Faces of 2021 Graduates: Adapting to a New, Virtual Society
April 22, 2021
University of Northern Colorado students continued to adapt to an ever-changing world where the COVID-19 pandemic continued to sink its teeth into all areas of life including higher education. Here, seven of the around 1,900 undergraduate and graduate students who are graduating this spring and summer share their stories.
- Hometown: Kathmandu, Nepal
- Area of Study: Business Administration: Marketing
- Reflection on time at UNC: Knowledge is great, but applied knowledge is better. At UNC, the things I learned
in my business classes helped me market myself better, which has opened so many doors.
Apart from my personal growth, UNC has proved to me on many occasions that being a
servant to other people will yield higher satisfaction in life and career. As a freshman,
everything was done for the benefit of myself; however, as time went on, my focus
slowly shifted to how many other people that I can help succeed. It’s been an amazing
time and a great learning experience.
- Overcoming barriers: As a minority at UNC, I was definitely trying to get by, and, sometimes, it would
hurt me in situations where I could have done more. I didn’t want to stand out because
I was afraid I’d be brushed off. That being said, the few times I did speak up and
try to join activities, I was welcomed in, which was a very nice feeling. I wish I
had tried more from the start instead of finding out later on how inclusive this university
- Future plans: I’m ready to get life going, but I want to be very calculated with what I do. I have
an idea of what I want but as life has shown me, it won’t always go as planned. I’m
very adamant about certain things, like living below my means and saving and investing.
My goal is to retire at a decent age so I can give back and really enjoy life.
- Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Follow the four-year plan! It’ll save you from much headache, trust me. I went all over the place; I even changed my major a few times (and that’s ok). I found something I enjoyed, and class then felt more like a playground than it did a tedious job. Also, give your professors good feedback because if you want change, they won’t know unless you tell them.
- Hometown: Lafayette, Colorado
- Area of Study: Pre-med Biology; minor in Chemistry
- Reflection on time at UNC: I am so glad I chose UNC as my college. I have learned far beyond what I could imagine
for myself and have grown so much since entering as a freshman. Every single professor
I had the honor of learning from had so much passion for their job and field and the
best intentions for their students. No matter the problem, they were always willing
to help and make sure you succeeded. I am grateful for meeting so many great people
and proud to be graduating top of my class as a summa cum laude.
- Overcoming barriers: The summer before my sophomore year, my brother, Aaron Updike, a Chemistry major
at UNC, and I discovered that our mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.
Despite her intensive chemo, she always motivated us through our toughest classes,
praised and bragged about our hard work.
A year later, her chemo had stopped working, and in October of 2019, she was admitted to at-home hospice and passed away on November 7. This was the hardest time of my life ... so hard I thought that dropping out was my only option, but she kept staying positive for us while she was in hospice and told us that she did not want this getting in the way of our hard work in school and our futures and that she would watch us walk across the stage no matter what.
This was the only thing that motivated us to keep pushing through the semester. We commuted an hour to be by her side and still go to class. I cried in between classes and during every break I could possibly get from my 18 credit hours. I studied for exams while next to my mom's side watching over her. Both my professors and I were in total shock with how I was still getting As in all my classes, including my cancer biology course, which pried my broken heart open everyday by reminding me of her.
It was all for her, and I would do it all over again if I had to. COVID-19 had nothing on us the next semester after going through the previous one. Now, she gets to watch both my brother and I walk the stage this May from the heavens.
- Future plans: I plan to go to Colorado State University in fall of 2021 to get my master's in Assisted
Reproductive Technologies where I plan to become an embryologist to help build families.
- Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: My trick to succeed in every class: Buy a planner, and write down every assignment due that whole semester during the first week of class. Make sure you attempt every assignment and never get a zero by missing one. A 50% is better than a zero! Space out your time to study for exams, plan ahead and finish assignments. Pretend the assignment is due the day before. Follow this,and I promise you will succeed in your classes!
- Hometown: Boulder, Colorado
- Area of study: Communication Studies
- Reflection on time at UNC: My time at UNC was a fun roller-coaster adventure. Like a roller-coaster that has
many twists and turns, my time at UNC was filled with learning about myself and the
world around me. I learned a lot about my true passion in helping others. I learned
that I can do hard things and continue to grow and find my place in the world.
- Overcoming barriers: One of the greatest barriers was being confident in myself and my body as well as
knowing that there will still be support after college. Another barrier I experienced
was being one of the first students in UNC's Go On and Learn (GOAL), an inclusive higher education program that provides opportunities for students with
intellectual and developmental to attend college.
