Mountain Scholars program helps first-generation Summit County college students achieve their dreams |

Mountain Scholars program helps first-generation Summit County college students achieve their dreams

Colorado Mountain College campus pictured in April 2019 in Breckenridge.
Hugh Carey /

FRISCO — A collaborative program between Colorado Mountain College, Summit School District and The Summit Foundation is helping first-generation high school students be the first in their families to go to college and succeed.

The Mountain Scholars program began in 2018 and since its inception has helped 28 graduating first-generation Summit High School students — the first in their families to attend a four-year college — with a smooth transition out of high school and into higher academia. 

The program provides participating students with financial assistance, one-on-one mentoring, academic coaching, degree and career counseling, financial navigation, college and transfer navigation, along with other support services.

The program begins with enrollment at CMC Breckenridge, where participating students can choose to stay for an associate or bachelor’s degree while continuing to receive financial and academic assistance, or they can transfer their credits to another four-year school. Students who stay for freshman and sophomore years receive $850 in scholarships, and students who stay for a full four-year program can receive $4,000 in assistance.

The program is open to first-generation students who have lived in the county for more than two years, enroll at CMC in Summit for their first two years of college, achieve and maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA for associate-level classes and a minimum 2.5 GPA for bachelor-level classes. 

The program requires monthly meetings with personally assigned community mentors as well as goal-setting meetings with Andrea Walker, who oversees the program at CMC, and career and academic counselor Jenn Besser. Participants also must commit to enrolling in a four-year program at CMC or another school of their choice after the first two years.

Walker said the program is meant to give students without a college background in their families the tools, resources and guidance needed for the big step into college.

“We know that parents of first-generation students are very supportive but cannot necessarily speak to their own college experiences to guide their children,” Walker said. “The point of the program is to really remove barriers and increase student success and access.”

The program is supported by The Summit Foundation as one of the foundation’s Special Initiatives ventures. The foundation’s Executive Director Jeanne Bistranin said academic and mentoring support is a key part of Mountain Scholars.

“If students get academic and mentoring support, they are three times more likely to graduate college,” Bistranin said.

Bistranin added that, while grades are important, the Mountain Scholars program understands the unique circumstances for first-generation students and therefore looks at their backgrounds and academic abilities with a more holistic approach.

“We traditionally look at GPA and those types of criteria,” Bistranin said. “But while GPA is important, with this population, we look at different characteristics as they are not the only criteria to measure their success. We look at things like resilience, the ability to stick with something.”

The Mountain Scholars mentorship program is seeking more mentors to help first-generation students with their transition into college. Mentors are successful college graduates and community leaders who volunteer to provide encouragement to CMC students as they navigate college life. The mentorship requires a commitment of meeting once a month with mentees to discuss topics such as study skills, finance and career possibilities.

For more information about becoming a Mountain Scholars mentor, contact Besser at 970-989-5806 or

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