When Tim Hellickson first arrived at Colorado Mountain College, he was more focused on snowboarding than academics. Today, he is at MIT on the team that is developing the world’s largest telescope.
Although he had a less than stellar GPA in high school, the college’s open enrollment admissions process gave Tim the opportunity to take courses at the Spring Valley campus. “I wasn’t really prepared for college,” he admits.
He soon realized that an education would be the only way for him to change his socioeconomic path. Tim got serious about his education, speaking with his professors about what it would take for him to be successful academically.
Initially attending CMC for the outdoor education program, Tim’s interactions with faculty, including Johann Aberger and Rob Wang, led to a focus in physics and a desire to further his education at an engineering school. Tim first met Rob during his chemistry class, a course which he called a “thorough beating.” Having not taken physics or calculus in high school, Tim had some learning deficiencies. They discussed how he could become a better student and be successful in the areas that interested him most, beginning with a proficiency in the fundamentals of mathematics. Rob suggested that he should retake Algebra, a move Tim considered a no-brainer due to the affordability of CMC’s classes. He worked during the day, attending class at night, knowing that this was a way to test to see if he wanted to be serious about his education. Tim then moved on to a calculus course, which went significantly better.
Through personal attention and individual tutoring from Rob, Tim says he first became an average student, then began to excel at CMC. He took advantage of the close proximity of the Aspen Center for Physics, where he engaged with people from all over the world who were discussing their research. This further ignited his passion for physics and engineering.
During his time at Spring Valley, Tim was active in the community, serving as a resident assistant, and connecting outside of the classroom with professors through different outdoor activities, such as climbing. It was these experiences that allowed him to have deeper conversations about life, including what he wanted to do after graduating from CMC. Tim learned about different educational opportunities and that he had the ability to do work involving math and engineering that was challenging and engaging. The discussions ultimately led Tim to develop a plan to maximize his time at CMC in order to further his education after earning his Associates degree. Faculty members continued to encourage his academic progress as classes became more challenging, keeping him focused on achieving his goals.
With assistance from CMC faculty and staff and the RISING program, Tim developed an admissions application for a four-year college which resulted in a full scholarship to University of Idaho. It was the support and encouragement of those in the CMC community that put Tim on track to earn his Bachelors degree from University of Idaho, and a Masters degree from Tufts University. “Without the help from CMC and the personal mentorship, I don’t think I would have had the opportunities to be here. [in academia].”
Today, Tim is busy designing and creating astrophysics instruments to explore the cosmos at MIT’s Kavli Institute in Cambridge, MA. His latest projects are a developing a spectrograph for the Magellan Telescope in Chile as well as spectrograph for what will be the the world’s largest telescope once construction is complete - the Giant Magellan Telescope. He notes that when he looks at his current peer group, there is no one who came from a similar educational background as him.
He credits his time at Spring Valley for helping him discover his passion for physics, math, engineering and opportunities for further education. He advocates that CMC is the best institution he has attended as a student due to the community, culture and smaller class sizes. He worked with dedicated faculty members who had a wealth of experience and were invested in seeing their students succeed both at CMC and beyond. He considers those same faculty members to be his mentors now, and he regularly stays in touch with them.
Spring Valley, ‘09, Associate's degree in Physics and Leadership Development and Outdoor Education