Student Excellence Awards icon

CCCS honors 13 FRCC students—and peers around the state—for their inspiring achievements.

The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) this week paid tribute to top students from schools around the state during the system’s 2023 Student Excellence Awards.

Thirteen distinguished students from Front Range Community College were chosen for this year’s honors. 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,” says FRCC President Colleen Simpson, EdD. “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

Ten Front Range Community College students have earned places on the 2023 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.

Westminster Campus

Cristian Madrazo

An engineering instructor writes that Cristian immediately stood out in her class by demonstrating “some of the most impressive leadership I’ve seen from a student.” Not only is he technically skilled—she now uses his assignments as exemplars for her current students—he also led his group design project to success, despite many challenges.

Their class project eventually morphed into a design for a drone that uses human hair to help clean up oil spills in the ocean. Cristian and one a teammate went on to compete in the national Community College Innovation Challenge, their design earning second place out of teams from all over the US.

A first-generation American citizen, Cristian has been financially independent since age 17. In high school, he was certified by the IRS as a volunteer tax preparer with Tax Help Colorado. He provided free help on tax returns for community members with limited income, many of whom required help in Spanish.

Cristian already has an AAS degree in business logistics from FRCC. When he graduates with his engineering associate degree this spring, he plans to transfer to CU Boulder to finish his undergraduate degree in engineering with a minor in computer science. He plans to participate in the university’s accelerated Master’s degree program.

Cristian has accepted an internship doing climate research for CU Boulder/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this summer. He hopes to one day lead an engineering firm of his own, with a primary focus on sustainability as well as equity and inclusion.

Maggie Hernandez

Her instructors describe Maggie as extraordinarily motivated, bright, thorough and thoughtful. She’s rightfully known as a person you can count on. A horticulture student at FRCC’s Westminster Campus, Maggie has an endless desire to learn everything she can about plants and how they can best influence the world around her.

Maggie’s motivation stems from a desire to bring healthy and nutritious food to people who need it most. She currently works for a non-profit called the Consumption Literacy Project, which strives to teach people about waste streams and gardening, specifically in areas where healthy food is scarce.

Maggie already holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in filmmaking—and after college, she moved to New York City to work on movie sets, but quickly discovered it wasn’t the career she wanted. She eventually came back to Colorado and was inspired by the astounding beauty of her natural surroundings.

Now Maggie impresses everyone around her with her exceptional work involving plants, pests, soils and the environment. After completing her associate degree, she plans to work for a non-profit using sustainable landscaping practices to benefit people and the planet. She may even one day start her own.

Yanice Casarez

Yanice has already make a career working in early childhood education for more than 12 years—and she loves making a difference in children’s lives. Mostly recently, she’s been working as an assistant director at an early childhood center—and she just graduated from FRCC with her early childhood director certificate.

A first-generation college student, Yanice now aspires to move up into a director position, which her academic advisor says will be a perfect fit. “Yanice has the singular commitment, drive and passion to be an excellent early childhood director.”

At FRCC, Yanice has made a real impact with her passion, professionalism and contagious enthusiasm. She works hard to cultivate positive relationships with parents and families and demonstrates a true desire to provide the best care and education for their children. Her vast patience and empathy—along with her bilingual communication and organizational skills—give her what it takes to be an effective leader in almost any type of child care setting.

Yanice would eventually like to continue her education and finish a bachelor’s degree because she enjoys learning and wants to keep growing. She also hopes to eventually own her own child care center.

Lucas Guerrero

Lucas’s instructors describe him as respectful, caring, trustworthy, ambitious, confident—and a role model for other students. They say he is diligent and never backs down from a challenge. Lucas is determined not only to learn how to perform new tasks in class, but to gain a deep understanding of the underlying concepts they’re learning. He listens to his classmates, which makes him an excellent team member who is always willing to help others.

A first-generation college student, Lucas is currently studying biology at FRCC and plans to complete his bachelor’s degree in neuroscience at CSU. He spent last summer working as an undergraduate researcher at a neurobehavioral endocrinology lab at CU Boulder.

He would eventually like to complete an MD/PhD—likely in endocrinology or cell signaling—and aspires to expand research in the endocrinology field for transgender healthcare, specifically making improvements in hormone replacement therapy. Lucas says he wants to give back to his community through his passion for science—and hopes to make some significant contributions in this field.

An animal lover, he also works as a pre-surgery clinic volunteer at Riverdale Animal Shelter. In his free time, Lucas is a competitive gamer and expert Team Fortress 2 player. He works as a coach and mentor for newer players through the Team Fortress competitive leagues.

Boulder County Campus

John Komosa

A 4.0 student, John is a TRIO scholar at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus. From a young age, he has cared for his disabled father and step-mother. Because the family was on a limited income growing up, whatever they didn’t have, John would learn to make—or they had to do without it.

His TRIO coach says these challenges have only made John stronger. “I hear him in our TRIO lounge voluntarily tutoring other students in math and science because they are subjects he excels in, and he is motivated to help others in need. He also has the gift of being able to explain tough concepts using real life and tangible examples to shift once obscure formulas or theories to become clear.” John does this joyfully, working through problems with other students until they get it.

