EMCC graduation celebrates and reflects on success, May 9

EMCC commencement at Goodyear Ballpark
Senator Anna Tovar
Melissa Dagley-Burkhart
First art grads at EMCC (left to right: Art faculty Jimmy Fike, Angelina Zabala, Brandy Hurst, Chantal Blauvelt, Anthony Galto)
Krystal Metcalf
Krystal Metcalf dancing
Nancy Dominguez
Vickie Weeks

AVONDALE, Arizona – Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) will celebrate student success during EMCC's eighteenth annual commencement exercises on Friday, May 9 at 6:45 p.m. The ceremony takes place at Goodyear Ballpark, 1933 South Ballpark Way, in Goodyear, AZ. At the conclusion of commencement activities, a tradition of fireworks will honor the graduates.

The theme, selected by a student voting process, is “Reflecting on Your Journey. Celebrating Your Success.”

This year’s graduates are represented by students completing studies ranging from summer 2013 through the current spring 2014 semester. Approximately 854 graduates will account for 1,868 degrees and certificates, with some students receiving more than one award. To date, there are 368 students participating in this year’s commencement event.

Four of the degrees being granted at the ceremony will be Associate Arts of Fine Arts (AAFA), a first for EMCC. The campus in currently constructing a 30,000 square foot Performing Arts Center (PAC) with a projected completion date of December 2014. These four students are creating the pathway for a new culture of artistic opportunities for future art students at EMCC.

EMCC Commencement Keynote Speaker
This year’s keynote commencement speaker is Anna Tovar, Arizona Senator, District 19, Minority Leader Senator Anna Tovar joined the State of Arizona House of Representatives in 2009, after serving for more than seven years on the Tolleson City Council including two years as vice mayor. Prior to government service, Tovar was a teacher for five years and is a lifelong Tolleson and West Valley resident. She currently represents District 19 – Avondale, Tolleson and West Phoenix – in the Arizona State Senate.

Senator Tovar is a member of the Senate Rules, Senate Appropriations, Joint Legislative Budget Committee and the Joint Committee on Capital Review. She serves as senate democratic leader and Latino Caucus chair. Senator Tovar and her husband have been married for 19 years and have two sons.

Proud of her Arizona roots, Tovar attended Estrella Mountain Community College and is a product of the public school system. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in elementary education and is grateful giving back to the community. She believes that we must do everything we can to work together toward a brighter and stronger Arizona.

EMCC Commencement Student Speaker

Melissa Dagley-Burkhart was selected as the 2014 Commencement speaker, representing the sentiments of more than 350 of her fellow EMCC graduates. She recalls that her success can be linked to a small, yellow sticky note with a self-fulfilling goal of completing her degree.

After graduating from Maryvale High School, Burkhart followed the path of a traditional college student attending an out-of-state university in Texas. After one year, she returned home, got a job, enrolled part-time at Glendale Community College, and soon after, got married and started building a family. Three children and many years later, her husband Michael urged her to fulfill her goal of getting her college degree. Within 7 days, she became a college student, starting at EMCC in fall 2012.

Pushing through the thoughts of “I’m too old,” Burkhart attended classes where she found herself sitting next to the friends of her children, and with the children of her own friends, referring to her as “Shay and Erin’s mom" or “Mrs. Burkhart.” That soon changed and she became Melissa, the college student.

“I quickly learned it didn't matter that I was older. The diversity at EMCC is what makes learning so fun and enriching,” says Burkhart. “Students here are all different ages, from all over the United States, and each has their own interesting story of how they came to college and what they want to achieve. It was really exciting to be a part of that!”

Another unexpected part of college was how well she did in Math. Like many, she suffered from math anxiety and thought it was her weak spot. But after taking a math class from EMCC faculty Luvia Rivera, Burkhart’s confidence soon began to multiply. She took advantage of the resources available at the EMCC Student Success Center, specifically the Math Lab, asked a lot of questions and followed the syllabus to keep her on track.

It was also, in that memorable first day of math class, where Rivera asked her students to write one major goal on a sticky-note which became the small-but-mighty motivation for Burkhart. She wrote, “I want to finish a degree after stopping so many years ago.”

Two years later, Burkhart still has that note and recalls that she referred to it often to keep her motivated and focused. Her new goal is to obtain her bachelor’s degree in Communication.

“It’s so important to learn how to ask questions,” says Burkhart. “Once I did, I felt like I had a wealth of information, and that made it possible to keep my promise to myself.”

First artistic grads lead with creative flair

As EMCC prepares to welcome a new Performing Arts Center to its campus’ culture, students are taking advantage of the programs that have been developing and ramping-up over the past several years. This spring 2014 commencement marks the first Associate Arts in Fine Arts (AAFA) graduates for the college.

The creative group of four includes Chantal Blauvelt, Anthony Galto, Brandy Hurst and Angelina Zabala. Lead by their mentor and art professor, Jimmy Fike, these students have created a new culture of artistic learning at EMCC that will lead to professional careers in art related fields.

Blauvelt has her focus in photography, Hurst is interested in art history and museum studies, Galto is heading toward art studies and Zabala will be pursing art education, teaching art at the college level. Most plan to transfer to Arizona State University to complete their bachelor and master degrees.

