Overcoming obstacles, showing persistence common traits

Four years in the U.S. Navy interrupted her plans, but Jalyn McMurry finally earned her Associate of Arts degree at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville.

McMurry was among CMC students in Leadville and Chaffee County to receive their degree or certificate during Friday, May 1, spring commencement ceremonies in the Climax Molybdenum Leadership Center at the college’s Leadville campus.

“It worked out pretty well for me,” McMurry said.

While still a student at Buena Vista High School, she started taking college courses at Colorado Mountain College through a concurrent enrollment program. After McMurry graduated from high school in 2008, she took more classes at CMC, then enlisted in the Navy two years later.

After serving in California, Greece and Bahrain, she resumed her college education at Colorado Mountain College, where her father has taught for 23 years.

She said she was “caught in transition” after her Navy obligation ended. “I didn’t want to start all over at a new college, and I have a history with CMC, so now I can say ‘hey, I did it.’”

McMurry, who gave the welcoming speech at the ceremony, said CMC staff helped to get her joint service transcript, which provided 32 credit hours thanks to her service in the Navy.

She plans to pursue bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in physical therapy and hopes to begin a career treating sports-related injuries.

Adding to job skills while juggling demands

In the fall of 2009, Meagan Tull decided to improve her business education. Over the next five years, Tull, a nontraditional or adult student, persisted. Juggling work, family and school. May 1 she received her Bachelor of Science degree in business administration.

“I knew I had a good job, but I also knew there was more I needed to know,” Tull said. “And I wanted to set a good example for my daughter.”

This was the third year the college awarded bachelor’s degrees.

Tull, who currently works in the human resource department for Freeport-McMoRan at the Climax molybdenum mine near Leadville, worked full-time and waitressed nights while continuing to take classes part- and full-time, in person or via distance learning, as her schedule allowed.

“It was definitely a challenge,” Tull said. But she said that Colorado Mountain College “was very accommodating” to meet her changing needs over the years.

Graduating high school student to enroll as college sophomore

Jessica Coffin received her Associate of Arts in business a month before she graduates from Lake County High School in Leadville, thanks to some 20 concurrent enrollment classes she finished over the past two years.

Thanks to the state’s Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act, through Colorado colleges high school students can earn college or vocational credit that also counts as credit toward a high school diploma.

“It was hard, but I learned a lot,” Coffin, 17, said of the concurrent enrollment courses she took through Colorado Mountain College. “If you realize that it’s going to take a lot of time in classes outside school hours, you can do it. But it’s not impossible if you put your mind to it.”

Coffin, the valedictorian speaker at her upcoming high school graduation, will enroll at Regis University in Denver in the fall with enough college credits to qualify as a sophomore. She plans to study biology and premed.

Upward Bound helps ‘first generation’ grad

Cristian Ortega credits the Upward Bound program administered by Colorado Mountain College with helping him become the first in his family to earn a college degree. Ortega received his Associate of General Studies degree in outdoor recreation leadership in Leadville May 1.

“When it came time for college, I wanted to go to a local community college, close to home,” Ortega said. “And I’d gone to Upward Bound in the eighth grade and as a freshman in high school.”

Upward Bound is a federally funded TRIO program from the U.S. Department of Education that serves disadvantaged high school students in Eagle and Lake County through Colorado Mountain College. Participants are empowered to finish high school and succeed in college.

A graduate of Battle Mountain High School in Edwards, Ortega plans to obtain his outdoor education certification at CMC’s Steamboat Springs campus, then transfer to Western State Colorado University to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“I didn’t know a lot about the outdoors when I started the program, but now I’m comfortable going into the outdoors by myself,” he said. “The instructors have a lot of experience and they pushed me in the right direction.”

Grandmother earns GED, associate degree

Setting a good example for her children and grandchildren is what drove Misty Johnson to earn her GED and associate degree in natural resource management at Colorado Mountain College, and earning the distinction of graduating with honors as a member of national honor society Phi Theta Kappa.

“My children are high school graduates, and I wanted to show them that if I can [get a college degree], they can, too,” Johnson said.

She said she learned about the Colorado Mountain College program from a ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

“We were visiting down there and I asked him what it was like being in the outdoors and how you get a job like his,” she said. “He highly recommended the (CMC) program in Leadville.”

Johnson hopes her degree helps her land a long-term job with an agency such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Geological Survey. Indeed, she’s already getting started. “My education here at CMC has given me experience needed to work with our national forest service here in Leadville, where I will be working for the summer,” she said.

This year’s commencement speaker at the Leadville graduation ceremony was Colorado Mountain College President and CEO Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser.