Nora Tayefeh has earned a full-ride college scholarship and shares the accolades with her with math professor Christy Gomez.
We’ve all heard the saying: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
In ninth grade, life handed Nora Tayefeh a global pandemic, a lockdown and online school. Over the next three years, she managed to turn it into an associate degree from FRCC—while still in high school—and a Boettcher Foundation scholarship to any college in Colorado.
The Big Scholarship
Nora was named a Boettcher Scholar for 2023 from a pool of nearly 2,000 highly qualified applicants—the scholarship’s largest pool of applicants ever. The awardees aren’t just chosen for their academic excellence. (Nora has taken college-level classes for the last three years and still maintains a 4.0 GPA.) The Boettcher Foundation also bases its selection on applicants’ demonstrated leadership, service activities and extracurricular involvement.
“We work hard to create an environment at FRCC where academic excellence is encouraged and fostered,” says President Colleen Simpson, EdD.
“But Nora didn’t just excel in her classes here,” Simpson adds. “She is also a 4-H leader and an emergent biotech researcher. She volunteers in her community, has won numerous awards for animal husbandry, is building a growing entomology collection and is highly skilled at archery.
According to the Boettcher Foundation, these scholarships are designed encourage “our most dynamic thinkers, doers, and difference makers to stay in Colorado so they can positively impact their communities across our state.”
It All Started With COVID
Nora had completed most of her freshman year at Silver Creek High School in Longmont when the pandemic hit in March of 2020. Then everything went online.
That fall, she discovered Colorado Early Colleges, which is one of the ways that students in the state can take college classes—and earn college credit—while still in high school.
“If I’m going to take all my classes online anyway, I might as well take college classes,” she figured.
“When I first joined FRCC in the fall of 2020, I noticed a huge difference in the online courses,” Nora recalls. “The professors obviously knew what they were doing and had everything set up for online learning.” She spent her entire 10th grade year taking college courses online.
Things were going so well at FRCC that, when the college returned to on-campus learning, Nora decided to try in person classes at the college. But at just 16, she was “extremely worried” about being the youngest person in her class.
“I was terrified that people in my class would be 10-20 years older than me. I didn’t know what to do or how to act.”
That’s when engineering faculty member Christy Gomez—and Nora’s classmates—came to the rescue. Christy taught Nora’s calculus class that first semester on campus. “When I walked into class the first day I was preparing for the worst, but once I saw my professor, I knew I had nothing to worry about,” Nora says.
She remembers that this “incredible teacher” put her right at ease. “[Christy’s] lectures are amazing, and she knows her subject incredibly well. She’s also extremely welcoming, super kind and made the classroom vibe relaxed and happy and friendly.”
Nora’s feeling of admiration for her teacher seems to be mutual. “Not only did Nora excel academically, she emerged as a group leader, helping her classmates during challenging activities,” Christy recalls. “She strongly contributed to creating a positive, inclusive learning environment.”
Recognizing Her Professor
Nora’s first decision as a Boettcher scholar was to select Christy Gomez for a 2023 Teacher Recognition Award from the Boettcher Foundation. Each scholar is asked to identify one teacher who impacted their lives and made significant contributions to their growth and education.
“Christy has been a huge inspiration to me ever since we met,” Nora says. “Seeing her teach concepts that she knows so much about—in a way that anyone can understand—is an incredible skill that I hope to someday develop.”
The teaching award recognizes the significant role Christy played in shaping Nora’s educational experience and development, as well as her passion for the profession and dedication to her students.
“Christy is a phenomenal teacher,” says FRCC President Simpson. “She’s not just incredibly knowledgeable in her field—she goes above and beyond to get students to engage in active learning in her classroom and beyond.”
Not Just Great Teachers
For her 11th and 12th grade years, Nora decided to stick with Front Range because she felt like she had “more of a home” at FRCC.
“Even in my online classes, everyone was super inclusive,” she says. “The other students and professors, everyone I met thru FRCC was amazing. They have incredible life stories and they’re so dedicated. I got to know people who are going back to college after going through a lot.”
During her final semester, she remembers taking a calculus-based physics class. “The people I’d been sitting next to, we started getting together. Then everyone started getting together in study groups.”
“I ended up making a lot of friends in that class, it was just a giant friend group, including the professor. They were all fun to be around.”
A Role Model at Home
Since childhood, Nora has had a great example of how hard work and initiative can pay off. Her dad moved to the US from Iran in the 80s, and his family only had enough money to send one person. So he made the trip alone.
“As a first-generation immigrant from Iran, when he came to the US, he started out at the bottom of the barrel and had to work his way up,” she says.
Nora’s dad didn’t speak English when he arrived, but eventually he went to Texas A&M University for a bachelor’s degree, then earned his master’s in electrical engineering at the University of Arizona.
For years, he’s been saving up to send Nora and her sister to college, but she says getting the Boettcher scholarship is going to help her family a lot. “This is the best thing that’s happened to us in a while,” she says.
Nora graduated from FRCC in May with an associate degree—two days before officially graduating from high school.
Nora got the chance to do an internship at Colorado State University last summer—she worked in the bioengineering lab on campus. She’ll be working there again this summer before starting as a full-time student at CSU.
She plans to major in biochemistry and minor in entomology. (She has a strong interest in insects and has a large entomology collection that she’s been building for years.)
Nora likes the idea of possibly leading educational or industrial research at some point. She says she’d eventually like to find a way to incorporate insects into medical research.
Becoming a Ram
She chose CSU, in part, because it has great science programs and is reasonably close to home. “I also just felt at home there,” she says. “CSU seems to be heavily involved in the outdoors—it has a lot of wildlife and conservation programs as well as outdoor clubs. I believe I will probably meet people with similar interests to mine.”
With 67 college credits already under her belt, Nora will basically be starting with junior status, and may only have to do two years at CSU. The Boettcher scholarship provides a full ride for the entire cost of her schooling—she and her family won’t have to pay for anything.
Nora admits she’s a little nervous about the new experience she’s about to have attending a large university. “I’ve never had a class in a giant lecture hall,” she says. “My biggest class at Front Range was maybe 30 people.” But based on her accomplishments so far, it seems like her worries are probably unnecessary.
People often say that you get out of college what you put in—meaning the effort you make as a student will define how what kind of experience you have. With Nora’s obvious curiosity and clear drive to excel, there’s no question that she’s going to do outstanding things at CSU and beyond.