award winners at CCCS event

Community College system honors 15 FRCC students—and peers around the state—for their inspiring achievements.

The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) paid tribute this month to top students from schools around the state during the system’s 2022 Student Excellence Awards.

Sixteen distinguished students from Front Range Community College were chosen for this year’s honor. 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 2022 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

Kevin Ortiz

Teachers describe Kevin as an “exemplary” student-scholar with tremendous character. During his time at FRCC, he has demonstrated significant leadership skills in the classroom and his community.

Kevin says he feels privileged and proud to be the first generation of his family born in the US and attending college. “Growing up, translating for my parents helped me gain confidence in public speaking and sparked a desire to advocate for my community.”

After high school Kevin went straight to work as a diesel mechanic, but he wanted something more meaningful. He now has an interest in social work and plans to pursue a career in marketing—to help “highly effective charities and local organizations grow, despite their smaller marketing budgets.”

He volunteers with the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County where he has developed culturally relevant, bilingual social media and branding materials for several COVID-19 Equity Clinics serving underrepresented communities. Kevin is an active leader of the Chamber Student Network in Longmont and served as president of the Everybody’s Business Club on campus.

Kevin has become a leader among his peers and looks for opportunities to mentor and develop other students. He plans to keep working while attending UNC to complete his bachelor’s degree in business with a focus on marketing

Jill Shuss

A first-generation adult college student with two kids, Jill is studying business at FRCC. Her instructors describe her as a natural leader and a committed and dedicated student. “In the classroom, she sets an example of excellence and professionalism, as well as empowering and encouraging others to bring out their own strengths and brilliance,” according to one professor.

Outside of the classroom, Jill has initiated and implemented several community support projects—including a food drive and a campaign to collect and provide clothing to elementary and middle school children in need. She also provides help to members of her community who have medical needs, including personally driving them to doctor’s appointments and shopping for groceries.

Jill says her only regret in life is not having graduated from college. So she has now begun the journey to obtain a degree. Her immediate career goal is to become a Colorado Certified Residential Appraiser. Once she earns her associate degree at FRCC, Jill plans to get to work in real estate as quickly as possible. She’ll take the required qualifying education classes and complete the required work experience hours—and then take the state exam to obtain a Colorado Residential Appraiser License.

She hopes to eventually complete a bachelor’s degree in business at the University of Colorado-Denver. Someday she would like to start an appraisal business and work for herself.

Beatrix Runyan

A 4.0 student, Beatrix has a passion for understanding the human condition. While being home schooled through 12th grade, she was dissuaded from pursuing higher education because it would require her to accrue debt. At age 23 she realized that her fear of taking on student loans was in direct opposition to fulfilling her dream of becoming a psychotherapist.

At that point Beatrix determined to do what was necessary to resolve her fears and engage in higher education. Her career goal is to become a psychotherapist. She plans to transfer to CU-Boulder and complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology and neuroscience. Beatrix is studying neuroscience in order to better understand the brain and nervous system—and hopes to specialize in trauma and relationship psychology.

She serves on the board of the Boulder Contact Lab, a non-profit dance collective. John Caron, a founder of the collective, describes Beatrix as having, “exceptional leadership, organization and interpersonal skills as well as exceptional emotional intelligence.” He says Beatrix has a passionate sense of leadership with attentiveness to the needs and opinions of others—while being skilled at working in a group to find solutions to complex issues. John expects that Beatrix will advance the field of research in social neuroscience in her work as a mental health professional.

Pamela Groves

Pam is a renaissance woman with a wide array of interests and experience. She is a writer, teacher, musician, motorcyclist, hiker, traveler—and much more. A first-generation student and voracious reader, she worked to support herself while earning a bachelor’s in arts and humanities, a master’s degree in English and a certificate in geographic information systems.

She has spent the last 20 years researching, writing and editing lengthy papers and reports on issues impacting American Indian culture for a Boulder-based research group. In conducting her work, she developed and maintained excellent working relationships with Native American tribes and federal agencies. Pam also teaches English composition at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus and Morgan Community College.

