Colorado Mountain College celebrates 2023 graduates
May 8, 2023 – Colorado Mountain College students donned caps and gowns throughout CMC’s mountain resort region to take part in 12 commencement ceremonies from May 5 through 8.
Although not all graduates attend commencements, collegewide since summer 2022, 1,275 CMC students have graduated from a wide variety of academic programs, earning 1,439 credentials.
"These graduates demonstrate how relevant Colorado Mountain College is in our communities," said CMC President and CEO Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser. "CMC offers learners – regardless of age, background or education – ways to pursue a wide variety of liberal arts degrees and career-relevant pathways to become teachers, business leaders, nurses, law enforcement officers, public lands stewards and more. Along with the CMC Board of Trustees, we are so proud of them."
Spring Valley campus
Graduates from campuses in Aspen, Carbondale, Spring Valley and Glenwood Springs celebrated graduation at the Spring Valley campus. Since last summer, 336 students throughout the Roaring Fork Valley have earned 372 bachelor’s and associate degrees, diplomas and certificates of occupational proficiency, or credentials. Some graduates earn more than one credential.
On May 5, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser gave the keynote address at CMC’s Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy graduation, the first of three commencement ceremonies at the Spring Valley campus.
Weiser addressed CLETA’s 12 graduates, all of whom come from CMC’s mountain region. Eleven graduates already have jobs in law enforcement at police and sheriff’s departments in Vail, Salida, Rifle, Steamboat Springs and Carbondale, and in Chaffee, Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle counties.
At CMC Spring Valley’s nurse pinning and graduation ceremony, Hauser gave the keynote address to graduates. During the traditional nurse pinning ceremony, friends and family members place a nurse pin on a lanyard around the neck of each nursing graduate as a symbolic gesture, welcoming the new graduate to the nursing profession.
Before Greg Moore, former editor of The Denver Post, gave the keynote address at the main ceremony the afternoon of May 6, Amanda Bryan gave the welcome address.
Bryan, 23, received an Associate of Arts degree and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in human services from CMC.
"I love helping people," Bryan said. "I'm in student government, I was a residential assistant for the last two and a half years and I want to work in higher education and learn new skills."
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Bryan credited CMC with helping her reach and sustain sobriety as the Spring Valley campus became her new home.
"That's really why I moved here,” she said. “That and to take classes at CMC. It hasn't been easy; I didn't know anyone and barely graduated from high school. There have been so many opportunities I never expected."
Liz Parra received her Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and was named Spring Valley’s outstanding bachelor’s degree graduate.
Para, 35, said she has had a passion for teaching since she was small, especially with students who don't speak English.
A mother of three children, Parra overcame hurdles that included being a domestic violence survivor and living in a safe house with the support of her professors "who always treat their students like family," she said.
"They always checked in to see what I was doing and asked if there was anything they could do to help," Parra added.
Karly Robinson, 23, received a bachelor's degree in business administration at Rifle’s first commencement on May 5 after earning an Associate of Science degree from CMC in 2020. Robinson continued her education when classes moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I know a lot of people didn't adapt well to that, but I seemed to catch on," she said. "Especially with a baby and work, it fit my schedule. If the classes I needed hadn't gone online, I'm not sure I would have gone on to get a bachelor's degree."
Jenny Boone, assistant dean of student affairs at CMC Rifle, called Robinson's persistence "remarkable due to navigating course offerings during COVID-19 challenges, getting married, having a baby and completing internships."
Robinson also made the dean's list and maintained a 3.547 GPA.
Paloma Corral has wanted to be a teacher since elementary school. She made her dream come true at CMC.
Corral, 21, graduated with an associate degree in early childhood education and a certificate in early childhood education - assistant teacher. She plans to seek her bachelor's degree in early childhood education at CMC, followed by a master's degree.
In 2021, Corral was hired to oversee the Rifle campus’s child care program and became a teacher's assistant in the Early Learners' Center that fall. A year later, she became the center’s lead certified teacher.
