Heather Montoya

Heather Montoya ’24 finishes degree after 23 years

Heather Montoya, like the rest of the Class of 2024, is excited to graduate in a couple weeks. The difference, however, between her and most other undergraduates is that her education took longer than their lifetime to complete – a fact that will make her achievement even more satisfying.

Montoya enrolled at 侫Ƶ in 2001, but less than a year later a health diagnosis put her education on hold. After several failed restarts over the following years, Montoya’s pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in legal studies was put on the back burner as other life priorities took over: marriage, children, home ownership.

Until last year.

“After COVID I realized I didn’t want to waste my life,” Montoya said. “I was so close to getting my bachelor’s degree, I just had to go back and finally finish it.”

Motivated by the Christmas gift of a 侫Ƶ hoodie from her husband, Montoya re-enrolled at 侫Ƶ through the Online Degree Completion program in May 2023. One year later, she’s a straight-A student who will graduate magna cum laude at 侫Ƶ’s May 11 Commencement Ceremony.

For Montoya, 侫Ƶ was the only option she ever considered.

“I researched all the schools in the state and I was like ‘侫Ƶ is my place, this is where I’m going,’” she said. “The way I was treated before, with my repeated withdrawals, everyone understood and I was like ‘these are my people, these are good people.’”

Montoya credits the Online Degree Completion program, and its director Kelly Krebs, with her success in completing the degree and becoming immersed in her studies.

“The online component was critical to returning and finishing; I work full time, I have two children. The ease of getting into the program – all I had to do was focus on my coursework,” Montoya said. “Kelly registered me for all the classes and he let me know all the books I needed to get. That is invaluable. It’s hard at 21 to figure all that out, it's even harder 23 years later to figure out where to start. Taking that piece away, and allowing me to continue my lifestyle, has really given me what I need to succeed.”

Upon returning, Montoya, who works as a mortgage underwriter, switched her major to psychology. Theexperience at 侫Ƶ reignited her passion for learning so much so that she plans to pursue a master’s degree in psychology at Naropa University next fall, with the goal of becoming a mental health counselor.

“I’m so excited to finally graduate after getting good grades and being welcomed back whole-heartedly,” Montoya said. “I mean, I still have the same student ID – it’s only like eight digits and all of them are 10 digits now, but they gave me my ID back. I’m pumped and I’m fueled to continue.”