A lifelong learner, she is now studying how to teach English to speakers of other languages. Her career goal is to teach English abroad so that she can support herself while seeing more of the world. She’s eager to help people in other countries learn English, which will help them and their families to broaden their economic options and enter the world economy.

Larimer Campus

Melanie Blanda

A first-generation college student with a 4.0 GPA, Melanie loves helping people and has a deeply inquisitive mind. So her boss in FRCC’s Information Technology department finds it no surprise that Melanie has chosen to work in IT support. Her work as a student employee ties in well with her studies in computer information sciences at the college.

Melanie’s supervisor describes her as highly self-motivated. “Her enthusiasm for the work, her superb problem-solving skills, patience and excellent customer service have made her an instant asset to our team and the IT department as a whole.”

Melanie’s goal is to be well-rounded in all areas of information technology, but she wants to eventually work in cybersecurity to help companies protect important data. She says her biggest motivation in life is her daughter. “I want to show her that no matter how hard life can be, it’s ultimately shaped by your own choices.”

In addition to work, school and being a mom, Melanie has also spent time volunteering at a local animal shelter and food bank. She plans to eventually transfer to CSU to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Eve Jones

A Colorado Early College student, Eve has managed to accomplish a lot in her mere 17 years. In addition to her academic achievements—she has a 5.0 GPA—Eve has spent hundreds of hours volunteering with local non-profit organizations like:

  • The Linus Project
  • The National Humane Society
  • Cardz for Kidz
  • Columbine Nursing Home
  • Treats for Troops
  • Fort Collins Rescue Mission
  • And more…

Despite the global pandemic, she managed to find creative ways to continue her volunteer work. Eve suffers from Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome—a rare disease of the nervous system. Living with constant pain has led her to use a wheelchair in her daily life. As a member of both the disabled community and the LGBTQ+ community, Eve has overcome bullying and discrimination to become the advocate and leader she is now.

While at school, she works as a peer tutor—helping other students during her lunch and off periods, as well as after school. Her tutoring supervisor describes Eve has a “caring, intuitive and persistent leader… who is a positive role model for her clients and peers.” Her versatility, adaptability and “gentle strength” give her the ability to motivate and inspire the people around her.

After graduation this spring, Eve plans to go to the University of Colorado to study microbiology. Her eventual goal is to become a medical doctor specializing in infectious diseases.

Rachel Link

FRCC’s architectural engineering and construction technology program director describes Rachel as a “highly motivated, outstanding student,” which is reflected in her 4.0 GPA. He adds that her “resourcefulness and strong work ethic make Rachel a pleasure to work with. She consistently goes above and beyond my expectations.”

Rachel is shifting away from a career in video production to enter the field of interior design. She says that learning new skills like computer-aided drafting and sustainable building practices will give her a solid foundation for starting out in a new profession.

She takes classes full time at FRCC while also working part time for a residential custom home builder in Northern Colorado. As the chair of programs for FRCC’s Design Club, Rachel helps bring in guest speakers and plan activities that allow her fellow students to interact with the larger design community. Off campus, she has volunteered with the Food Bank of Larimer County and the northern Colorado chapter of Volunteers of America.

Rachel plans to go straight to work after completing her Associate of Applied Science degree in interior architecture and design. “I would like to combine organizing and design support for individuals and companies on both a residential and commercial level,” she says. Her career goal is to have a successful business creating functional spaces for clients that reflect their ideal living and working environments.

Anna Story

FRCC nursing faculty describe Anna as “an extraordinary student” who works hard every day to master new knowledge. In her work, she exhibits excellent critical thinking skills and clinical judgement.

Anna has a bachelor’s degree in biology, and at age 23 she went to work for a faith-based organization overseas. Her first two children had major health problems—and the kind, competent care they received inspired her to want to work in health care.

Now a busy mother of four, Anna still manages to find time to serve as co-president of the college’s Student Nurses Association and was recently elected a class officer. As an outstanding leader, Anna is kind, caring, enthusiastic and welcoming.