"I love going to work every day, seeing the kids’ smiling faces, their joy and energy," Corral said. "If I'm having a bad day, I know my kids will cheer me up, making me want to be a great teacher."
The Rifle campus held a concurrent enrollment, or CEPA, ceremony. CEPA allows high school students to earn college credit toward a post-secondary certificate or degree.
The keynote speaker at Rifle’s CEPA’s commencement ceremony was U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Samantha Blea, a Rifle native, Rifle High School alumna and a CEPA graduate. Now, Blea is a decorated naval officer.
CEPA graduate Cintia Cornejo-Martinez earned two certificates: one in certified nurse aide and a second in phlebotomy, or drawing blood for blood work and transfusions.
“Cintia has managed a full college course load during her senior year,” said Andrea Ring, Rifle’s CEPA coordinator. “Cintia is a fantastic student committed to pursuing a career as an RN.”
The most popular academic program areas during the 2022-23 academic year awarded at Rifle’s CEPA ceremony were certificates in basic welding and cutting, certified nurse aide and auto service technician – suspension and steering.
Javier Diaz is a high school student who excelled in the CEPA program at Colorado Mountain College.
“Javi has completed two certificates through our welding program and is participating in an independent study for construction management and carpentry,” Ring said. “Javier is proactive, resourceful and incredibly dedicated to carving out his academic and career pathway.”
Kevin Gomez is another local high school student who has fully utilized the CEPA program.
“Kevin has completed two certificates through our new automotive program and has been integral in promoting the program to other students at Rifle High School,” Ring said. “He is passionate about this field and will continue in this career after high school.”
Vail Valley campus
Helen Drexler, CEO of Delta Dental of Colorado, gave the keynote address at CMC Vail Valley’s commencement ceremony. The college is preparing to launch a new dental hygiene education program at the Vail Valley campus and has received support from the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation.
Ana Vallado Pankow received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She will be taking on a full-time fifth grade teaching position at Fairplay’s Edith Teter Elementary School.
Pankow, who also served as a student speaker for the commencement ceremony, is a native of Merida in Mexico’s Yucatan region, and came to the U.S. as an international student, having already completed a degree in industrial design in Mexico.
After working as a student teacher in Mexico, Pankow was inspired to pursue an education degree, as was Vail Valley native Maria Rosales who received her associate degree in elementary education.
Nichole Lambert, a 37-year-old student who returned to CMC to complete an associate degree in health sciences, said she plans to continue her studies to receive a bachelor’s degree in the field, with her ultimate goal of becoming a licensed clinical worker through a master’s degree at the University of Denver.
“I’m an Eagle County native, and while I took a few classes at CMC when I was 18, I left to work at the Christie Lodge for 13 years,” she said. “Later, I got a job working at the district attorney’s office as a victim advocate, and I was exposed to a lot of social work experience.”
Steamboat Springs campus
CMC Steamboat Springs’s nurse pinning and graduation ceremony took place on May 5. Chief Nursing Officer Kelly Gallegos at UCHealth-Yampa Valley Medical Center, gave the keynote address.
Carlos Fernandez, the state director of The Nature Conservancy for Colorado, gave the keynote address at the Steamboat Spring’s main commencement at the Steamboat Grand.
Each year, a committee made up of CMC employees who have had interaction or knowledge of students, recommend soon-to-be graduates to serve as commencement speakers. This year, the committee selected Ben Mathis as the associate degree graduate speaker and Cheyenne Brown to be the bachelor’s degree graduate speaker.
Mathis, the committee reported, has a 3.99 cumulative grade point average and “sets the example for many students showing perseverance and hard work to accomplish goals,” the committee wrote in their statement.
The bachelor’s degree speaker, Brown, is a member of the CMC ski team, all while maintaining a 3.8 cumulative grade point average. Brown has earned two associate degrees as well as graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Applied Science in leadership and management.
