Published: April 30, 2021

Lisa Tenorio in cap and gownLisa Tenorio graduates this month with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a job lined up at Sierra Nevada Corporation. But at times throughout her undergraduate career, she wasn't sure this day would come.

Academic struggles plagued Tenorio throughout her time at CU Boulder. She was placed on academic probation twice and enrolled at Red Rocks Community College to continue working on degree requirements. But with tenacity and help from friends and supporters in the college, Tenorio turned things around.

"The main thing that kept me going through these hard times was the support I got from my friends and boyfriend," Tenorio said. "They always pushed me to not give up even when I really wanted to." 

She signed up for academic coaching, enrolled in the college's Fresh Start course and eventually became a peer coach to aid other classmates who were struggling. As a result of her efforts, she earned a Perseverance Award from the College of Engineering and Applied Science for 2021.

"When I finally did end up going to coaching, Alana Davis-Delaria was my biggest supporter and the person I turned to when I really needed advice and encouragement. When I was in Fresh Start and TAing for it, Rowie Wolfe always made sure I was taking care of myself and my studies," she said. "I think both Alana and Rowie had a hand in me becoming a peer coach, but also I really enjoy teaching others. I truly believe that the content that was taught in that class and in coaching should be shared with everyone in college, not just engineering, and I wanted to help make that happen. I also knew that the peer coaches I had really inspired me to share my own story with other students and how that can help them get through the tough times."

What is your favorite memory from your time at CU Boulder?

My favorite memory from my time at CU Boulder would have to be either the late-night walks home from my friend's apartment off-campus back to my residence hall or hanging out at the Community Center with the RAs and residents in Athens North (back when it was a residence hall) or getting to troubleshoot my senior design project with my teammates.

What accomplishment are you most proud of, either academically or personally? 

It seems kind of silly, but the accomplishment I am most proud of is actually getting the Perseverance Award from the College of Engineering. Just being recognized for working for so long and so hard to get to this point means so much to me, and I am truly humbled that I was even considered.

What is your plan for after graduation? 

After graduation, I will be working at Sierra Nevada Corporation as a full-time mechanical engineer. I have been interning with them for about 2.5 years now, and I am excited to finally be able to work with them full time!

Tell us about a moment (or moments) when you felt like you hit your stride or felt like you were “officially” an engineer.

I believe that I really hit my stride the first semester after taking the Fresh Start class. While taking the class, I was struggling with some personal issues, and I felt like I couldn’t fully devote myself to using the techniques we were learning. However, the semester after, I really started implementing the learning and organizational strategies that we had learned and I actually got my first engineering “A” in Manufacturing Processes and Systems.

Lisa Tenorio sitting on steps on campusIt was the semester that I was taking Fresh Start where I actually did “officially” feel like an engineer. I was also taking Component Design at the time (where the semester-long project is to build a drill-powered vehicle), and I actually got to do some designing, building and troubleshooting a product that was going to be judged. It was really exciting getting to see something that I helped design come to life, and this was the first semester where I felt like my hard work was actually being recognized. (Thanks, Shirley and Reamon!)

What was the biggest challenge for you during your engineering education? What did you learn from it?

The biggest challenge from my engineering education had to be the second time I was put on academic suspension. I had worked so hard that semester to pass all my classes, but it still wasn’t enough to keep me in school. After this point in my academic career, I really didn’t know what to do. I knew I wanted to stay in engineering, but how would I continue my education if I couldn’t take on-campus classes for two whole semesters?

This is where the biggest changes for me happened. I took more summer classes and continuing education courses until there weren’t any more left for me to take. Then I enrolled at Red Rocks Community College to at least obtain my associate's degree while I waited to be let back into on-campus classes. When I was eventually allowed to come back, I knew other big changes had to be made, so I only enrolled in part-time classes and after a semester of still not getting the results I wanted, I enrolled in academic coaching, which put me on the path that I am now.

The thing I think I learned from this was that you can’t expect different results without some sort of active change. Before this point, I felt like I was just going through the motions of college without really reflecting on why I was performing so poorly. It wasn’t until this point that I realized I needed to do more to get through these tough courses.

What is your biggest piece of advice for incoming engineering students?

My biggest piece of advice for incoming engineering students is twofold. Make friends with people in your courses, even in Calc 1. That's where I met my best friend, even though he was a crummy study partner. Engineering can feel really competitive, but creating those bonds with your fellow classmates can help when you feel like you are really struggling.

Also, ask for help early and often. Everyone struggles with something in college, even if it's not something academic, and building the habit to ask for help will set you up for success in the long run.