LA JUNTA – When Otero Junior College TRiO staff received the call to nominate a current student in their program who embodies the ideals of TRiO, Cassi Rapp immediately came to mind. “Cassie is a woman of courage and strength. She is such an inspiration,” said Holly Lewis, TRiO Support Services director at OJC.
“If I sat down and wrote a book about my life, people would say my life was fiction,” said Rapp. “So many things have happened.”
Rapp came to La Junta from Oregon when she separated from her husband and suddenly found herself the single mother of three young children. She moved in with her aunt and uncle who encouraged her to get her GED.
“I didn’t think I could do it,” said Rapp. “I kept saying, ‘I’m stupid, I didn’t finish.’ After a while that turned into just, ‘I’m stupid.’ I was never good at math so I was sure I couldn’t do that test.”
With continued encouragement from others, Rapp connected with BUENO HEP at OJC and took the GED pretest. “They told me that, based on my scores; I didn’t need to take any classes. I was ready to take the test. I was really nervous so I took all of the test sections in one day. I didn’t want to get psyched out and not finish it all.”
Just two days after her 28th birthday, Rapp received word that she had passed all portions of the GED on her first try. “It was 10 years after I should have graduated high school,” noted Rapp.
Riding high on the confidence gained by this success, Rapp decided to enter the nursing assistant program at OJC. “It was such an eye opener; coming here alone with my kids after being together with my husband since I was 18,” said Rapp. “I grew independent and realized I was strong enough to do it on my own, but I chose to work it out and get back together. My plan was to finish my nursing assistant classes, become a Certified Nurse Assistant and move back to Oregon. After finishing the program, I realized that the associate degree in nursing program was not outside of my reach. I could do so much more, why shouldn’t he come here?”
Rapp’s husband, Jeremy, did move to La Junta and he is now a student at OJC in the automotive program. He has a job at Davis Auto. Their children love their school and the Rapps see a life for their family in La Junta.
“TRiO support was a big part of where we are,” said Rapp. “The staff has supported me and encouraged me to keep going and step outside of my comfort zone.”
Last summer, Rapp was one of 63 students from across the state chosen to participate in UC Denver’s CREATE Health Scholars program. The program included a month-long intensive program in Denver which allowed participants to learn about the full range of health careers.
“It was a great experience. I explored a variety of careers in health, but it really solidified my decision to be a nurse,” said Rapp.
After completing her prerequisite classes over the past year, Rapp has been accepted to OJC’s nursing program. She will begin her training in the fall.
After completing her Associate of Applied Science in Nursing, Rapp intends to continue her education. Her plans include completion of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After that, Rapp would like to earn a master’s degree, become a certified midwife and specialize in alternative birthing practices.
“OJC makes you excited about education. When your teachers are passionate, it makes you excited about learning,” said Rapp. “I now know I am not stupid. I can do this!”
Should Rapp ever decide to write that book about her life, it will surely be an inspiration to others who have experienced struggles.
Rapp will receive her TRiO Achiever award at the 2014 State ASPIRE Conference, which will be held at Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley Camp in Glenwood Springs on April 25.