CCCS honors 18 FRCC students—and peers around the state—for their inspiring achievements.

This week the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) paid tribute to top students from schools around the state during a video presentation of the system’s 2021 Student Excellence Awards.

Eighteen distinguished students from Front Range Community College were chosen for this year’s honor. Due to COVID safety precautions, the students did not meet in person—but instead received a personalized award package that included medallions, certificates and a backpack full of goodies from CCCS.

Three award categories recognized students for their academic accomplishments, exemplary leadership and commitment to inclusive excellence:

  • The Phi Theta Kappa All-Colorado Academic Team Award specifically recognizes the academic accomplishments of high-achieving student members of the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society from across the state.
  • The Rising Star Award recognizes students who have increased the level and quality of student engagement on their college campus.
  • The Inclusive Excellence Champion Award recognizes students who have demonstrated a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion on their college campus.

This dynamic group of students has a deep-rooted passion for helping others—from mentoring children and young adults to spending countless hours as volunteers for various campus and community organizations. Each award winner has demonstrated strong commitment, reliability and professionalism in their activities in and out of the classroom.

Many of the awardees have expressed aspirations to continue their advocacy work beyond their time in college. Many are interested in pursuing careers that will help heal and empower communities in fields such as health care, social services, criminal justice and education.

All-Colorado Academic Team

Twelve Front Range Community College students have earned places on the 2021 All-Colorado Academic Team. The team recognizes high-achieving students who demonstrate academic excellence and intellectual rigor, combined with leadership and service that extends their education beyond the classroom to benefit society.

Boulder County Campus

Sara Maginot

On campus, Sara is an officer with her campus PTK chapter, keeping busy with volunteer activities (when she’s not doing homework). In the Marine Corps, Sara was a signals intelligence analyst at Camp LeJeune, collecting data and gathering intelligence to help keep Americans safe. At home, when she’s not working at her part-time job, her three-year-old who has special needs knows her simply as “mom.”

As if that weren’t enough to keep even a super hero busy, she’s also an intern with the Colorado State Legislature. Sara wants to use her education to help others as an addictions counselor. She’s now studying psychology at FRCC and plans to transfer to CU to complete her bachelor’s degree, and eventually hopes to earn a master’s in the field.

Neveah Sirio

An extremely hard-worker, Neveah started her own small business at age 8—designing and making wallets, purses, pens and more out of duct tape. Her entrepreneurial spirit also gave her creative spark an outlet to shine.

She’s now taking a full course load studying web and graphic design at FRCC, while working full time as the only woman at an auto body shop—doing metal work and painting. Most recently, she has started using her new skills to develop websites—and she loves that the creative process gives her a chance to innovate. Her dream is to someday open up her own design firm.

Chiraz Dor

Chiraz is most passionate about three things: women and gender studies, philosophy and public speaking. After completing her associate degree, she plans to work while enrolled at the University of Michigan (starting in the fall of 2022).

A leader in all areas of her life, she has volunteered at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, served as vice president of the Feminist Uprising club at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus and as a figure skating instructor at the YMCA of Northern Colorado. (She was a competitive skater herself for 11 years.) Although Chiraz hasn’t landed on a final career path yet, she is oriented toward public-service, and knows she wants to do something that changes lives. She also intends to eventually pursue a doctoral degree.

Brian Goedde

Brian has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, but is preparing for a major career change. He’s on track to finish his associate degree in automation and engineering technology this summer, and plans to work in the robotics field.

On campus, Brian takes on an informal tutoring role by helping other students with classes and studying. He has volunteered for many years at the humane society, helping take care of animals until they can find new homes. He hopes to eventually start this own business in robotics technology.

Larimer Campus

Lan Nguyen

Lan grew up in a community with limited infrastructure in Vietnam, under what she describes as “poor and harsh conditions.” She inherited her curiosity love of science from her late father, who worked tirelessly to make sure she had the opportunity for an education that he never had.

After the COVID-19 outbreak, Lan led a group of fellow students in sewing 200 masks (in just 48 hours), making homemade disinfecting liquid and gathering food and supplies for people who lost work due to the pandemic. A true leader and role model, Lan pushes and inspires others to be productive.

Once she completes her associate degree, Lan plans to transfer to CSU to study chemical and biological engineering. She wants to eventually use her skills to make life better for people all over the world, especially those living in poverty—using the tools of a chemical engineer to help feed the world.

Lyndon Saltz

Lyndon has overcome a disability to become an extremely successful college student. He’s currently studying math and statistics, and plans to transfer to Oregon State University to major in electrical and computer engineering.