She recently played an instrumental role in developing weekly stress management meetings—using cognitive-based mindfulness therapy—for interested students. In addition to being in nursing school, Anna works part time at an urgent care. She has also helped staff vaccine clinics in northern Colorado during the pandemic.

Anna plans to continue working in health care while completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado—and her goal is to eventually become a nurse practitioner.

Westminster Campus

Chomba Mwiko

Chomba was born in Zambia and raised by a single mother. As a young adult, she worked as a pediatric nurse trainer in her home country. Now a full-time nursing student at FRCC, she works full time at Amazon and is raising her two adorable children—and one-year-old boy and 19-month-old girl—all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

She has an incredible work ethic and cares deeply about positively impacting her community. Her supervisor at work says Chomba’s “passion for learning and helping others, her leadership—and her drive to challenge the status quo—have positively impacted more than 4,000 employees and improved the way our site conducts its day-to-day business.”

At Amazon, she uses her knowledge and experience to highlight safety concerns and discuss solutions to minimize safety incidents in the workplace. Chomba was hand-selected to be an employee spokesperson, leading more than 2,000 workers in educational discussions about safety, health and wellness topics.

Last year, she helped fill 3,500 backpacks with school supplies for students in need. Chomba also volunteers at her church, helping with Sunday school and feeding people who are experiencing homelessness. She plans to work as an RN after completing her associate degree at FRCC—and then go back to school in a couple of years to complete her bachelor’s degree. (She’s leaving the door open to eventually returning for a master’s degree.) She says the years of hard work will be worth it to give her kids a better life than she had growing up—and she sees a bright future for her family.

Jelena Estrada

Jelena was born in 1993 during the Yugoslavian war, and she grew up a Bosnian refugee—moving with her family through Croatia, eventually settling in Serbia at the age of eight. During these early years of her life, she and those around her often did not have the bare necessities. That’s why she now wants to be a support for others going through extreme difficulties.

“The empowerment I have received in my life has allowed me to be the first person in my family to attend college and to continue breaking the mold that I was born into,” she says. Her career goal is to become a child psychologist.

At FRCC, Jelena started a feminist book club and also designed a workshop to help other students work through their fear and anxiety of public speaking. A faculty member described Jelena’s workshop as being “the level of quality I would expect if I were attending a professional conference.”

Jelena works for the college psychology department, assisting instructors with running their labs for more than 800 students per semester. She strives to create safe spaces where students can ask questions, understand complex material and feel comfortable voicing their own knowledge.

Her supervisor says Jelena demonstrates a natural intellectual curiosity, as well as high levels of intrinsic motivation. After graduating from FRCC, Jelena plans to continue on to a bachelor’s degree in psychology—and hopes to eventually complete her doctorate.

Rhonnie Crutcher

Rhonnie was raised by a single mom, with help from her grandmother. She remembers them as very strong women who she says still inspire her. A first-generation college student, Rhonnie now has two teenage kids of her own who will be going to college soon—and she wants to be a role model for them. (And with her 4.0 GPA, she’s on the right track!)

Rhonnie is studying horticulture and landscape design, which will lay the foundation for a brand-new career for her. (She previously worked as a journeyman and graphic designer for 20 years at the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News.) She has a newfound passion for promoting environmental sustainability.

Her teachers describe her as inquisitive, collaborative and engaged. “Rhonnie wants to find creative ways to develop and perpetuate sustainable solutions,” says one FRCC horticulture faculty member. “She wants to enrich places for people and the planet—through intelligent environmental design.”

Rhonnie also has extensive knowledge of Latin, which sheds light on botanic plant names as she and her classmates work to expand their understanding of plants and the environment. After graduating from FRCC, Rhonnie plans to go straight to work—she already has an internship lined up for this summer in the horticultural industry. She hopes to start her own business specializing in sustainable landscapes, such as xeriscapes. She expects to eventually transfer to CSU to complete a bachelor’s degree at some point in the future.

Sasha Smith

Sasha’s path to a nursing career has not been an easy one. She went to a church school until eighth grade—but that’s where her formal education ended for the time being. At age 16—without any high school education—she earned her GED. As soon as she could drive, Sasha started working to help support her family.

