The world is what we make of it, even if yours is UCCS

May 7, 2012

Matt Sidor
msidor@uccs.edu

When I transferred to UCCS in the Fall of 2009, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be here.

At the time, the pursuit of higher education seemed less like a worthy investment of my time and money, and more like an arbitrary piece of paper I needed to get a decent job.

I’d floated in and out of various institutions with a number of declared majors, ranging from astrophysics, to English, to film studies. My passions lay all over the spectrum and I was hesitant to specialize in any one field of study − which I knew the university system was designed for.

Internally, I was fighting against the philosophy behind higher education while simultaneously realizing the simple fact that I wasn’t going to get very far in life without a degree.

So, six years since I’d first left high school, I was back in college again. I hadn’t really counted on being accepted to UCCS given my lackluster academic record, but the admissions counselor who reviewed my application must have seen something worthwhile in it, because here I was.

At first, I really didn’t like this school.

Having been at the Boulder campus for a year-and-a-half (and successfully flunked out of it), I naively felt that I could judge the merits of the Colorado Springs campus based on my shallow impressions from the larger, more well-known institution.

Boulder has more research. Boulder has more funding. Boulder has a better social atmosphere. Boulder is an eclectic utopia nestled against the beautiful flatirons where everyone is more important and everyone leads better lives. (Can you tell that I was still bitter about being expelled from Boulder?)

I imagine my story isn’t very different from many other students at this campus, whose first choice may not have been UCCS, but wound up here because of our high school grades or our family’s financial situation. There is a perceived stigma among many young people that a diploma from the University of Colorado is only worthwhile if it has the word “Boulder” next to it.

What I’ve learned over the past three years that I’ve attended UCCS is that the people who carry around that stigma have probably never even been to the campus, much less taken any coursework here.

I’m here to tell you that, even if UCCS wasn’t your first choice, there is nothing to be ashamed about getting your degree here, because what we have here is a hidden treasure.

UCCS is a hidden gem because of the aforementioned stigma; hidden because of Colorado Springs’ reputation as a city; hidden because of its diverse student population from all socioeconomic backgrounds; hidden because of its small size and even smaller funding levels.

The completion of my own journey through higher education involved finding the determination and the work ethic to finish my coursework; looking back now, I’m honestly not sure I could have accomplished that personal growth at any other institution.

I’ve always believed the world is what we make of it, and I don’t think UCCS was any exception. I decided partway through my time at this campus to make the most of everything that was being offered to me here, and this campus is unique in that there is a wealth of opportunities available to undergraduates if you have the drive and the ambition to seek them out.

I took on four different student jobs all over campus (including this one at The Scribe). I also got involved with Student Government Association and a few of the clubs and organizations. Between all of these different jobs, committees and organizations, I sometimes found myself working 50-60 hours a week on top of my full-time course load.

It was exhausting, and in retrospect I might have kept in better health if I’d limited my activities just a bit. However, I wouldn’t take any of it back because through these experiences, I came to know so many different people on campus across just about every department, organization and field of study.

I gained a valuable sense of work ethic, but more importantly, I gained a holistic cross-discipline education that might not have been possible at a bigger school.

I also credit this campus as the place where I fell in love with my partner and found the acceptance and support to confidently come out of the closet and share my love for him without fear or shame − an experience that many wouldn’t expect to find in the hometown of Focus on the Family, myself included.

I came to this school resigned to getting a piece of paper. I leave now with that piece of paper finally in hand, but what I’ve learned is that the story behind that paper is so much more important than the paper itself.

What will you make out of UCCS?