Article by Garrett Carroll

Nohemi Baca Aragon
Elementary Education and Minor in Spanish
Del Norte, CO

Nohemi Baca Aragon
Nohemi Baca Aragon

Although she took a couple years off for personal reasons, which meant her college degree took six years to earn, she persevered. “I am proud to be a Latina immigrant and a first-generation student,” said Nohemi.

A resident in the United States under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) she juggled two to three jobs at a time while being a full-time student. Although DACAs are not eligible for many federal loans, Nohemi received a few small scholarships from the Latin American Education Foundation located in Denver, Co and some Adams State education and foundation scholarships. She managed to graduate debt-free.

She is a kindergarten teacher in Del Norte, Colo. “I look forward to continuing with my position as a kindergarten teacher for a few years and possibly moving up to first or second grade.”

She appreciates Chrissy McKinney, teacher education coordinator, and Lynnea King, assistant professor of English, for pushing her and believing in her and helping her become a better writer.

“With my story, and my hard work, I look forward to making an impact in my community and in younger generations to come.”

Mathew Burcin
Cellular and Molecular Biology and Minor in Chemistry
Escondido, CA
Summa Cum Laude

Mathew Burcin
Mathew Burcin

“My interest in pursuing research and STEM involvement were fostered by my professors and advisors by involving me in their own research or providing me with the path to begin on my own.”

His work-study supervisor Angela Sandy, Title V STEM activity director, and professor Umesh Bhattarai, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, connected with Mathew and helped him reach his academic and research goals. “They often offered to review cover letters and medical school applications, connected me with physicians to speak about the medical field, and truly cared about my success. I could not have asked for better support.”

Mathew was recruited to play soccer. He took the fall semester off to coach, rather than play.

He received the Porter Scholarship and the President’s Scholarship and worked as a teaching assistant, and tutored in the STEM Center and is graduating with no student loan debt.

“I’ve improved by huge margins in my knowledge of both biology and chemistry while simultaneously developing a well-rounded knowledge of English, arts, and humanities.”

He plans to move back to California, and pursue work in biotechnology until he attends medical school.

Amanda Martinez
Sociology with emphasis in Criminology, Social Welfare
Center, CO

Amanda Martinez and Heidi Schneider
Amanda Martinez (right) and Heidi Schneider, Ph.D.

Balancing work and college is an incredibly difficult task, but for Amanda, becoming a first-generation college graduate is an achievement well worth the effort.

For the last two years, she has been a building manager through work-study in the Student Union Building, and alongside that she has also been working at McDonalds. Both jobs have taught her incredibly useful skills that will help her in future occupations.

“My professors became an amazing support system and have always been professional, helpful, and encouraging. I was always one to answer and ask questions in class and contribute to discussion on tough topics.”

During 2021, Amanda has been an intern with La Puente, a local nonprofit helping those in need here in the San Luis Valley. “This was an amazing learning experience that has offered me multiple opportunities to engage and connect with professionals in our Alamosa community.”

Working and receiving financial assistance allowed Amanda to graduate with zero student loan debt.

When first starting college, Amanda didn’t reach out to professors. “Now as a senior, non-traditional student I have learned how to make the best of my college experience.”

In spring 2021, she made the President Honor Roll by earning a 4.0 GPA while taking 16 credit hours. After graduation, she is planning to apply for and work at La Puente.

“Earning my college degree means that more doors will open for me and my family—helping us on our road to success.”

Shania McAlear
Kinesiology major with minor in Psychology
San Luis, CO
Summa Cum Laude

Shania McAlear
Shania McAlear

For Shania, being the first in her family to attend and graduate from college means that she is opening doors to better career opportunities for her future.

Attending Adams State helped her establish connections and make the college experience less financially stressful.

“My advisor, Maria Martinez (instructor of kinesiology) was a lifesaver. Whenever I was stressed out over classes and felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, she was always there to push me to succeed.”

She was a teacher’s assistant for English and a peer mentor for kinesiology majors. Off-campus, Shania was a lifeguard, an intern as a pediatric occupational therapist, and she currently works as a registered behavioral technician to help children with Autism.

She has received the SLV Promise Award, the President’s Scholarship, the COSI Scholarship, the Sally T. Chavez Memorial Scholarship, and the Alumni Scholarship and is graduating without student loan debt.

Shania stayed active on campus through the Psychology Club and Psi Chi.

“I have become more confident over the years. As a freshman, I was very shy. Now I carry myself with confidence. I learned how to see the world from other people’s perspectives which is something I did not do as a freshman.”

Cynthia K. Merchant
Interdisciplinary Studies/Online Student
Salida, CO
Summa Cum Laude

Cynthia K. Merchant
Cynthia K. Merchant

Cynthia is the first female in her family to earn a bachelor degree and the first to graduate with honors. “I am pleased with my accomplishment; it has been a long time coming and I have worked hard to reach my goals.”

As an online, non-traditional student, Cynthia wanted a university close enough to attend in-person classes or summer workshops, as an option. “The small campus size and friendly atmosphere made it easy to find the assistance I needed and led me to take some in-person classes. I enjoyed the personal connections I made along the way.”

She appreciated the knowledge and skills she learned over the last three years which she put into practice in her new career.

“I received a tremendous amount of support from my advisor. I also received inspiration and useful insight and information from my major professors. They made the classwork interesting, challenging, and relatable.” She especially appreciates Michael Stewart, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology, and Heidi Schneider, Ph.D., assistant professor and chair of the School of Humanities. “They inspired curiosity, critical thinking and exploring concepts outside the box.”

Cynthia graduated in three years with her BA. She started as a volunteer at a non-profit restorative justice program which led to a full-time position with the organization.

She has seen tremendous growth since her first semester taking Adams State online classes. Along with improving her writing skills, her familiarity with technology as increased. “I learned how to conduct research and think critically about the world around me. I continue to question and examine the information I receive from mass media sources, and have a comprehensive understanding of sociology concepts and intersectionality.”

Mandy Salazar
Accounting with Minors in Taxation and Economics
Tierra Amarilla, NM
Cum Laude

Mandy Salazar
Mandy Salazar

“Being a first-generation college student means that I can pursue something greater to help provide for my family in the future. I am thankful to have the support of my family because, without them, I would not be in the position I am today.”

Adams State allowed her to acquire the connections with teachers and classmates and helped set her on the path to success.

Mandy will attend the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in the fall of 2022 to pursue a master’s in taxation. “It is something I have become very passionate about and something I would be able to bring back to my small community.”

Sheryl Abeyta, assistant professor of business and Natalie Rogers, assistant professor of business, were pivotal in encouraging Mandy to pursue her master’s. Mandy was a member of Pacioli, the accounting club, and served as the club secretary.

She received the Los Alamos National Laboratory 4-year Bronze Scholarship, the Colorado Society of CPAs Deloitte Scholarship, and the President’s Merit Scholarship. She had an internship with Wall, Smith, Bateman, Inc., and was a tutor and work-study. Mandy will graduate with no student loan debt.

She worked at the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in the accounting department. “I was able to excel in my work based on the education I received at Adams State.

“From the diverse homecoming events to the small study groups, Adams State is a place to find yourself and that is ultimately what I did.”