Community college education provides a solid foundation for success. Anyone who knows Rebecca Holmes will confirm she is living proof. Today, she enjoys an impactful career with the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment focused on ensuring equitable access to clean drinking water.
Holmes, who lives in Denver, relishes her job as a drinking water projects and outreach strategist, and it all started at Virginia Peninsula Community College. She runs a grant program to help water systems fund projects to meet water quality standards.
She delights in helping disproportionately affected and rural communities improve their water quality.
“I have a passion for equitable access to safe, clean water,” said Holmes. “As I was taking earth science courses, I found myself particularly drawn to the ones focused on water quality and policy. Ultimately, this passion is why I landed in my current role, and I am excited to find ways to help communities have access to safe drinking water.”
Flashback to 2016. Holmes enrolled at VPCC and finished two years later with an associate degree in social science. She was uncertain how far she would go. However, she was sure the College was perfect for laying the groundwork for her future.
“I chose VPCC because it was close to home, and I needed an affordable way to begin my higher education. I also chose VPCC for online classes to make my schedule more flexible as I usually worked one to two jobs while going to school,” she said.
“I majored in science and social science. I was just exploring classes at the time,” she added. “I ended up taking a few geology classes with (Geology Prof.) Lynsey LeMay and decided to major in that for my undergraduate degree.”
She took advantage many opportunities at the College. The pinnacle was earning the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship (JKC), a competitive national scholarship that provides up to $55,000 a year for educational costs – tuition, room and board, books, and other required fees toward a bachelor’s degree program. That funding allowed her to take a huge leap.
“I moved to Colorado to attend CU Boulder (University of Colorado Boulder) after receiving the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship and fell in love with it,” shared Holmes.
At CU Boulder she double majored in geology and environmental studies. A keen interest in clean water advocacy led her to pursue a master's degree in hydrologic sciences and engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Holmes’ thirst for education was influenced by her mother early on.
“My mom always told me that education was a way to overcome ... I also genuinely love learning and have a passion for making this world a better place for others,” she said.
“My time at VPCC gave me an opportunity to apply for scholarships and participate in an internship, which all solidified my ability to transfer to a four-year college,” she said. “I found my passion for earth sciences at VPCC and have pursued it ever since!”
Reflecting on her higher education experiences, Holmes has sage advice for students.
“Take your time. It took five and a half years for me to finish my undergraduate degrees, and I don't regret that at all!," she mused. "It gave me the opportunity to explore and take classes I might not have been able to otherwise.”
Holmes is soaking it all in right now.
“Currently, I am enjoying the position I'm in and am just excited to make a difference in my role,” she shared.
Outside of her professional life, Holmes enjoys reading, playing video games, and attending concerts. She recently celebrated completing her master's degree with a trip to Iceland. Holmes is grateful for her family’s support, especially her parents, and acknowledges the influence of mentors, including LeMay and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
Her thoughts are never far from her first alma mater – Virginia Peninsula Community College. During the pandemic, she offered virtual workshops on JKC to help students with the tedious scholarship application process and wants to do more.
“I would love to pay it forward by helping other VPCC students apply to the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship,” said Holmes.