Kystal Metcalf started dancing while attending Willow Canyon High School and it was love at first step. She soon became part of a dance company that toured across Arizona and had the opportunity to visit Julliard and Broadway in New York.

Her talent and passion for dancing kept growing but after being injured in a car accident after high school, Metcalf thought her dancing days were over.

While attending Glendale Community College as an Education major, Metcalf took another big step and enrolled in a dance class. To her surprise, she felt strong and motivated to keep training and soon she was dancing six hours a day while still making time to focus on her Education studies.

Then another family tragedy derailed her studies, but not her dance. She started teaching at a studio in Peoria providing dance instruction to young ladies ages 5 through 17. Her students and dancing helped her get through those tough times.

After taking a year off to heal emotionally, she knew she had to return to college to finish her education degree and discovered EMCC also had a dance program. She was able to complete her dance practicum under EMCC instructor Janaea McAlee, and create her final piece which included choreography, lighting, staging, costuming and music.

“The dance program at EMCC was very collaborative and creative,” said Metcalf. “Even though I do all types of dancing, Modern is my thing. With my practicum piece, I was able to create freely with no restrictions and limitations. Sometimes you don’t want to be a ‘fairy tale princess;’ you want to express the music your way.”

Metcalf recently auditioned for the dance program at Arizona State University and was accepted quickly for her passion, talent and academic excellence. She plans to get her bachelor of arts (BA) in K-12 Education and a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) in dance.

Overcoming challenges: More stories of amazing EMCC Grads

Nancy Dominguez is one of those “overcoming” stories that exemplifies courage, tenacity and the value of that "one" significant teacher that makes a meaningfully amazing impact. She left Dysart High School in 2002 and never graduated. By 2010, now as a young mother, she wanted to build a better future for her and her daughter. She enrolled in Rio Salado and quickly acquired her GED with the determination of attending college at EMCC near her home in El Mirage.

At a still-young age of 25, Dominguez was shy, insecure, and wasn't sure how to be a college student. Feeling very unprepared, she reluctantly signed-up for her required math class at EMCC in Fall 2010, and that’s where the story begins. Her new math teacher, Dr. Steve Boettcher, became “that” teacher who inspired her to learn and ask questions which eventually made her believe in herself, and successfully complete his class. Subsequently, she took four more math classes from Boettcher.

“Dr. Steve,” as she respectfully refers to her teacher and mentor, was equally inspired by Dominguez. He hadn't taught trigonometry in several years, but decided to add himself and the course to the class schedule because she and her cohorts needed it for their academic and career paths.

“I've always been about teaching my students HOW to learn and think critically,” said Boettcher. “But Nancy made me remember it’s also about imparting hope, which is actually more important for many students, even beyond learning math.”

Dominguez is fulfilling her dream of wearing a cap and gown and walking in the commencement ceremony to celebrate her accomplishments. She will transfer to Arizona State University to major in Nutrition for Spring 2015.

“I didn’t know I was a survivor,” said Dominguez. “I thought you had to be smart to be in college, but you don’t come here smart. You go to college to become smart and find your place in life.”

Vickie Weeks is a non-traditional student. At age fifty-something, she’s a young live-in grandma, at times rides her bike to school, even in summer, and still tries to put fun into everything she does.

After a long career as a medical transcriptionist, her job went “off-shore” and her life began spiraling. Not having a college degree, she was unable to find suitable employment to make ends meet. She considered going back to college, but was afraid she was too old until she met a 70-year-young college teacher who inspired Weeks to take the plunge.

Weeks enrolled at EMCC as a part-time student, but soon discovered the promise in her life she had been seeking and found a way to attend full-time. Not only were her classes fulfilling, but the entire campus community made her feel welcome and capable.

“There is so much support here,” said Weeks. “The people I met enabled me to shine more and introduced me to opportunities I would have never dreamed of, and for that, I will always be truly grateful.”  

The opportunity that made Weeks 'shine' even more was her participation in the EMCC chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, an international honors program. After realizing it wasn’t a fraternity needing a den mother, as Weeks laughingly recalls, she soon became one of the stars in the prestigious student organization.

As part of her chapter’s award-winning 2013 College Project, Weeks assisted other chapter officers in implementing a one-on-one scholarship mentoring program for chapter members. This project assisted the Financial Aid office with a success-based program for EMCC students that would help them learn how to find and apply for scholarships. It was so successful that she was invited to present to the MCCCD Governing Board on the project’s potential to support the district-wide initiative of college completion.   

Weeks has recently been named a 2014 International Distinguished Officer Hallmark Award recipient, only one of 30 student chapter officers so recognized nationally this year.

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Estrella Mountain Community College offers transfer-ready academic courses and job-specific occupational training to approximately 15,000 students annually. The flagship campus is located on Thomas and Dysart Roads in Avondale and is home to the SouthWest Skill Center. The satellite campus, EMCC’s Buckeye Educational Center, is located in downtown Buckeye. Estrella Mountain is one of ten colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District, one of the largest community college districts in the nation, and in the 2012-13 academic year, celebrates 50 years of providing accessible and affordable higher education.  www.estrellamountain.edu or www.maricopa.edu .