Top CU engineering scholar takes new path

Kelsi Middleton, of Olathe, stayed close to home to pursue an engineering degree through a partnership between Colorado Mesa University and the University of Colorado in mechanical engineering. Middleton is shown in the Archuteta Engineering Center at Colorado Mesa.

Packing a 4.0 grade-point average, Kelsi Middleton of Olathe tops the class of 2013 for the University of Colorado School of Engineering.

Which is something for a student who has yet to set foot in a classroom in Boulder.

Middleton, 21, will graduate next month from CU after taking all of her classes in Grand Junction, at Colorado Mesa University.

Middleton’s academic accomplishment is more than just a personal one. It also represents a major step for the partnership that allows students to obtain degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado without having to cross the Continental Divide.

It’s a vindication of the program, said John “Arch” Archuleta, the CU engineering graduate from Grand Junction who prodded both institutions to work on the arrangement and saw the first partnership class graduate last year with degrees in mechanical engineering.

Eight of the nine members of the inaugural graduating class have jobs in the field, with most of them in western Colorado, one in San Diego and one with Sandia National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., according to school officials.

“It was from here that they got the best student and we’re not even a department,” Archuleta said of Middleton. Garnering the top graduate is a “major, major happening.”

The Boulder campus has 800 undergraduate mechanical engineering students. At CMU, there 13 seniors and 14 juniors in the program, while 19 sophomores are preparing to take CU classes in the fall. 

After graduation next month — in Boulder, with her engineering class — Middleton will head out to Texas where she has a job awaiting her as a field engineer with Baker Hughes Inc. Her base salary will be $71,000,

For her, the engineering curriculum at CMU was an easy call, Middleton said.

“You get a degree from a big-name school but then you get to stay here,” she said.

Middleton wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mother, an engineer, and her father, whose agricultural background still beckons.

Growing up on the family farm, she frequently was there to hand over the wrenches and screwdrivers when her father needed someone to hand him tools while he worked on farm equipment. That was one of the ways she learned how things worked, she said.

And it won’t hurt that she knows how to milk a cow when she heads to Texas this summer to take a job as a field engineer, where she will interpret readings from drill-bit transmissions about the nature of the rock being drilled.

She was one of a few candidates chosen by the energy giant for a job when she was invited to the company headquarters in Houston to be introduced to the company and its operations.

For Middleton, the decision to seek a CU degree at CMU was a relatively easy one.

“I wanted to stay on the West Slope because it’s smaller,” she said. “I don’t think I could live in a city.”

She made the most of working in smaller classes than would have been offered at the Boulder campus.

“It’s a lot easier to learn where it’s more one-on-one” with instructors, Middleton said.

During her senior year, she’s had the additional benefit of being able to visit with her younger sister, Tawni, now a freshman and a member of the Mavs basketball team.

Her education has cost her family nothing, Middleton said. Her first two years were on a full-ride scholarship from CMU and her last two were financed with a CU scholarship.

She supplemented her finances by working in an earn-to-learn program and cut expenses by living with four roommates in a rented house.

And she loves those A’s.

“They keep the money flowing in,” she said.

Not counting scholarships, a CU degree earned at CMU will cost about $25,000 less than it would in Boulder, according to school figures. Much of the difference stems from students paying CMU tuition for the first two years and CU tuition only for their junior and senior years in the engineering program.

Once she completes three years with Baker Hughes, Middleton will be able to look at other aspects of the business, and she’s not ruling out the possibility of seeking a master’s degree. For her, the future holds a lot of possibilities.

“I’d love to do something in agriculture, or energy or environment,” she said.


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