Newly Graduated Student Ready for CU Denver After Making Mark at CCA

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Chances are, you have interacted with the work of recent alumni, Elmer Hernandez if you have anything to do with the Community College of Aurora. In his two years at the college, he immersed himself in all things CCA, fully embracing what it means to be a Fox. From student leadership to student employment, he left a lasting impact on the college before graduating at this month’s commencement ceremony and earning his associate degree in Computer Science. His next stop is CU Denver, where he will work toward a bachelor’s degree in his field. 

Hernandez thrived at CCA, taking on some of the most academically challenging math classes the school has to offer in pursuit of his science degree. But it wasn’t always that way; in high school he didn’t consider himself particularly gifted in math. In fact, he says he didn’t feel confident as a young student. It wasn’t until he got to CCA that he found his stride, taking on many different roles at the college. 

“I came from the auto repair industry as a collision repair technician. I wanted a career change, and I always wanted to get into tech and work with computers, but I never thought I was smart enough to do it. Then one day, I just decided, okay, I’m going to try it,” he says. 

Hernandez looked to his family as inspiration in finding his own passion. His uncle, Jason Garcia, a computer engineer, also got his start at CCA, as did his cousin. It was those two family members who spoke highly of their time at CCA, which made him consider starting at a community college, as opposed to a large four year university. After moving to the United States from El Salvador, members of his family found many opportunities for success, including starting their own businesses. 

“I looked at my uncles and my dad, and how they came from a country where English is not their first language, and somehow they were able to do this. I started with a foundation, I know English and I know Spanish, I thought, there’s no way I can’t do this,” he says. Having that head start gave him a newfound confidence that was put to use in his studies and work. 

Among the places you would recognize him from was his time in the Student Government Association, where served as a Senator of STEM. He hadn’t considered running for student government before CCA, but saw students around him making an impact, and that’s when he decided to run. 

“I saw that they were working on cool initiatives, and going on cool trips. I thought it looked pretty cool what they were doing, so I thought, let me give it a shot.” To his delight, and to his surprise, he won.

It was his first time campaigning, as he never considered student government in high school. As a Senator of STEM, he worked on initiatives that benefited students pursuing those degrees. “I learned a lot. There was a bit of a learning curve, but I learned a lot of great lessons.”

By this time, Hernandez was well on his way to making waves at CCA, carving out a place for himself as a leader on and off campus. During his time, he worked hard to apply and earn several scholarships, including the COSI Scholarship, S-STEM Scholarship, and scholarships through the CCA Foundation, among others. Now, as an alumnus, he shares that advice with others entering college, saying scholarships helped him focus on school without having to take on additional work outside of classes, setting him up for success. 

“You should be investing a big chunk of your time finding those scholarships and applying for them, because if not, you’re going to spend way more time at a job trying to pay for school, when that time could be invested into studying. That will make your life much easier.”

Beyond SGA, you might recognize Hernandez in his many marketing appearances for the college. As a student employee, he joined the Division of Strategic Communications and Alumni Engagement, where he took part in many marketing initiatives. Notably, his impact is felt online, where he played a major role in two online CCA projects, including the layout of CCA’s new portal, and especially in the translation of CCA’s fully immersive Spanish website

Hernandez spent months meticulously combing through the site, ensuring the English site was accurately translated into Spanish. The massive undertaking helped ensure CCA provided its students with thoughtful and equitable access to the site and its services. He says the project stands out as a shining moment for him at CCA. He understood well the limitations people can encounter when navigating something if English isn’t their first language. 

“I was really proud of this project, and honored that I was able to work on it. I remember getting out of elementary school, and it would be our ‘read the mail hour,’ where I would help translate the mail for my mom. I feel like this project just kind of helped break that language barrier for people.”

Though it was a marketing project, he did put his computer science knowledge to use, finding unique and interesting ways to ensure the site worked in the best interest of students. 

Hernandez is looking ahead now. After completing his bachelor’s degree, his eventual goal is to work for himself, continuing the family tradition of starting a business of his own. He says he hopes his degrees and hard work take him far, providing him the opportunity to give back to his family that gave him so many opportunities. He also says he will always look back fondly on his time at CCA and treasure his experiences, and the relationships he made. 

“I have really enjoyed my past two years here at CCA. This was honestly the best choice I could have made.”

Photos by: CCA Dept. of Strategic Communications