- Future plans: My future plans include living independently and growing my business that involves
being a traveling life coach. I hope to provide life coaching to parents who have
children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I am excited to help families
in their journey of creating inclusion for their children like my parents did for
- Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: My advise for future Bears would be to take advantage of every day. Never feel afraid to ask for help.
- Hometown: Evans, Colorado
- Area of study: Biological Sciences, Secondary Licensure
- Reflection on time at UNC: I loved being on campus at UNC, and it was nice to be around other people who were
like me and had shared interests. I have made friends that I will have for a long
time and have learned things about myself and the world around me. I have found my
passion, my career. I have loved living and being in my passion every day and getting
first-hand experience in my career field even before I graduated.
- Overcoming barriers: I struggled with my mental health before college and while at UNC. I couldn't prioritize
any of my school work, never found time to be with friends and socialize and never
planned for the future. At UNC, I found people who supported me whether it was friends,
professors or even strangers at the library. I learned to prioritize my work and plan
for the future, my career.
- Future plans: I am applying to positions as a middle school science teacher and want to work in
a diverse school where there are kids there from all sorts of different backgrounds.
- Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: You are supported by faculty, friends and peers, just reach out!
- Hometown: Elizabeth, Colorado
- Major: Secondary Education, emphasis of History
- Reflection on time at UNC: It’s been fast! It's hard to believe that four years ago I was in high school, and
now, I’m the first person in my family to graduate college. Being a cheerleader for
this university has made my time here so wonderful. From studying abroad to cheering
the Bears to victory, there isn’t much I would change about this experience.
- Overcoming barriers: My family is low income, and my high school years were full of poverty and struggle.
I had to figure out how to go to college all by myself and, through the Grace of God,
I was able to over overcome my issues and graduate.
- Future plans: I plan to become a social studies teachers for a school in Colorado as well as coach
a poms or cheerleading team.
- Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Don’t let your past experiences in life determine your future. It’s mind over matter!
- Hometown: Tennessee
- Area of Study: Psychology, minor in SES
- Reflection on time at UNC: My time at UNC will be a meaningful memory that I will forever cherish. Gaining an
education, along with lifelong friends and experiences, has helped me grow as a person.
- Overcoming barriers: As an athlete, injuries are common. During my freshman year, I had to get shoulder
surgery. Coming back to competitions while managing my education was probably the
hardest struggle I have had to overcome. The drive and determination that I have for
my education and goals helped me get through this setback.
- Future plans: A graduate degree along with a future job in health care helping others.
- Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Cherish the memories at college while you have it. An education will last you a lifetime.
Sarah Kathleen Orth
- Hometown: Woodland Park, Colorado
- Area of Study: Sport and Exercise Science, minor in Psychology
- Reflection on time at UNC: My time here at UNC was a time that I am forever grateful for and will never forget.
Yes, there were struggles and times when I didn't know how much more I could do. But
the times of happiness, success and accomplishments out shined those times when I
wanted to give up. UNC has helped me become the person I have always dreamed of becoming
and inspired me to keep learning and growing. UNC will always be my home away from
- Overcoming barriers: I am a first-generation college student, which made actually getting to UNC an experience
within itself. Neither of my parents went to a university, and we had no clue how
to go about starting this journey. However, once we began, there was no stopping us
(or me). Once at UNC, I seemed to struggle mostly with procrastination, time management
and adding unnecessary stress on myself.
- Future plans: Next, I hope to conquer a master's degree in Exercise Physiology, and, after that,
I want to become a physical therapist. Along the way, I want to experience as many
different places in Colorado and the world as I can. I want to keep learning and growing
as much as I can in order to become the person who I have always wanted to be.
- Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: It's ok to not be ok! Ask the questions that you need answered. You are in charge of your education, so grab hold, and run with it! If you are struggling with classes, friendships, relationships, career goals or anything else, reach out as there is always someone willing to help and listen to you.
- Hometown: Spearville, Kansas
- Area of Study: Recreation, Tourism, Hospitality, minor in Media Studies
- Reflection on time at UNC: My time here has definitely been memorable. I had the opportunity to manage the volleyball
team for three years and it was so much fun sitting on the sidelines of the games
and working with the coaching staff. If I had the opportunity to continue, I would
— the experience made my time as UNC something I will never forget.
- Overcoming barriers: COVID-19 has been a big struggle. I experienced the transition from in-person to
virtual and had to overcome the challenge of time management. But the experience has
helped me grow as an individual.
- Future plans: I will be completing a master's in Sports Management at UNC while beginning my career
in either recreation or event planning.
- Advice you’d give to current and/or future students: Get involved! The one thing I wish I did was get involved with a club or sport. Also, go to the games! It is such a great experience, especially the hockey games.