Science and math are foundational in his thought and learning processes, and he hopes to devise solutions to create a more sustainable environmental future. He is a collaborative and inclusive leader who cares about his community and makes sure that individuals feel included.

John plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and mechanical engineering, and eventually wants complete his MD in order to open his own medical practice and laboratory—with the goal of revolutionizing the prosthetics industry.

Matthew Sessa

Matthew’s biggest motivation is his two kids. He wants to show them how hard work in school can pay off in a career. That’s why he recently enrolled in FRCC’s automation and engineering technology (AET) program.

He’s already familiar with many of the industrial machines he’s learning about, having used them in previous jobs. But now he’s getting to understand how they work and how to fix them when they act up—something he never had the know-how for before.

His instructors say Matt is a great student who always comes to class prepared, organized and ready to learn. They describe his “exceptional” ability to transfer and apply theories presented in the classroom to hands-on practical exercises in the lab. He works great in a team environment, and is dedicated to mastering the concepts and skills in our program.

After graduating in the fall of 2023 with his AAS degree (and the three certificates that go along with it), Matthew plans to get a job as a maintenance mechanic at a local company with a large amount of automation—or one that builds automated machines. His dream is to build machines for companies around the country, help install and onboard them, then come back and work with the engineers at his company to make those machines better. In the long term, he would like to be a vice president of operations or plant manager for a local startup company.   

Larimer Campus

Brittany Makowski

As she moves on to her second career, Brittany’s focus is on bridging the gap between western health care and eastern wellness. She already holds two associate degrees—in medical assisting and health science—as well as several health- and wellness-related certificates. She is now close to finishing her third AA in integrative health and has just gotten her massage therapy license.

Her instructors say Brittany surpasses the requirements of her classes and smoothly applies and combines the techniques and theories that she has learned in order to create a more rounded holistic approach to health—for herself and her future clients. She also works in the health care careers center at FRCC’s Larimer Campus, where she has made connections between the integrative health, EMT and medical assisting programs.

She looks forward to starting a doctoral program in the fall of 2023 at the Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine for Acupuncture. Brittany’s long-term goal is to open an integrative health practice that treats the whole person by creating an inclusive form of wellness that operates symbiotically with a person’s primary care physician and is adjacent to—or affiliated with—allopathic doctors.

Kon Karnes

Kon has studied the devastating effects of climate change and has decided he wants to work in environmental protection. He is currently working on a degree in biological/biomedical sciences at FRCC, and plans to transfer to CSU for a bachelor’s degree in business.

In the classroom, Kon engages with classmates in a collaborative and active learning environment—he asks interesting questions and “embraces the mess of learning,” according to one faculty member. Kon takes a creative and thoughtful approach to anything he tackles and is dedicated to continually improving. He also practices self-reflection, and reflects “deeply and genuinely” on his learning.

Outside of the classroom, Kon exhibits a strong work ethic by volunteering. His mother and sister are both teachers, and he enjoys working in their classrooms, helping out by giving kids who struggle in school a little extra help. An avid fisherman, Kon has also taken on a leadership role in organizing local cleanup days on the Poudre River with his friends.

Jesse Clark

Jesse is a local entrepreneur who runs a successful parkour business. He dropped out of college 10 years ago to run his company, which now provides an athletic outlet for around 500 families in northern Colorado. He has chosen to complete his degree because he’s passionate about computer science and is seeking a sense of mastery in the field of data analysis.

In addition to running his own company, Jesse works with Thompson School District in a program that provides alternative learning activities for at-risk middle school students. In his work with kids, Jesse leads by example and works to make constant improvement in all his efforts. He helps his students to create a path that they are able to follow, despite having had limited success in school previously. He introduces tasks that may be intimidating, but breaks them down into achievable chunks. As the students succeed at each step, Jesse celebrates with them and encourages them onto the next—until the original large task is accomplished. Through Jesse’s efforts, they learn to accept failure and struggle as part of the process, and they experience what it means to have a growth mindset.

A first-generation college student, he now has a 4.0 GPA at FRCC. Jesse hopes to eventually complete a bachelor’s degree. He also loves fostering dogs and cats with his wife until they can be adopted into new families in the community.

Dillon Redmond

Dillon earned an associate degree shortly after high school. Over the past 10 years, he has worked several different jobs—one of which led him to studying multimedia graphic design at FRCC.

As a student, his instructors describe him as well-rounded, professional, talented, deadline-driven—and a person who continuously strives to learn new things in the graphic design industry. Outside of the classroom, he strives to make the world a better place by offering design work to nonprofits.

Dillon also works as a student art director for the student Design Agency at FRCC’s Larimer Campus and has worked as a social media manager for the Multimedia Graphic Design Department. A first-generation student, Dillon has been able to juggle a large class load as well as his leadership roles on campus, while also working full-time as a designer.

Dillon enjoys creating logos and layout and packaging designs. His long-term goals are to either help small businesses re-brand themselves in order to boost their growth and success, or work for a non-profit that focuses on human rights and leads the way for a more equal and just society for all.

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.