Both technical and creative, Lyndon has a passion for robotics as well as for music. When the computer science club at FRCC’s Larimer Campus began to struggle during COVID, he stepped up to help boost the group’s offerings in the new virtual environment. He’s now president of that club, and also works as a teaching and lab assistant on campus. He is also involved with FRCC’s Larimer Campus Gay Student Alliance and the Front Range Literary Review.

Off campus, Lyndon mentors the Highlanders Robotic Team, spreading STEM enthusiasm by teaching younger students how to code and build robots. Lyndon plans to become a robotics engineer and hopes to eventually complete a doctoral degree. He’s intrigued by the challenges and opportunities of using robots to aid in search and rescue, military operations and environmental organizations. He hopes to help create “fuel-efficient and intelligent systems that change the world.”

Laci Knapp

Laci had her first child at age 16—then at 19 was diagnosed with epilepsy. It took four years to get her illness under control to the point where she could work again. She decided to go into health care in order to help others.

Described as a “model student,” she’s now working on a certificate in dental assisting, which has allowed her to “enter the field, get my bearings, and really learn the ins and outs of the position from all angles.” She plans to graduate this spring. Ultimately, she wants to go to dental school to become an oral surgeon or periodontist. “I have four children and I want to show them that anything is possible, and even the biggest mountains can be climbed.”

Don Strange

More than 30 years ago, Don dropped out of high school—due to the sudden death of his father and the medical condition of his mother. In order to help his family, he began his career as a city “pothole patcher.” A dedicated public servant, Don earned his GED and worked his way up to becoming a manager for two divisions at a local municipality and has already had a successful career.

The grandson of migrant farmers and sharecroppers with little to no education, he now expects to be one of the early graduates of FRCC’s new associate degree program in highway maintenance management. (He also helped develop the curriculum for the program.) Because the highway maintenance industry is changing, he plans to encourage others to earn a degree. In his free time, Don volunteers at an advocacy center that helps abused children in his community in Texas. “I have seen this organization change lives,” he says. Colleagues describe him as someone who “thrives to succeed with any task he handles.”

Westminster Campus

Katie Rodriguez

After graduating from high school, Katie didn’t have guidance on how to pursue higher education. She worked as a veterinary technician for 16 years and started a family—then decided to pursue a new career and recently went back to school. A passionate learner, she now works full time for her local school district as a preschool teaching assistant (and substitute teaches throughout the district). Once her three kids go to bed in the evening, she gets to work on her college classes.

When COVID hit last year—closing down schools and libraries—she helped give kids access to books by creating a YouTube channel of herself reading stories with puppets and fun costumes. Other teachers around the district starting using her videos.

Upon finishing her associate degree, Katie intends to transfer to MSU Denver for a bachelor’s in human growth and development—with a minor in early childhood education. Her plan is to earn a teaching license through Colorado’s alternative licensing program and then continue on to a master’s degree.

Rhiana Bilderaya

Rhiana is a full-time case manager for with adults with disabilities, using her psychology degree from CSU to help others. At the nonprofit where she works, she is known as the “go-to” person for her colleagues.

She began her path of service as a volunteer on the Brighton Youth Commission in high school. She continues to be involved with the group’s events and activities because it helps her to stay “community minded and focused.”

Most recently, Rhiana has decided to switch careers and is studying computer programming full time at FRCC. In addition to learning how to code in her classes—and continuing her day job as a case manager—she has two work-study positions through the college. She also volunteers with several nonprofits. A driven individual, once Rhiana completes her AAS, her goal is to work with healthcare databases as a data scientist, contributing to improving patient outcomes.

Alyson Powers

Alyson has worked as a birth doula and hospice aide—and she is now working toward both an associate and a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She is passionate about women’s health, and ensuring that people have access to healthcare. Her particular purpose stems from a desire to minimize disparities in healthcare, specifically for populations that have been traditionally underserved.

When her nursing program approached the concept of culturally congruent care, Alyson and her classmates found some outdated content that they felt could lead to stereotyping, and potentially deepen implicit bias. She reached out to FRCC’s nursing faculty and the publishing company about revising this content. She gathered input from her classmates and conducted research that resulted in productive dialogue—and has contributed to impactful changes. Alyson collaborated with the publishing company, making suggestions, and encouraging them to seek out diverse reviewers and experts on racism. 

Upon completion of her degree, she plans to gain experience as a nurse prior to attending graduate school. Her long-term goal is to complete a degree in midwifery, become a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and then a nurse educator specializing in women’s health care.

Zoe McNaught

Zoe’s dad had emergency surgery when she was 12. It saved his life and was pivotal for her—she knew she wanted to help others in the way the doctors and nurses had helped her dad. She has a particular interest in providing health care in underserved rural communities like the one she came from, especially for women.

