Talented Telluride area artisan and metalworker, Aaron Smith, had long had a dream of pursuing a degree in industrial design, but had never taken an academic college course when he walked into the UCSM counseling office in the summer of 2005 to discuss enrolling in the first semester of courses offered by the new rural higher education learning center.
Over the next several semesters, and despite a heavy load of work, volunteer commitments, and a serious automobile accident, Smith completed a substantial number of required general education courses and electives with a respectable grade point average. As a result, he was accepted at Arizona State University, which has one of the best industrial design departments in the nation, and every credit earned through UCSM has transferred to give him a good head start on completing a four year degree.
UCSM Boardmember Eric Nepsky described Smith as a prototype of the kind of adult student the nonprofit UCSM was designed to serve.
Also awarded was Susan Rice, who manages the tiny public library in Naturita and has two college-aged daughters, tested the academic waters by first enrolling in a continuing education Spanish Communications course offered by UCSM at the Redvale Community Center.
Then, with strong encouragement from her long time friend and UCSM founder and director, Sarah Silver, Rice enrolled in her first college classes in the fall of 2006. Since then, she has been on a roll, not only taking convenient local courses through UCSM, but also picking up credits at the main campus of Mesa State College where she joined a political science course that both her daughters were taking.
Despite her initial misgivings about her ability to handle the harsh demands of college, full time job, and family, Susan is maintaining a 4.0 GPA and looking forward to completing a degree.
One of the reasons UCSM has been successful in supporting the ambitions of local adult students who have delayed entering or finishing college, sometimes for decades, is the quality and commitment of its local faculty.
“We are very lucky to be able to attract instructors who not only have the academic credentials to teach at the college level, but also understand that teaching non-traditional adult students is as much about mentoring and building intellectual confidence as it is about helping them gain skills and knowledge,” Silver said.
“I would not be here if it wasn’t for the university centers,” Smith said as he accepted his award. “It was not only the convenience of local classes, but the support and advocacy provided by the UCSM staff and instructors that has gotten me this far.”
The UCSM is a nonprofit rural higher education learning center formed in 2005 to serve the higher education and professional training needs of the residents and employees of the San Miguel watershed and neighboring communities and it functions like a small community college branch. UCSM’s college level courses are accredited through partnerships with Mesa State College and Colorado Northwestern Community College and it works closely with Prescott College’s hybrid distance undergraduate and graduate programs. UCSM’s academic and professional training programs are supported in part by grants from Mountain Village Owners Association, Town of Telluride CCAASE, San Miguel County, Town of Mountain Village, and Telluride Foundation, and by private and business donations. For information on upcoming courses and UCSM’s Pathways to College programs, call 970/369-5255 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.