Altamirano wins excellence awardApr 8, 2021
‘The Great within the 58’ recognizes outstanding students at each of NC’s community colleges
Karol Altamirano came to the United States from Mexico at the age of six. With hardly any English spoken in her home, she had to repeat kindergarten so she could learn the language better – and something clicked in just a couple of months.
Her entire life, she has spoken Spanish at home, and English everywhere else. She has been her family’s translator since childhood, helping them understand mail, doctors, and more.
She is now the first in her family to graduate from high school and the first to go to college.
“My parents have factory jobs, and they have always instilled in me, ‘I don’t want that future for you,’” Altamirano said.
“I couldn’t get help from my parents so I became more independent, and have had to do my own research,” Altamirano said.
But she has excelled. At Morehead High School, she president of the Spanish Club, started a Gardening Club, was in the National Honor Society and National Technology Honor Society. She also obtained her Certified Nursing Assistant certificate while in high school.
Before graduating, Altamirano was “bummed” because all of her friends were headed to universities, while she enrolled in Rockingham Community College.
“At first it was a financial decision. I didn’t want to go to a four-year college because of the debt. My parents make too much money for me to [be eligible for federal financial aid]. I thought I had no options,” she said. “But this is the best decision I have ever made, and I was able to get scholarships. I love it here, and I wish this was a four-year college.”
Altamirano has worked since she was 16, and currently holds down a waitressing job, while still making the dean’s list and serving as an ambassador at RCC.
“Before COVID, I would talk to transfer students, because that’s what I am,” she said of being an ambassador. “I gave tours, let them know about classes, things they can do in school, The ARC (RCC’s free tutoring center), and monitored emails to answer questions. After COVID, we’ve been doing Zoom meetings with new students coming in.”
She keeps up with her studies – and everything else has going on – with “little mind notes,” to-do lists she files in her head, or scribbles on a scrap piece of paper.
“I keep track of what I have to do and the deadlines,” she said. Her assignments are typically due on Thursdays or Fridays, so she does her schoolwork on Mondays and Tuesdays, her off days.
Altamirano’s academics and activities have not gone unnoticed on campus. Six faculty members recently threw their support behind her to be this year’s RCC winner of “The Great Within the 58,” an academic excellence award through which the North Carolina Community College System recognizes one outstanding student from each of the state’s 58 community colleges.
Aaron Bowman, assistant professor of Anthropology and Sociology, headed Altamirano’s local nomination.
“Karol was a student in my Sociology class… she completed essays with depth and demonstrated understanding and application of course content. She frequently asked insightful and meaningful questions that other students had – sometimes without them even knowing they had a question,” Bowman wrote. “Once the class transitioned to online learning due to the COVID crisis, Karol continued to perform well. She continued to ask questions… in the format of the occasional email asking for clarity of the task assigned or for review of an attempt before a final submission.”
Bowman praised Altamirano for demonstrating concern for others and a willingness to engage with any classmate in assigned group work. “I am confident this positive disposition is part of her life outside of the college setting in her workplace and family life as well,” he said. “I can see that she displays an awareness of civic responsibility and a desire to be positively engaged in society.”
Altamirano was also a student in Maria Williams’ Communications class.
“Karol’s exceptional speeches and assignments illustrated her strong work ethic and excellence in academic work,” she said. “Her research skills were outstanding with attention to detail and academic rigor.”
Associate Professor of Psychology Anne Marie Ross agreed.
“I have had the pleasure of having Karol in two Psychology courses, in which she was both a conscientious and self-motivated student. Her coursework has always been of the highest quality, and she has maintained her 3.851 grade point average even during the difficult transition to fully online and virtual classes.”
Altamirano plans to graduate this May with an Associate in Science degree and head to UNC-Greensboro in the fall.
“After that, I will apply to be a physician’s assistant. I’m intrigued by how minds work, and I love talking and giving advice, counseling,” she said. “My two psychology classes are interesting. They are hard but you understand [what’s being taught]. I like having an answer for everything.”
Altamirano is quick to extoll the benefits of attending RCC.
“I love the small classes, and the instructors are considerate and understanding,” she said, adding that large classes make her nervous. “I know all of the campus, so I don’t get lost. RCC is local, so everyone knows each other. I get anxious around new people.”
To students getting ready to choose where to pursue their higher education, Altamirano has some advice: “Don’t be afraid to go to a community college. I’m not in debt, and I was able to apply for scholarships. If you ever need a letter of recommendation, your instructors know you personally. You get the same level of education as at a university, but you’re in town. The work is not hard, it’s just time consuming to understand the concepts of the classes. And free tutoring is amazing.”