Brigitte Sundermann works hard and dreams big
Dreams are an important part of Brigitte Sundermann’s life — dreams and hard work.
In January, Sundermann became vice president of community college affairs at Western Colorado Community College, a branch of Mesa State College. She’s in charge at the two-year college.
That administrative post wasn’t something Sundermann dreamed about 10 years ago when she first signed on as a part-time instructor at the community college. In fact, she once told the former director of the community college, Kerry Youngblood, that she had no desire for an administrative position. She wanted only to teach.
But Sundermann is experienced enough to understand that real-life opportunities don’t always follow the path you map out in your dreams.
These days, Sundermann speaks enthusiastically about the dreams her position at WCCC allows her to pursue. It’s not just her own objectives, but those of the many students — young and old — who are chasing their dreams through the community college. “We really are here to help people fulfill their dreams,” she said.
In fact, it’s difficult to get Sundermann to talk about anything other than Western Colorado Community College. Unless you mention horses.
In that regard, Sundermann is living a life very similar to what she envisioned as a youngster growing up in Ohio. On her small farm near Fruita she has two horses: a paint gelding named Con and a younger gray quarterhorse called Digger. She trail rides frequently.
She has trained horses for others. She has been a partner in a small cattle operation.
And, in her “spare time” she has a horseshoeing business. Fitting steel shoes to the hooves of animals that weigh 1,000 pounds or more — creatures that don’t always welcome such attention — is hard work, no matter who you are.
But Sundermann’s familiarity with hard work came at a young age. When she was 13, she began working in her father’s machine shop, starting at the lower rungs on the work hierarchy, and over time taking on new responsibilities that helped her understand how all of the activities performed by various people at the shop fit together to complete a task.
It was a valuable lesson that Sundermann carries with her in her college responsibilities today.
“I don’t know all the details of what each instructor at the college does,” she said. But she is working to understand how all of the different classes in different disciplines taught by those instructors fit together in a particular program.
She also sees how the college can pass on that sort of knowledge to many of its students.
For instance, those students in Mesa State’s relatively new mechanical engineering program may work with students in the community college’s machining program and others in computer design classes to understand not only the engineering component of a task, but other facets, as well.
And high school students attending classes at WCCC, as part of the college’s cooperative effort with School District 51, get the opportunity to see how they can pursue their dreams beyond high school, both in two-year and four-year degree programs.
Sundermann has some experience with that, since her first part-time position at the college was teaching tech-math to high school students. The following semester, she began teaching college-level CAD and machining. She has taught a variety of other subjects over the years, and she has a degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University.
She ended up at CSU because she wanted to move to Colorado and pursue her dream of owning horses and living in the mountains. While she was there, a senior design competition took her to Las Cruces, N.M., where she met a contest judge who then worked at the U.S. Department of Energy facility in Grand Junction. That connection led her to Mesa County a few years later.
In addition to learning about hard work in her father’s machine shop, Sundermann came to appreciate vocational occupations — the ability to produce quality work with one’s hands. She does that with her farrier business and, one could argue, she does it as well when she plays classical guitar, as she has done since she was a young girl.
Beyond that, her mother and father — Argentinians of German background who immigrated to the United States — taught her that achieving one’s dreams requires persistence and your own efforts.
Her parents encouraged Sundermann and her siblings to try a variety of activities, and that’s how Sundermann began taking horseback riding lessons and later competed in equestrian events. But, when it came to buying a horse, her father told her it would be better if she purchased her own. She would appreciate it more.
That didn’t occur until after college and after Sundermann had moved to the Grand Valley. “I still remember my first horse, a buckskin. I remember looking out the window after I got him and thinking, ‘That horse is mine. I bought him.’ It was a pretty special feeling.”
She hopes others will work to meet their goals, even in difficult economic times, by considering opportunities offered at Western Colorado Community College. Now may be the time to consider training for a new career, she said, or to brush up on skills that you need for your current occupation.
Sundermann’s own plans now include pursuing a doctorate degree and exploring new trails and activities on her horses. She also said she will continue to shoe horses, although her new duties at the college will take more of her time.
Beyond those personal goals, however, is a vision for the future of WCCC. “I see a college that will continue to grow and change to meet the needs of this community,” both for the businesses that look for it to help produce workers — and most importantly — to meet the needs of the students chasing their own dreams.