After an early stint at a private college landed her in serious debt, Emily Kramer worked hard to get back on her feet. She eventually started taking online classes at FRCC because they gelled with her work schedule. It was her second attempt at college—and everything clicked for her this time.
She changed her major, took the right classes to lay a strong science foundation and got some great guidance on transferring to a four-year university. Emily now has a bachelor’s degree and a job she loves in her field. But she’s not done learning.
College: Take 1
Emily grew up in the Chicago suburbs, the oldest of four kids. She knew she’d have to pay for college on her own—so she started at a community college, planning to transfer to a four-year school. Unfortunately, she discovered the hard way that she couldn’t afford to finish her bachelor’s degree.
“I had no understanding of student loans,” she says. “I didn’t know how to look for the resources and help I needed.” She struggled with some mental health issues during this stressful time, so she took a little time off to get help—and to rearrange her priorities.
Learning the Hard Way
Emily started working at a jewelry store, and kept that full-time job when she went back to school full time at a four-year college. She made it through this grueling schedule for two years before learning that she wouldn’t be allowed to graduate until she paid off all her debt. She ended up leaving her private college close to $10,000 in debt… and with no degree.
She moved to a less expensive town to save on rent, and worked for seven years in both the jewelry and restaurant industries to pay off her debt. Still in her twenties, she then moved to Boulder with friends for a fresh start. While there, she started working in the craft beer industry and eventually landed in Fort Collins.
Online Classes Work… While Working
FRCC’s online class offerings helped Emily decide to go back to school at the college’s Larimer Campus.
“That made it so much easier to work and go to school. I found the flexibility of online classes really did make a difference.”
After one semester of taking all online courses, she tried one in person… and then took more. “I started to really like my in-person classes,” she recalls.
Getting Help Finding Her Path
Emily still needed to figure out what she wanted to do with her career. “When I first came to FRCC, I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I knew I didn’t want to stay in the restaurant industry forever. I just knew that taking some classes would be a good first step.”
Having originally studied to be a teacher, she was now thinking about switching to a science-based major—so she really needed some guidance.
“They offered walk-in/drop-in advising that you could just go to,” she says. Her work schedule was constantly changing, so not having to make an appointment made college fit better for her. “Being able to just show up and talk to someone… that made a huge difference.”
Emily ended up switching her major to neuroscience because she was interested in both psychology and biochemistry. “I had an intro to neuroscience class at FRCC—and that convinced me. I knew I liked it and could really be motivated to learn.”
During Emily’s earlier first stab at college, she remembers never being able to find a parking spot—and generally not feeling very welcome. She found a very different vibe on FRCC’s Larimer Campus.
“All of the staff was extremely approachable, and really cared about what they were doing.”
At FRCC, she always found a spot—whether it was to park her car or a cozy space to study in between classes.
And she remembers her teachers especially fondly. “They cared so much about whether I learned the subject matter. They really had their hearts in it.”
A Strong Foundation
She says the curriculum at FRCC gave her the base knowledge she needed to get really good grades at CSU. “Those early classes at FRCC gave me the information I needed, so that when I got to hard classes like organic chemistry, I knew the basics so well—I was really well prepared.”
Although the content of her classes provided Emily this strong knowledge base, “It was the people who helped me make the most of that content. I’m so thankful for the people who made an impact. It ended up really paying off.”
“FRCC just made a huge difference in my whole ability to be successful in college.”
Giving Four-Year College Another Shot
Emily was doing well in her classes at FRCC, so she started thinking, “maybe I could handle CSU now.” She found the idea a bit intimidating because the university is so much bigger than FRCC. “But I got a sense of encouragement because I knew others who were preparing to transfer.”
She then heard about FRCC’s “special advisor who could help you take the right classes you need to transfer. She made a huge impact. She treated me like I could definitely do this and helped me figure out how.”
Emily’s advisor also suggested she apply for the Bridges to Baccalaureate program (now called Wolves to Rams), which helps STEM students successfully transfer and graduate from CSU. “I went to some of those meetings where they talked about becoming a scientist and doing research. The people from CSU would come talk—that’s when I really realized this was a thing I could do.”
Making Connections on Campus
She even applied for—and got—a 10-week paid internship to do a research project at CSU, which gave her a chance to really get to know several other FRCC students who were also transferring. “That introduced me to both teachers and other students who were little lifelines for me when school got tough at CSU.”
The transfer process went smoothly for Emily. She says her FRCC preparation and connections were critical. “FRCC just made a huge difference in my whole ability to be successful in college. Once I got to CSU, I knew to look to my advisor for guidance. Front Range showed me that I could seek those things out.”
A Science Job
Emily graduated in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience—with a cognitive behavioral concentration. She now has a full-time job as a lab manager at CSU’s neurocognitive measurement lab. She keeps in contact with her mentor from her earlier internship, and they hope to publish a research article analyzing the work they did together.
Her college experience ended up being so overwhelmingly positive that she may go back for more. “I’d like to get my PhD in cognitive neuroscience or cognitive psychology and run my own research lab eventually.”
After her early career in retail and the restaurant industry, she finds doing “the work of the mind” extraordinarily fulfilling. “I’m doing something that I love so much,” she gushes. “How am I getting paid for this?!”