In high school, Olivia Carter worked 35-40 hours a week to help her mom pay the rent. She didn’t think of herself as a great student and lacked the confidence to even consider attending a four-year college.
She decided to give FRCC a try. Her time on campus reignited her childhood passion for science, while also helping her to believe in her own considerable abilities. Now a biology major at Colorado State University, her undergraduate research has been published—and she’s on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2022.
Gifted, but Falling Behind
As an elementary school kid, Olivia was considered gifted—she had high reading levels and loved science classes. But during her middle and high school years, she started to fall behind on some subjects, which was stressful for her. “I couldn’t catch up,” she recalls. “I was scared of math.”
During high school, she worked almost full time at a restaurant to help her mom with bills. When Olivia talks about those days, her old insecurities seep through. “I wasn’t the greatest student in high school. I wasn’t confident in my abilities.”
After graduation, Olivia didn’t know what she wanted to do—and she didn’t think she was cut out for a four-year institution. “I figured maybe I should just do cosmetology or something that doesn’t require a four-year degree. I didn’t feel I was smart enough to go to a four-year.”
A Confidence Boost
She decided FRCC would be a good stepping stone. “I started taking classes to see what interested me,” she recalls. In particular, she remembers taking an introductory biology class with an enthusiastic teacher. “The passion he had as a professor, it brought up the excitement level for me.”
That course reminded her of how she had loved the natural sciences as a kid playing with microscopes and science kits. She used to spend time running around catching bugs—and she still loves nature and trying to figure out how the world works. “That kind of excitement is something I wanted to pursue.”
That spark led her to take several more science classes—and they were a great indicator of future success. “I took four or five chemistry classes, with three different professors and loved every single one.” The experience changed her confidence level drastically.
Conquering Her Fear of Math
Olivia overcame her nervousness and took a lot of math classes at FRCC to provide the base knowledge she would need for further science education. “I had an amazing teacher who was so patient and who taught me math in a way I had never had before. FRCC helped me to get comfortable with the math foundation before transferring.”
She says the biggest thing her professors emphasized at FRCC was learning to understand, instead of memorization. “They really helped you to learn how to understand the material—they drilled that into me. Now I can carry that foundational knowledge over into all of my other classes.”
Perks of Attending Community College
Olivia says starting out at FRCC helped her learn about balancing school and work in an environment that wasn’t too intimidating.
“I took the scarier classes—the ones that are notoriously hard in college—at a place where classes were smaller, and the professors gave their all to the students.”
She remembers the sense of community she felt at FRCC’s Larimer Campus. She took the opportunity to create professional relationships with her teachers, and looked to them for guidance. “I could ask them for advice about taking classes at CSU, or what kind of things they did on their own path. I wanted to learn about job opportunities for a biology major, since I didn’t want to go to medical school. They helped me start to explore other options.”
Her time at FRCC helped her realize what her learning style is and what study methods work best for her. She did well in her classes, which gave her the confidence she needed for what was next.
“Front Range sets you up to transition to harder and harder classes.”
This Wolf Becomes a Ram
While at FRCC, Olivia went to a workshop on how to get help with financial aid and scholarships, as well as undergraduate research opportunities—basically how to be successful as a transfer student. She hadn’t been planning to transfer to a four-year, but now she was thinking about it.
“Maybe I should take the risk—I’m doing really well here. I had a 4.0 GPA for five semesters.”
Her advisor at FRCC knew all the ins and outs of financial aid and transferring, and helped Olivia connect with the right people at both FRCC and at CSU. “She helped me figure out what I was going to do and how to get there.” And importantly, she provided guidance on how to pay for it.
“Going to FRCC helped me figure out that I didn’t have to do it all through loans. That made me much more comfortable with transferring to CSU.”
She made the jump from FRCC with the help of two scholarships. “Both were big opportunities that helped me to be able to afford transferring to CSU.”
Once she got to the university, she knew it was important to go to her professors’ office hours to meet them and learn about their scientific journeys. “FRCC gave me the confidence to do that. That really helped me with my classes. I was more able to connect with people now because of the practice I got at FRCC—and I know how to find the help I need by talking to other students in my classes, etc.”
Research and Publishing Opportunities
Olivia applied—and was chosen— for an internship to do research over the summer in the evolutionary biology lab at CSU. “I learned a lot about computational biology and coding skills. I love it so much that I still volunteer there.” The internship also gave her the chance to be co-author on a scientific article that will be published soon.
During an entomology class, Olivia got to know her professor, which led to another research opportunity—this time in CSU’s insect vector biology lab. She’s come a long way from chasing bugs as a child—and will soon be co-author on a manuscript on the research she’s been doing there.
She continues to work as a peer mentor and teacher’s aide for the transfer student community at CSU. “I love meeting other transfer students and helping them out the way people helped me. I want to pay that forward.”
She’s on track to graduate in spring 2022 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with a minor in entomology.
Olivia is considering a lot of career options at this point. “I want to use my passion for science in ways that help people.” That could mean working in entomology or epidemiology or agriculture—or eventually teaching. But first she wants to take a little break, do some traveling and then apply to grad schools.
She’s grateful for the opportunities she’s found at FRCC and CSU. “There’s so much I didn’t know before coming to FRCC. It seemed so unreachable for me.” Her confidence now firm, she knows that she can go wherever she wants. “You just need to put in the work. There are so many options.”