Norma Delgado, Matias Doherty, Patricia Parks and Maria Burciaga were among the more than 1,000 Colorado Mountain College students who received degrees or certificates at nine different CMC graduation ceremonies held throughout the college’s district May 5 and 6. They received their diplomas at the commencement held at 4 Eagle Ranch, for students who’ve studied at CMC Vail Valley at Edwards. Photo Heather M. Hutchinson

EDWARDS — For Norma Delgado, being the first person in her family to earn a college degree was one of two achievements to celebrate during the Colorado Mountain College Vail Valley at Edwards graduation ceremony on May 5.

Delgado, 20, of Dotsero, was also one of just 15 TRIO Student Support Services and McNair Scholars students around the nation to earn a spot in an intensive one-month language study course at the University of Salamanca in Spain. She is spending the month of June taking university language classes in Spanish, living with a host family and “merging into the culture,” she explained.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said, recalling the day in January when she learned she’d been accepted. “I’ve never been out of the country except for visiting family in Mexico.”

She credits CMC’s TRIO Student Support Services program and its coordinator in Edwards, Katherine Osten, for helping her stay on track for her first two years of college and for encouraging her to apply for the highly competitive language course. The Salamanca program is offered by the Council for Opportunity in Education, a national nonprofit, and its Keith Sharin Global Leaders program.

Osten said Delgado, a 2015 graduate of Eagle Valley High School, has been enthusiastic about learning and leading in her two years at CMC.

Delgado’s Associate of Arts degree, which she received at CMC Vail Valley’s commencement ceremony at 4 Eagles Ranch in Wolcott, is the first milestone in her higher education plan.

She and her fellow graduates got added inspiration for continuing on the college track from the ceremony’s keynote speaker, former Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who is currently president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. One of his long-held career missions has been to improve college success for all students, particularly students of color, students from low-income families and first-generation students.

CMC helps deliver educational success for these students through its TRIO Student Support Services program. Coordinators like Osten work directly with about 375 students at 10 CMC locations, in a local version of a nationwide program that helps more than 820,000 students.

“I meet with Katherine almost every day,” Delgado said. Osten helped her identify the best choices for academic study, she said.

A CMC speech class taught by Dr. Jennifer Wing was among those good choices, Delgado said.

“I was very scared of talking in a big crowd. My teacher made me able to not be afraid. That will for sure help me in the years to come,” she said.

She plans to start classes this fall for a second associate degree in science, followed by a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. She envisions a professional career spanning three fields as an optometrist, a Spanish-English interpreter and a photographer. Meanwhile, she is working at the Gypsum Public Library, and is also considering a future career in library science.

Delgado has taken Osten’s specialized guidance concept a step further by leading the CMC Vail Valley at Edwards F1RST GEN Club, a group of about 16 first-generation college students, in community service projects. Delgado initiated a fall coat drive, a community service project to provide warm winter clothing to local residents in need.

“It’s important for first-generation students to not feel left out, and to have the confidence to try different paths,” Delgado said.

Between the F1RST GEN Club, her upcoming science classes and spending a month in Spain, Delgado is using her CMC education to try those different paths.