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Teenager Earns College Degree

Western Colorado Community College P-Tech program is a success story

Many high school students dread being asked what they want to do after they graduate. Most of the time they’re still trying to figure it out. A good path for one student might not be the right path for another. That’s why Western Colorado Community College and Mesa County Valley School District 51 teamed up to ensure high school students have options. It’s been two years since Central High School first piloted the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools program, and now the two organizations are celebrating its success. 

At just 19 years old, Jacob Sturm has a college degree. Before talks of caps and gowns and tassels, the Central High School graduate decided to follow his interests and explore a different kind of pathway to his future. 

“I heard that there was an opportunity to get an associate degree in manufacturing, mechanical engineering or welding through Central’s P-TECH program,” said Sturm. “I said, ‘okay how do I make this happen?’” 

The Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools, or P-TECH for short, provides students with unique options for their future. For Sturm, his curiosity led him to machining.  

“When I think of modern day machining, I think of an IKEA table. Machining is something that is used in every industry in the United States. It's strange its overlooked as a career because it’s everywhere,” said Sturm. “It’s a job that you can get into with a two-year degree and it's a good starting wage.” 

But Sturm didn’t just fall into the program. He fought for it. Sturm wasn’t a student at Central High School until he enrolled his senior year, specifically so he could take college courses early, at no cost to him. Before that, he was homeschooled.  

“I first heard about the P-Tech program from an article in The Daily Sentinel that said it would be starting at Central. I didn’t think much of it since he was homeschooled,” said Leslie Sturm, Jacob's mother.  

But her son didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to earn free college credits, so he enrolled at the public high school. Central High School was the first school to pilot the program in 2019 and is one of only seven Colorado high schools participating in the state’s grant program.   

“The P-TECH program is an incredible opportunity for District 51 students. It opens up doors to new areas of study, provides opportunities they might not otherwise have and gives them a jump start on their future," said Cheryl Taylor, District 51 director of college and career readiness. "What comes after high school looks different for everyone and this is just another pathway to help our students succeed.” 

“It’s phenomenal and such a neat opportunity that the district and WCCC provide local students this type of education,” said Leslie. 

Sturm said it wasn’t easy. He had to work hard and stay focused.  

“The classes were so fun. I got really good at using CAD and CAM programs. I got really good at running robotic machines and understanding machines. Your brain is doing all the work instead of a computer so you learn a lot,” said Sturm. “It’s a free degree and it’s a degree in a trade that is going to set people up for a very long time. Those trades are not going away any time soon.”  


Written by Kelsey Coleman