Tough life doesn’t deter Steamboat graduate heading for Colorado Mountain College
July 21, 2015
Steamboat Springs — Thania Núñez may barely be an adult, age-wise, but her life story reads as that of one much older.
The maturity she has gained over the years has led the recent Steamboat Springs High School graduate to earn one of 14 Alpine Bank Latino/Hispanic Scholarships to attend Colorado Mountain College this fall. Núñez plans to attend the college's campus in the Roaring Fork Valley, which includes locations in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and neighboring Spring Valley.
Since 1996, more than 180 graduating high school seniors have received Alpine Bank Latino/Hispanic Scholarships to attend CMC. Recipients have their tuition, fees and textbook costs covered by Alpine Bank for two years. To be considered for these awards, students must be of Latino/Hispanic descent, qualify as an in-district CMC student, have at least a 2.5 GPA and demonstrate financial need, among other criteria. Each scholarship equals $2,200 a year.
Search for better future presented many hurdles
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Núñez wrote in her scholarship essay about her arrival in the United States when she was 3 years old, "carried on the backs of a young immigrant couple."
"They came to this country like everyone else, in search of a better future for their family, in chase of the American dream," Núñez wrote. "I have made it my personal mission to fulfill not only their dreams, but also mine."
When Núñez was 13, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and Núñez took on the care of her siblings and herself. Shortly after the news of her mother’s illness, her parents divorced, and the teenager became head of the household, eventually taking on full-time work to support the family.
"Although we have endured hard times, I have never lost hope in what can become of my future," she wrote.
And she has a good idea of what her future could hold.
"I want to be a finance major or maybe be a lawyer one day," she wrote. "I want to gain an education so that I can give back to my community and this country what it has given to me."
In an interview, Núñez said growing up with the hardships she and her family faced "made me grow as a person and it made me mature."
Gaining skills to lead
Former Grand Futures Prevention Coalition Program Director Kate Elkins came to know Núñez through the Steamboat Springs Teen Council, a group of 21 high school students that works to give teens a voice in their community and acts as a resource for adult decision-makers.
Elkins wrote in her letter of recommendation for the Alpine Bank scholarship that Núñez, through her two years with the council, "gained confidence and honed numerous skills that have made her the leader that she is today."
That work included helping integrate and connect Hispanic teens in their schools and communities.
Núñez also volunteered at Integrated Community, an organization that supports local residents for whom English is a second language. She tutored elementary school students and donated time to a community interpretation and translation program, which connects residents to services.
In addition, Núñez volunteers at a local food bank, where she helps stock and sort food items and assembles snack packs for local schools.
Elkins also praised Núñez for quitting a job and focusing on her schoolwork during her senior year.
"I couldn't be more proud of her for making this decision to have more balance with work, school and life," Elkins wrote. "She has grown into a true leader in our community and an inspiring role model to others."
Independence, resiliency, maturity cited
In her letter of recommendation for the scholarship, Kelly Erickson, Núñez's social studies teacher at Steamboat Springs High School, called her "an independent and resilient young woman who shares her maturity and insightful nature with others."
Erickson wrote that Núñez used her family's difficulties, working full time and volunteering — without sacrificing her schoolwork — to build on her already strong character.
"This resiliency and maturity is truly remarkable and inspiring," Erickson said. "I am certain that she will meet and exceed all of our expectations of her in the future."
"Since I was a little girl I have felt like an adult," Núñez wrote in her essay. "I've felt the weight and responsibility of the lives of others in my hands. To give up, to fail, is not an option for me. My dream is not just to survive; it is not in my personality. Rather, I want to thrive. I have worked hard to be where I am now, but I know I’m not done yet.”