She has since built her career in health care one step at a time—and has discovered that taking care of others is where her true passion lies. The director of nursing who oversaw Sasha’s work as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), describes her as “kind, caring, diligent—and most importantly—a solid leader within the community. She is a born leader and inspires others with humility and integrity.”

Sasha says she strives to be a bridge. “I want to build connections and understanding between people rather than build barriers that interfere with achieving our goals,” she says. One way she does this is by serving as a liaison between the administration, nurses and the CNA’s in the long-term care facility where she works.

During the COVID pandemic, she covered many extra shifts at the facility, which meant working days, evenings and night shifts—sometimes all in the same week. After earning her degree, Sasha plans to work in acute care in a hospital setting, and she hopes to eventually earn a master’s degree in nursing.

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.

Emilia Morales

Emilia is currently working on a certificate in graphic design at FRCC. She transferred to our Westminster campus from CSU where she had been a member of El Centro—the Latino cultural center on campus. When she came to Front Range, she joined LEIA, our leadership program for Latinx students. She immediately became invested in the program, poring over all the recommended reading materials.

Emilia also works in the Student Life Office on campus, where she has been helping the college strengthen its efforts and offerings as FRCC moves toward becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution. She has found several areas where she can apply what she learned at CSU—and what she continues learning at FRCC—to prop up her community, as well as other underserved communities.

Emilia also volunteers by helping with cultural events on campus. When she heard that the college has plans to open a new Multicultural Center, she immediately asked how she could be involved. She has been helping conceptualize offerings for that space and has already applied to work in the center when it opens. “Emilia is continually learning both inside and outside the classroom and doing her best to find opportunities to apply that knowledge to support her peers,” says her supervisor.

Emilia plans to return to CSU in 2023 to finish her bachelor’s degree in journalism and media communications. She eventually wants to work in media, proudly highlighting her Latine community.

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.

Mateo Chavez

FRCC wolf logo

You’ll see Mateo’s name on the President’s List every semester, as he works toward completing his A.S. degree in cybersecurity. (He has already earned an A.A. from FRCC.) Once he finishes his A.S. Mateo plans to transfer to Regis University to earn a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity.

People who know him describe Mateo as a great leader who inspires others by example. He works in Student Life at FRCC, where colleagues say he is very responsible, dedicated and dependable.

Although Mateo is naturally quiet, he has been working to come out of his shell at FRCC. His friends and colleagues note that he will do “anything he can to help anyone who needs assistance.”

He shares his extensive knowledge about the college with everyone around him. His supervisor in Student Life writes: “I am grateful that Mateo works in our department and I feel privileged to have watched him develop and grow into the wonderful leader he is.”

The oldest of three boys, Mateo loves his family, his pets and working on his car. He also likes to explore, and enjoys getting in the car and travelling to find new places and learn more about them.

Nick Hagan

Nick is working on his associate of applied science degree in wildlife technology—and has already earned certificates in wildlife and fisheries management, as well as environmental education. He has spent part of the last three summers working with the National Wildlife Federation on a sage grouse habitat restoration project in Montana.

As a participant in the FRCC Wildlife Honors Program, Nick has been assisting with tracking bighorn sheep in northern Colorado. Last summer, he got to work at Cherokee State Wildlife Area northwest of Fort Collins as a property tech assistant.

Nick is described as an “outstanding” student employee for FRCC’s natural resources department and is also a student instructor for the college’s class in wildlife field techniques. He is currently co-president of the Society of American Foresters student organization. He has been instrumental in rebuilding the group after COVID.

Nick also writes for the Larimer campus newspaper The Reporter. He enjoys being outside—hunting, fishing and camping with his border collie Millie. He credits his teachers at FRCC for being “excellent teachers and inspirations and incredible advocates for their students.”

Kevin Ortiz

Kevin is also on the All-Colorado Academic Team. Please see his bio above.

Click here to view the 2022 Student Excellence Awards 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.

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