Grads: An international scholar, a legally blind artist and a mother/daughter
May 11, 2005
As Colorado's "College of Opportunity," Metro State's students come from diverse backgrounds and follow equally divergent paths to earn their degrees. Here are the stories of four graduating seniors who truly illustrate that diversity.
4.0 in class,
15.9 on the court
Academically, Ortner will graduate with a 4.0 grade-point average. A computer science major with a minor in mathematics, the native of Innsbruck, Austria, says his straight-A record started as a bet with a friend. "We both got all A's our first semester so we placed a bet to see who could keep it up the longest." The competitive Ortner won the bet.
A love of basketball drew Ortner to the U.S. and to Metro State. "Basketball is not very popular in Austria and I wanted to play all the time," he says. He admits the thought of being so far from home was daunting, but says, "I knew that if I didn't at least try, for the rest of my life, I'd be wondering 'what if?'"
Once at Metro, Ortner had plenty of work to do. "I had a lot of basketball learning to do," he explains. Balancing that with academics was a challenge. "The schedule during basketball season is pretty rough, so I really had to work hard to keep up with classes."
Obviously he did more than just keep up. "Ben's insightfulness and perspicacity is always appreciated when shared during classes and outside of the classroom," says computer sciences Professor Jody Paul. "He is exactly the kind of person that I would've hired in a heartbeat, when I was responsible for software research and development organizations in industry."
The computer software industry will have to wait. Ortner hopes to first play professional basketball in Europe and will attend a tryout camp next month in Italy. From there, he plans on graduate school.
Three other seniors from the Roadrunners winning team will also graduate Sunday: Mark Worthington, Michael Morse and Ryon Nickle.
The 58-year-old will complete the individualized degree program at Metro State with a major in individualized studies: furniture sculpture and design and a minor in computer information systems. Roe is an award-winning woodworker and industrial designer, a champion ski racer, an accomplished martial artist, water skier, weight lifter and hiker.
He is also legally blind.
Roe started at Metro in 1972 and took classes intermittently over the years while working as a computer systems engineer. In 2002, he re-enrolled in the Individualized Degree Program, saying "My dream has always been to work in wood, but my limited vision makes it hard to use power equipment." At the time, he says, the Art and Industrial Design departments thought it might not be feasible for him to get the exact degree he wanted. But Roe persisted, talking individually to the department chairs to arrange help with such tasks as welding and operating table saws and other power tools.
Roe is an accomplished artist in several different media. "Earlier in life, I decided to learn woodworking. Instructors would not teach me because the tools are extremely sharp. I went to several instructors before I found one who was willing to take the risk and allow me to learn." He learned to carve and has had his carvings featured in the national woodcarving magazine "Chip Chat." He is also an expert at caning furniture, a skill he learned at the School for the Deaf and Blind and which he teaches to others. He has made pieces of furniture and learned upholstery.
Roe is extremely self-effacing, particularly given all that he's achieved. When he talked to @Metro, Roe was preparing for his black belt test in Tae Kwon Doe later that morning. "Everybody's pretty excited, but I'm pretty nervous. When you get older, things get a little harder, I guess."
Roe's plans for after graduation aren't very different from what he's been doing. "I just like to go to school," he said. "I'll probably go back."
He says that he's seen Metro change a lot over the years, "from the quarter system and the busy roads running right through campus to the way it is today. Most of the changes have been good. Now they do a lot more for people with disabilities than when I first started here.
"But I hope it doesn't change too much more," he adds. "I think it's a really good place right now for people of all different backgrounds."
A family affair
Fast forward 28 years. This Sunday, Cathy will receive her degree in behavioral science with elementary education licensure alongside another Peterson receiving the same degree: her daughter Lauren.
Unlike her mother, Lauren Peterson always knew she wanted to be a teacher. "I'd say from about fourth or fifth grade," she says. She worked at an elementary school before-and after-school program through high school, and then enrolled at Metro in 2001 after graduating. "I was all set to go to the University of Northern Colorado, but I wasn't ready to leave home." She decided to remain at home and pursue her degree at Metro State.
With her transferred credits, Cathy was pretty far along toward her degree when Lauren enrolled. But Lauren was on a faster timeframe, taking summer classes so that she could finish in four years. "We never intended to graduate together," says Cathy. "But about a year and a half ago, we realized that we likely would."
"It took people a long time to catch on that we were mother and daughter," says Lauren, "even though we would sit together and we had the same name."
"No, we never did cheat," jokes Cathy, "though we seemed to get asked that once people realized our relationship."
The two did study together, and proofread each other's papers. They work at two computers in the same room at home—a lot, they say. Cathy will graduate with a 3.73 grade point average and Lauren with a 3.5. "My husband will probably be glad to get his computers back," Cathy says.
"At one point, all four of us were in school" says Lauren, including her brother Bryan who is now in the Navy. "So my dad has been very supportive."
The mother/daughter Peterson duo has been student teaching this semester in Adams County and will march side by side on Sunday to receive their identical degrees. Cathy will likely work as a substitute teacher and Lauren will pursue a teaching job, both with the Adams County School District. Lauren plans to remain at home "for a while and save some money. It's such a supportive place to be."
@Metro is an electronic news bulletin distributed every Wednesday to all faculty, staff and administrators at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Copyright 2002-2003 Metropolitan State College of Denver