Jolaya Lee at her microscope

Not sure what to major in? Neither was Jolaya when she finished high school. She started at FRCC to explore her interests at an affordable price. And she ended up changing directions entirely.

She got the guidance she needed to prepare to transfer to CU-Boulder as a junior—where she’s now studying molecular, cellular and developmental biology. She’s on track to graduate with her bachelor’s in the fall of 2022. And she credits FRCC with helping her find her path to get there.

A Time for Exploration

Jolaya is a “Jill of all trades.” She loves to read, hike, go to the gym and do calligraphy. You might not expect her to be a science major in college—but that’s where she landed after getting time to explore her interests at FRCC.

The first-generation college student from Westminster was encouraged to “do well in school to do well in life” by her mom and dad. “Growing up, my parents had kids young, and they worked very hard to provide for me and my three siblings.” Her father was a mechanic and her mother worked as a medical assistant—and they wanted Jolaya to have more opportunities than they had growing up.

She liked learning, and found it fulfilling to have exposure to many different subjects. Her favorite class in high school was anatomy and physiology. She was intrigued by the one class activity that leaves many young students feeling squeamish—dissecting animal cadavers. “I hadn’t been exposed to what goes on with our muscles, how they attach, how they contract. That’s how body movement works—it was great seeing it visually.

Not Sure What to Major In

When Jolaya graduated from high school in Frederick, she talked a lot with her school counselor who recommended FRCC. “She said if I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, it was a great place to start.” So Jolaya started taking some general education credits at the college’s Boulder County campus.

“I initially thought I wanted to study English, but I was not 100% sure. I chose FRCC to make sure that’s what I wanted to do.”

Finding Her Path

As she progressed in her courses, she discovered more of a scientific inclination. She took some English classes and found they weren’t really her cup of tea. She says going to FRCC helped her figure out what major she would really enjoy.

“I didn’t take a lot of science classes at first, but then I took a microbiology class and I loved it. We were learning about all types of different bacteria with a medical focus—how it affects the body. It was really interesting.”

She knew from the beginning that she wanted to eventually transfer to CU-Boulder. “Going to FRCC really helped me determine my path.”

Perks of Being an FRCC Student

“When I first walked into FRCC, I was excited to begin a new chapter,” Jolaya remembers. “I was very optimistic about what I would learn in my classes.”

Student Commons at FRCC's Boulder County Campus

But learning how to balance academics with other things going on in her life turned out to be a little more difficult than she expected. “I didn’t realize how closely academics and your emotional well-being were intertwined,” she says.

FRCC offers one-on-one personal counseling and stress management, which Jolaya found “really helpful in navigating life hardships. It’s free for students, and a little guidance and talking to someone helped a lot. Not very many people talk about that aspect of going to college but it’s important.”

She was working part time in retail while taking a full course load, and her job didn’t offer much flexibility. Then she switched jobs to work in the college Advising Department, which fit much better with her school schedule. Working on campus helped her find a better work-life-school balance.

A Real Sense of Community

She recalls that FRCC faculty members were very open to answering questions. “They were really helpful. It was easy to network with my professors at FRCC because of the smaller class sizes. Compared to a big lecture hall where they don’t really know you personally, it’s just a sea of students. I was able to get feedback really quickly because my professors knew me.”

Jolaya also enjoyed that the FRCC student population was a little older. “It was really interesting to see their perspectives on life. Most of them were working adults coming back to school or parents even.” She found the student body to be both friendly and understanding. Despite being in different age groups, she says they were all there for one common goal: furthering their education.

“This led to all of us collectively helping each other understand the material,” Jolaya says. “Everyone who I encountered was kindhearted and my experience working with my classmates was so positive. I felt like I was learning from them since we were on different timelines of life. That was really eye opening because I’d hadn’t yet been exposed to that coming straight from high school.”

Getting Ready to Transfer

When it came to preparing for transfer, Jolaya says her academic advisors were “amazing and resourceful people who were supportive during the transfer process.” They also had a representative from CU come to FRCC’s campus, and that person helped guide her, too.

She transferred to CU as a junior in the fall of 2020—right in the midst of the COVID pandemic—to study molecular, cellular and developmental biology. Finding the right strategies to succeed in online classes was initially a challenge. “I do better with hands-on work,” she observes.

But after learning how to adjust to online learning throughout the fall semester, Jolaya is making it work and is feeling optimistic about her future. “It’s going a lot better now. I was able to figure out how to make online work. I had to learn how to study differently because it’s a lot. But no matter how difficult it is, persistence is key.”

Advice for Other Transfer Students

“If you don’t really know what major you want to do, FRCC is a great place to start out. They are great at laying out strong foundations for how to do well in college.”

Jolaya appreciates that starting at FRCC allowed her to take a wider variety of classes—at a more affordable price. “There are always classes that dip into different fields. Taking those electives to see what you like is very helpful in determining what you might want to do.”

And she learned some valuable skills along the way. In particular, she remembers a philosophy class at FRCC that “pushed me to think critically about the information [I’m] receiving. Learning that is very important throughout your path. The information you get may be flawed. It’s important to learn about how to analyze your source and not just take it at face value.”

Jolaya is now on track to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree from CU in the fall of 2022. She’s glad she used the resources that FRCC—and the university—offer. “I’m on a clear path now for post-graduation.”

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