A first-generation college student, Zoe is now taking prerequisites while applying for the nursing program at FRCC. She also supports others students as a supplemental instruction leader for algebra classes at FRCC’s Westminster Campus. She expects to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing while working as an RN at a rural hospital.

Inclusive Excellence Award

This award is sponsored by the State Student Advisory Council and recognizes students who have demonstrated a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion on their campus. The students selected to receive this award may be involved in supporting or creating diversity activities and services; working to address issues of inequity; expanding the scope of inclusivity on campus; and/or demonstrating advocacy for social justice and intercultural awareness.

Feminist Uprising Collective—Kelila Fitch-Cook, Leo Condon and Ella Baca

The Feminist Uprising Collective works to elevate the voices of the unheard. Kelila, Leo and Ella are the collective’s core leadership team. As emissaries of intersectional feminism, they advocate for gender, racial and economic equity at FRCC and beyond.

The club’s mission is to promote equity by recognizing the inherent dignity of all humans utilizing an intersectional approach to justice. Each year, the collective sponsors—or co-sponsors with other clubs and departments—a number of events. These include a speaker series and awareness-raising events for women’s history month, black history month, domestic violence awareness and LGBTQ+ rights.

The group’s largest event is Take Back the Night (TBtN) every April, which has grown to be the biggest annual event at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus. The event raises awareness of sexual violence and harassment, promotes prevention efforts and teaches people how to support survivors.

Over the years, it has included notable speakers—including state representatives, mayors and police detectives. TbTN also serves as a fundraiser for the local nonprofit Moving to End Sexual Assault. In 2019—the most recent in-person TBtN before COVID—more than 300 people attended the event. Kelila, Leo and Ella have kept the club strong and active throughout COVID and the group is taking TBtN virtual this year.

Rising Star Award

This award is sponsored by the State Student Advisory Council and recognizes students who have increased the level and quality of student engagement on campus. The students selected to receive this award may have facilitated meaningful engagement by either broadening the scope of student engagement or by deepening the engagement of other students around a particular issue or initiative.

Astrid Villalobos-Chavez

On campus, Astrid is heavily involved as a member of the Student Government Association, the Everybody’s Business Club, and the Latinx Excellence Achievement and Development program. When she’s not at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus, she works as the sustainability program assistant for the city of Longmont, serves as co-chair of the Chamber Student Network, volunteers for the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County and the Longmont Multicultural Action Committee.

During a challenging year, Astrid demonstrated strong leadership by organizing a series of virtual events that have connected students with each other and with community members—including a panel discussion focused on minority and women-owned businesses and a virtual discussion on the importance of equity and inclusion.

Astrid’s goal is to graduate from FRCC with an associate degree in political science. After that, she plans to transfer to MSU-Denver to earn a bachelor’s degree. While she progresses in her journey through college, Astrid would like to continue her career with the city of Longmont. As she advances her study of government and politics, Astrid will prepare for law school through hands-on experience. Her ultimate aim is to become an immigration attorney and to be able to help people in her community achieve their goals.

Rachel Emory

Rachel is studying multimedia graphic design—and she’s already been able to do commissions for a couple of small business clients who have been very pleased with her work. From the day she started working on campus in Student Life, Rachel has been a strong employee.

In her free time, Rachel enjoys creating graphics for family and friends. She also volunteers at a local rabbit shelter. On top of her associate degree, Rachel expects to complete two professional certificates in the spring or fall of 2022. After she graduates from FRCC, she’s considering continuing on to further her studies at an art or multimedia college, but says she is most excited to “jump into the workforce and expand my horizons working with small businesses.”

Herc Heurkens

Herc is pursuing his associate degree in welding technology at FRCC. In his time at the college, he has demonstrated leadership as an employee in Student Life, made new students feel welcome as an orientation leader and has organized students in the welding program to re-launch the Larimer Campus Welding Club.

Once Herc finishes his degree in fall 2021, he plans to study computer-aided drafting to attain proficiency at drafting projects—and then wants to gain experience working for a welding/fabrication company. Originally from Canada, he loves SCUBA diving and model trains—and would eventually like to open his own welding business.

Click here to view the 2021 Virtual Student Excellence Awards presentation and honorees.

See all Press Releases.

About Front Range Community College

FRCC offers more than 100 degree and certificate programs from locations in Boulder County, Larimer County, Westminster, Brighton, and online. FRCC is a member of the Colorado Community College System.

About the Colorado Community College System

The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) is the state’s largest system of higher education, serving 138,000 students annually at 13 colleges and 39 locations across Colorado. Our open access mission ensures all Coloradans who aspire to enrich their lives have access to quality higher education opportunities.

Related Posts