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By Mike McKibbin

From left, Chaffee County residents Briana Marine-Paradise and Pam Sterle both received Associate of Arts degrees from Colorado Mountain College May 5. Photo Katie Girtman

Perseverance — and some timely financial help from Colorado Mountain College — helped Amy Martinez achieve a goal that took her twice as long as many students.

Born and raised in Leadville, Martinez moved to Salida when she was about 16 and to Buena Vista in 2002. She was out of work after the town’s 7-Eleven store closed, which made her realize she needed to improve her marketable job skills.

“So, I found out I qualified for Pell grants and went back to school to learn some new skills,” Martinez said.

Those skills included computer software programs like Microsoft’s Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, plus the company’s Windows 10 operating system, “and a psychology class, too.”

“But it was mostly the job skills I thought would help with the job opportunities around here,” she said.

Martinez enrolled at Colorado Mountain College in 2013, and it took her four years instead of two to earn her Associate of General Studies degree. Mostly due to finances, she could only afford tuition as a part-time student while also working two jobs.

CMC worked with Martinez so she could continue taking a few classes at a time. “I had a few dips in the road, so I needed financial aid. I could only go part-time because I could only afford half the money,” she said. “They were always very helpful and very, very friendly.”

She called the CMC staff at Colorado Mountain College Buena Vista “awesome.”

Martinez — who made the Dean’s List twice — received her degree on May 5.

Powerful message for grads

Commencement exercises were held at the Climax Molybdenum Leadership Center gymnasium for students from Colorado Mountain College Leadville and Chaffee County. Graduating during Colorado Mountain College’s 50th anniversary year is a significant milestone, so honoring the graduates from both Chaffee County and Leadville was commencement speaker Erik Weihenmayer, adventurer, author and motivational speaker.

As the only blind person to summit Mount Everest, Weihenmayer was well equipped to give graduates a well-deserved sendoff. His recently released book, “No Barriers,” has also been selected as the college’s Common Reader for 2017-18.

Certificates provide good start

Casey Goehl earned two certificates of proficiency from Colorado Mountain College, one in entrepreneurship and the other in e-business and e-commerce.

Born and raised in Buena Vista and a 2009 graduate of Buena Vista High School, Goehl wanted to continue his education and learn more about entrepreneurship.

“It’s been really good for me,” he said of his time at CMC. “The small class sizes meant I had more one-on-one time with teachers, even in the online classes.”

That was especially helpful when the course material was more challenging and Goehl needed help. Affordability and ease of access to classes and teachers were other benefits he listed.

The two certificates gave Goehl a good background on what is involved in a business, he said. “My plan is to turn those certificates into a four-year degree,” Goehl said.

CMC ‘laid-back, comfortable’

Pam Sterle was born in Missouri and moved to Salida six years ago. She enrolled in Colorado Mountain College to finish her degree, which she began at a community college in Missouri. In May she received an Associate of Arts in business degree at CMC.

“I loved all the teachers, they really helped make the classes easy to figure out,” she said. “It was comfortable, all the teachers were very nice and I don’t think any of the classes were scary hard because of that.”

Even in her public speaking class, which Sterle called her hardest, the teacher put her at ease. “I had no idea what I was doing at first,” she said. “But everyone at CMC helps you with your homework and whatever you needed. It was just laid-back and comfortable.”

Sterle said she wants to open a bakery, but will focus on her children for the next year.

Also graduating this year from Chaffee County was Briana Marine-Paradise, who earned an Associate of Arts degree.