Giving Thought: Opening doors to college and career with scholarships

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

If you have high school students preparing to graduate — or know someone who does — you may have noticed an uptick in the activity level at home. That’s because the beginning of the year is when many students are applying for scholarships to attend college or technical training.

Research continues to support the critical importance of postsecondary education. Those who earn bachelor’s degrees earn more per year than those with just a high school diploma, as much as $30,000 per year according to some reports. And other postsecondary options such as associate degrees and technical certifications also result in higher — and more consistent — earnings.

However, the costs of postsecondary education continue to rise and are out of reach for a lot of students, especially for low-income students and students of color. For these students, receiving a scholarship (or multiple scholarships) makes postsecondary education more attainable.

Fortunately, the Aspen to Parachute region is an especially good place for students seeking scholarships. By some counts, there are more than 100 local and state scholarship opportunities for students in the region. They require hard work and focus, but scholarships are making a huge difference for many local high school graduates.

“Higher education is not an open door but a closed gate,” said Megan Uren, who graduated Glenwood Springs High School in 2016 and is now a junior at Trinity University in San Antonio. “Scholarships are often the key to opening that gate.”

Uren benefited from her participation in the Roaring Fork PreCollegiate program, which mentors students from seventh through 12th grades, steers them through the college-application process and helps ensure their enrollment in college. In addition to the John Gold PreCollegiate Scholarship and other local scholarships, Uren also earned a sizable, merit-based scholarship from Trinity University that helped her bridge the gap between the cost of a four-year education and what her family could afford.

“I would not have been able to come to Trinity,” she said. “I would have found a way to educate myself, but I don’t know if I would have had the same opportunities and experiences.”

Aspen Community Foundation administers numerous scholarship funds to help local high school graduates attain their postsecondary goals. These awards vary widely in their amounts, their criteria and their aims. The John Gold Scholarship, for example, is renewable as a student moves year to year through college.

The Fast Forward scholarship was created for students pursuing one- or two-year technical or vocational degrees, as opposed to four-year college degrees.

Carlos Cortez Smith, a Fast Forward scholarship recipient who graduated Yampah Mountain High School in 2019, is now enrolled at the Colorado Film School in Aurora. He says Fast Forward was “invaluable” in shaping his post-high school life. He works part-time in order to pay his rent but is relieved that he doesn’t have to worry about tuition.

“I would not be here without the scholarship,” he said. “It took a lot off my plate in terms of financial worries.”

The same applies to Alexys Trejo, a 2017 graduate of Glenwood Springs High who is now studying civil engineering at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Trejo said he probably applied for 15 to 20 scholarships before he left high school and didn’t get them all, but one $2,000 to $3,000 award covered his meals for an entire semester. Every scholarship counts.

Scholarships in general have been financially “crucial” for Trejo, but the Aaron Roberts-Gray Memorial Scholarship is especially meaningful because he’s developed a relationship with scholarship founders Annette and Andrew Roberts-Gray who visit him periodically in Pennsylvania and keep track of his progress.

“It really means a lot,” he said. “I kind of feel like a second son to them.”

For a Glenwood Springs native, Trejo said, living just outside of Philadelphia has opened doors that he couldn’t have imagined.

“I’ve worked on the 13th floor of a skyscraper in Philly and next summer I’ve landed an internship in New York City,” he said. “It’s not for everyone, I know, but it’s been really good for me to branch out.”

Scholarships open many doors, personal and professional, for our young adults, and now is the time to apply. For more on ACF’s scholarships, visit http://www.aspencommunity​

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.