“CMC, I’m grateful for everything you’ve done to support my college and skiing careers,” said Brown. “I am officially the first college graduate in my family, all while competing competitively in skiing.”
Another Alpine ski racer, Elena Dziura, is a student from Salida High School. Dziura races with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. She took most of her classes in Steamboat Springs, where she received her Associate of Science degree.
"(Concurrent enrollment) allowed me to maintain a more flexible schedule with skiing and classes," said Dziura.
Breckenridge and Dillon campus
Keynote speaker Sara Dembeck, associate chief nursing officer at Vail Health, addressed Summit County’s nurse pinning and graduation ceremony at the Breckenridge campus.
Outstanding nurse student awards are not based on campus location but represent all nursing graduates collegewide. Diana Avila from CMC’s Spring Valley campus received the bachelor’s degree award and Leslie Snyder from CMC Breckenridge received the associate degree award.
At the main ceremony, Alejandra “Alee” Dorantes and Kathy Flores shared masters-of-ceremony and student speaker duties at Beaver Run Resort. Summit County Judge Edward Casias, who is currently a CMC student working toward an associate degree in outdoor recreation leadership, delivered the keynote address.
Dorantes earned a bachelor’s degree in education and has accepted a teaching position this fall with Dillon Valley Elementary, where she will be a first grade Spanish teacher.
As a DACA program student, Dorantes said that CMC offered both an affordable and welcoming environment to complete her education, especially with the uncertainties she’s confronted.
“I like to tell students that it’s OK to have struggles, we all have them,” she said. “I had taken biology and nursing classes at two different schools, but I couldn’t afford to finish school. CMC allowed me to take my time and do stuff at my own pace.”
Flores, a Frisco native, helped raise three of her siblings. She said that experience was a big factor in completing her bachelor’s degree in education at CMC.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Flores said, “and I appreciated the opportunities I had student teaching at Dillon Valley and Frisco elementary schools. I learned so much with the mentors I had, and my teachers were really supportive of me,” she said.
Jackie Miller, executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado, gave the keynote address at both the Leadville and Salida commencement ceremonies.
Michael Jarocki, who earned an associate degree in outdoor recreation leadership was the student speaker. Jarocki had already earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was working in geographic information systems when he discovered he wanted to pursue a career working in the outdoor industry and found CMC.
“I loved the mixed curriculum between the classroom and extensive field time, which allowed us to not only grasp the wilderness experience better, but become closer as a student group,” said Jarocki. He hopes to work in outdoor programming.
Named top bachelor graduate, Jessica Sherlin earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration - accounting. Salem Sumrall was awarded the top associate graduate.
Sumrall, graduating with an associate degree in ecosystems science and stewardship, said she loved her Leadville campus experiences – especially after growing up in Houston, Texas.
“I love the mountains, the outdoor culture and the ESS program was exactly what I was looking for – and it’s such a beautiful place to study,” she said.
The first three Salida High School students to get their high school diplomas with associate degrees through CMC's concurrent enrollment program received those college degrees even though two graduates weren’t at the ceremony.
Nina Haas earned two associate degrees after taking online courses when the COVID-19 pandemic started during her sophomore year in high school. She continued with mostly online learning to complete her coursework.
"CMC helped me get the classes I needed and hit my due dates," she said. "Plus, I'm saving a lot of money."
Ski racer Elena Dziura is from Salida though took most of her classes in Steamboat Springs, while training with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. She received an Associate of Science degree.
Amy Adams moved out of the area and graduated early with an associate degree.
Another graduate, Lane Baker received an Associate of Arts degree and plans to enroll at Virginia Tech to study psychology and criminology.
She started taking concurrent enrollment classes when she wanted a psychology class in her sophomore year of high school, but it wasn't offered.
"It was out of convenience after that, and as I grew up, it was also for financial reasons," she said. "I always wanted to go to school out of state, but that's pretty expensive. So, to chop two years off financially was a big help."