When Karla Young graduated from Fort Collins’ Rocky Mountain High School in 1999, a career in engineering was the last thing on her mind.
“I didn’t have any idea that was a choice, or what engineering even was as a profession,” she said. Years went by. Young got married, had a son, got divorced, and worked at a telemarketing firm that went out of business. On to Aims Community College, to work toward an associate’s degree.
During Young’s last semester at Aims, she took physics for a remaining science credit. And she loved it. “I asked my professor if she thought I would make it if I took calculus-based physics, and she said, ‘Yes.'”
So, having completed her associate’s degree, Young stayed another year at Aims, earning math and science credits. She had a daughter.
“When I started taking the calc-based physics, I loved it. It was my gig,” Young said. She was a single mom with two kids, and she started researching careers that might mean a better life for herself and her children. She learned about engineering. “I thought, this is it. I want to be an engineer.”
And that’s how Young ended up at CSU. At 35 years old, Young will graduate, with honors, with a degree in civil engineering. She’ll stay at CSU for her master’s degree, working with Assistant Professor Rebecca Atadero on analysis of Colorado bridge infrastructure. Bridges and other civil structures are Young’s newfound passion.
Young’s parents and extended family have played both cheerleader and babysitter while she completed her degree. She received a Pell Grant to help pay for school, and also benefitted from a CSU first-generation scholarship. Through that program, she received tremendous support, both financial and personal, from the Academic Advancement Center. She also reports that, despite the age gap with her classmates, she’s found more friends and more people she can relate with at CSU, than at any other time in her life.
Young’s 6-year-old son, Kourtney, and 3-year-old daughter, Dani, have helped her stay inspired and focused. “I think that being a parent, you have to show them what it is to work hard and have it pay off,” Young said. “Especially having a daughter now, I want to show her that there’s nothing that can hold her back.”