Jaén Chávez

Jaén is president of the Veterans Club on campus and has helped revitalize the group and build a much greater presence on campus. Before studying at FRCC, he served four years in the US Marine Corps. The only American citizen in his family, Jaén is working to create a strong foundation for their future.

His impact on the college’s Boulder County Campus has been significant—the veterans group is now more involved in campus life than ever before and is providing better support for our student vets. He revived the club with a revised constitution and worked to create an Officer of Equity & Inclusivity position within the Veterans Club—so that vets of any ethnicity or gender identity can feel welcome.

Jaén enlisted people to help clean up the veterans lounge on campus—making it more useable and pulling together resources to support our vets. By gathering the veteran population on campus into one space, he created the community he and others were looking for. He worked hard at recruiting, connecting and encouraging people to join his leadership board. Many student organizations have struggled because of the pandemic, but this club has been one of the most proactive and driven organizations across the college in gaining membership (which is not limited to veterans) and community engagement.

Jaén is also a supplemental instruction leader on campus where he helps fellow students master the material in their math classes. He is working toward an associate degree in general engineering, then plans to transfer to CSU to earn a bachelor’s in electrical engineering.

Rachel Link

Rachel Link is shifting away from a career in video production to enter the field of interior design. As president of FRCC’s Larimer Campus Design Club, she has been instrumental in redesigning the club’s focus on inclusion, while providing the group thoughtful leadership, insight and keen observations.

Her professors describe Rachel as a kind, passionate person who loves to work hard and strives to maintain a work-life balance. She brings real-world experience into the classroom, offering a valuable perspective to multifaceted content and creates meaningful conversations with her peers and instructors. She is able to see unique opportunities, bridge knowledge gaps and connect with people in celebrating the process of learning about interior design.

Rachel says that her newfound skills of computer-aided drafting and sustainable building practices give her a solid foundation to start a new profession. She is a full-time student at FRCC while also working part time for a lighting and home automation showroom in northern Colorado.

After graduation, Rachel hopes to sit for several exams to receive her LEED, WELL and NCIDQ certifications. After completing her Associate of Applied Science degree in interior architecture and design, she plans to transition into a full-time design position.

Her career goal is to have a successful business creating functional spaces for clients that reflect their ideal living and working environments. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, Larimer County Food Bank and Volunteers of America.

Jackson Tate

Jackson is doubling majoring at FRCC in history and political science. He also works in the Student Life Office and is president of the campus basketball club. His supervisor says that, after COVID, Jackson came in willing to learn all about student life programming, including areas that had been shut down during the pandemic.

Reliable and helpful to all, he has taken on learning about the college and how we can best serve our students. He played an integral role in getting the campus game room back up and running by helping develop policies and train new staff, as well as bringing back tournaments for students to participate in.

Jackson became a Student Lead this year because of his ability to provide strong leadership to fellow student employees. He has also taken on the extra responsibility of being cross trained to work in the Westminster Campus Fitness Center (which was short staffed) and has helped fill in whenever needed. He is an integral part of the Student Life Office.

Jackson will graduate with his history degree this spring (with the poli sci degree coming soon!). Outside of school, he also works with youth sports, refereeing for the city of Erie.

The oldest of three boys, Jackson is a great role model for his two younger brothers. After FRCC, he plans to transfer to a four-year school to earn a bachelor’s degree, and eventually wants to be a lawyer. He is an avid reader who enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, two dogs and cat.

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.

Student Veterans Organization

Through the tireless efforts of Jaén Chávez (President), Tim Watson (Vice President) and Paige Elliot (Equity Liaison), the Student Veteran Organization (SVO) broadening the community, resources and viewpoints of student veterans. As SVO leaders, they told FRCC’s Office of Equity & Inclusion that veterans are sometimes perceived as narrow-minded, and they aim to change both that perception and the reality.

This team is creating veteran sensitivity trainings for the college, and working to strengthen the veteran community by building knowledge of mental health, homelessness and fellow LGBTQ+ veterans. They are creating an inclusive community by reaching outreach to new students. Paige approached the Office of Equity & Inclusion to build a new leadership position for the club: An Equity Liaison. She now serves in that role, with the goal of ensuring that vets of any ethnicity or gender identity feel welcome.

Initiative like this is the norm for the whole SVO. The entire team is directly involved in campus and community equity efforts, including building “tiny” homes in Longmont for homeless veterans. A diverse group themselves, their beautiful Veteran’s Day ceremony saw an excellent turnout from the whole campus despite the cold weather—a testament to Jaén’s, Tim’s and Paige’s hard work and community building skills.

Jaén enlisted people to help clean up the veterans’ lounge on campus—making it more useable and pulling together resources to support our vets. He also helped re-establish the SVO as an official organization at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus.

Enter Tim and Paige as his fellow leaders. Thanks to their efforts, the SVO is now revived and more involved in campus life than ever before. Proactive and driven, the organization is gaining membership (not limited to veterans) and increasing meaningful community engagement.

Click here to view the 2023 Student Excellence Award honorees.

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About Front Range Community College

FRCC offers more than 100 degree and certificate programs from locations in Boulder County, Larimer County, Westminster 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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