Glenwood grad at top of her class at Regis University |

Glenwood grad at top of her class at Regis University

Jim Noyes
Roaring Fork Pre-Collegiate Program
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Jim Noyes Roaring Fork Pre-Collegiate ProgramKarina Tlaxcala-Jaquez is carrying a double major in math and biochemistry at Regis University in Denver, where she is finishing up her final year of study. She is planning to go on to medical school and work in health care.

An improbable journey began nearly 12 years ago for one of a very few Hispanic children attending Silt Elementary School.

Today, Karina Tlaxcala-Jaquez (pronounced tlocks-CAH-LAH hawk-EZ), a 2008 graduate of Glenwood Springs High School, is poised to graduate at the top of her class from Regis University in Denver with a 3.98 GPA.

She has made Dean’s List every semester and was named Alliance Merrick National Scholar in 2010. On Dec. 11, Karina will be inducted into Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit National Honor Society. She’s accomplished all this while pursuing a pre-med program and double majoring in math and biochemistry, and is planning on a career in health care.

Karina’s parents, Horacio and Matilde, who now live in New Castle, taught her the value of discipline, high goals and hard work. But their lack of formal education and familiarity with high schools and colleges in the U.S. left a void.

With their encouragement, Karina reached out to anyone willing to take an interest in her dream to go to college. She got a big hand up from the Roaring Fork Pre-Collegiate Program, which provides volunteer mentoring, summer programs at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado Mountain College and other support for students who would be the first in their families to graduate from college.

The Pre-Collegiate Program was conceived by State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and initiated in 2004. The program boasts a 95 percent record to date for keeping students on a college-bound track.

Leslie Emerson, director of the Pre-Collegiate Program (PCP), said, “No question, Karina is a poster student for this program. She otherwise could have just been lost in the shuffle.

“We’ve got 200-plus kids in grades seven through 12 in the program today. While they may not all be Karinas, the program does afford them a much better chance at higher education and career opportunities,” Emerson said.

“I have so many people to thank,” Karina said in a break from her senior year studies.

“Ramon Verduzco granted me special permission to join [the Roaring Fork School District’s] PCP as a freshman at Rifle High School when my neighbor and PCP mentor, Ada Chavez, went to bat for me. Adriana Ayala-Hire convinced me to transfer from Rifle to Glenwood Springs for my high school senior year because the Garfield Re-2 School District didn’t have Pre-Collegiate,” Karina said.

“And the PCP summer programs at CMC and CU/Boulder really inspired me. It was fun to be around other motivated kids and great teachers,” she added.

Teachers in both school districts also helped her achieve academic success.

Karina said she owes special gratitude to Michael Dorsey, her sixth-grade teacher at Riverside Middle School in New Castle, who recognized her math abilities and pushed her to excel, and to Scott Nykerk, the Glenwood Springs High School chemistry teacher who gave her a real passion for chemistry.

“I’ve been told I’m one of the few people who actually enjoyed organic chemistry in college,” she said. “Who would have thought that the frightened little Latina girl in Silt would be doing research on p53 mutations in squamous cell carcinoma?”

She also credits Emerson, the PCP director, for being “the wind beneath my wings.”

While Karina is working hard for her bachelor’s degree, she also volunteers for a cross-cultural community and church programs.

She is a co-coordinator of the Spanish-English Exchange Program, which connects Regis students with members of the local community. Working closely with Father Luis Escandon, formerly a priest at St. Stephens in Glenwood Springs and now at St. Mary Magdalene in Denver, Karina orchestrated masses in Spanish and community-building interaction between Regis students and local Hispanic families.

Karina said crossing cultural, educational and economic lines has helped her develop a broader perspective of how she may someday help make the world a better place.

“I don’t have a lot of time to volunteer, but I’m preparing myself in many ways to help others for the rest of my life. Whether that is medical, emotional or spiritual, who knows?

“I’ve been fortunate to have people who have helped me, and continue to do so, just out of the goodness of their hearts. You don’t ever forget that,” she said.

– Jim Noyes of Carbondale, a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Stanford Business School, serves on the Roaring Fork Pre-Collegiate Program Advisory Board. He has served as a PCP mentor for Basalt High School students.

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