overcoming barriers: During my first semester of sophomore year, I gave birth to my son, which is why I began doing classes online. Since then, I've juggled being a full-time student, working part-time as a nanny and experiencing motherhood.
  • On top of this, I have been interning at the Karlis Family Center during this fall semester. It has been a busy and challenging two years, but I'm graduating a semester early despite all of the obstacles.
  • Future plans: I am searching for a job and graduate program that fits my schedule. I'd love to continue my work with youth and have looked at youth services in the Denver-metro area.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: No matter what obstacles, do whatever you can to continue your education because it will be worth it in the end.

Grace HoagGrace Hoag

  • Hometown: Aurora
  • Major: Art and Design, emphasis in Painting; minor in Business Administration
  • Reflection on time at UNC: I got a lot out of my time at UNC especially within the School of Art and Design. I loved working for the galleries and further developing as a painter and artist. I've met many wonderful people and had the opportunity to build my professional network and also met my long-term partner during my freshman year in the dorms, and we're still going strong!
  • Overcoming barriers: Financing college was a big barrier for me, as it is for most people. UNC offered me the most scholarship money that allowed me to go to school. I've had difficulties with mental-health issues and found so much help with the Counseling Center.
  • Future plans: I'm looking into curatorial jobs across the U.S. that I'm qualified for, thanks to the experience I've gained from my galleries job. I'm also preparing to be a full-time working artist.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Being involved in what you're interested in will take you far! Art is a viable career choice; art matters. Also, go to class, participate frequently, do your readings and befriend your professors.

Ashley FolkmanAshley Folkman

  • Hometown: Centennial
  • Major: Elementary Education, emphasis in science
  • Reflection on time at UNC: Coming into UNC was incredible. I found myself in a small, close-knit community where I was ultimately free to find and express myself. I started off as a Biology major, with the goal of teaching secondary education. During my junior year, I realized this was no longer something I could achieve and switched to Elementary Education. The advisors, mentors, professors and students I met during my time at UNC got me through that tough transition. Although I was concerned about being a late graduate, this transition was smooth, and I've found my passion and professional fit. As graduation approaches, I've secured a job in a school district that I love and have never felt more prepared for the future. I'm so grateful for the experiences I've had at this university.
  • Overcoming barriers: A week before the start of the fall semester in 2017, my biological mom unexpectedly passed away. She left an incredible life and three daughters behind, and the experience was extremely hard for me, one from which I grew.

    I decided to take that first fall semester off from school to grieve and focus on repairing myself as a person. Going back to school that spring semester was scary for me, as I thought I would be behind after taking the leave. I can honestly say that without my mentors and friends at UNC, this transition would have been more challenging. I excelled with the help of the Elementary Education program and the dedicated professors I worked with.
  • Future plans: While completing my student teaching this semester in the same district that I attended K-12, I've taken a para-educator position for the second semester with that same district. I'm interviewing for full-time teaching positions for fall of 2020, and I'm excited for the future.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Take advantage of the community building opportunities that UNC has to offer. Join a club, become part of greek life and participate in university events, which is how I met some of my best friends!

Jennifer CanfieldJennifer Canfield

  • Hometown: Cherry Hill, New Jersey
  • Area of Study: Master's in Dance Education
  • Reflection on time at UNC: My time at UNC was great! I wanted to pursue a master's degree in Dance Education so I could apply for my New Jersey Teacher of Dance endorsement. I needed a flexible program because I'm employed as a full-time public school teacher.

    Finding this program at UNC was the perfect fit because it was designed for working teachers. The hybrid program of online and on-campus studies was a great balance, and I loved the summer on-campus semesters because I experienced the campus and met other amazing women in my program cohort.
  • Future plans: My future plan involves applying for my New Jersey Teacher of Dance Endorsement.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Go after your goals; you can do it!

Jenipher CalkinJenipher Calkin

  • Hometown: Fort Collins
  • Area of Study: Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling
  • Reflection on time at UNC: I started in the summer of 2017 and was excited, scared and ready to pursue my dreams.
  • Overcoming Barriers: Leaving a successful career, overcoming several hospitalizations related to ongoing health issues, losing my father and surviving relationship abuse.
  • Future plans: I'm starting a new career as a school counselor as well as counseling kids in private practice.
  • Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: You can do it even when there are obstacles, if it is your dream and you want it. Your Bear family will be there for you!


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