If you go

What: University of Colorado spring commencement

When: 8:30 a.m. Friday

Where: Folsom Field, CU's Boulder campus

More info: commencement.colorado.edu

Elizabeth Dare was just a fifth-grader on 9/11.

She remembers the principal's voice coming over the loudspeaker at her New Jersey elementary school that was just 45 minutes from Manhattan. And, with clarity, she remembers watching the replay of jets crashing into the Twin Towers and how it triggered tears to stream down her face.

Dare will be graduating later this week from the University of Colorado, and she'll be among the first female ROTC graduates assigned to train as officers in combat battalions since the Pentagon lifted ban on women in combat earlier this year. Dare's reaction to the surprise 2001 attacks on American soil has largely motivated her career path.

"That's what really sparked my drive," said Dare. "I was young, but I understood."

At the spring graduation ceremony, CU will award 6,084 degrees, including 4,687 bachelor's degrees, 903 master's degrees, 171 law degrees and 494 doctoral degrees. The good news for graduates is they'll be greeted by a job market that is still warming, with surveys showing that employers plan to hire more freshly minted college graduates than they did last year.

CU's spring graduation ceremony will begin at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Folsom Field, with Academy Award-winning actress Julie Andrews, who starred in "The Sound of Music," "Mary Poppins" and "The Princess Diaries." In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, the university is taking unprecedented steps this year to increase security, requiring bag screenings at stadium entry points.

Reporting for duty

Soon after graduation, Dare will report for training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

Elizabeth Dare will be graduating from the University of Colorado on Friday.
Elizabeth Dare will be graduating from the University of Colorado on Friday. (Cliff Grassmick)

She will be training to be a field artillery officer, a combat division in which some positions were already open to women. During training she'll learn which computerized rocket system she'll be working with.

In 2010, a provision was eliminated from a Department of Defense policy which qualified women for more Multiple Launch Rocket System units.

"I think it's great the military has opened up a lot more jobs to women," she said. "It will help women's careers, and there are a lot of women who want to be in those positions and are fully dedicated to their jobs."

While in high school in Colorado Springs, Dare was involved in a junior cadet program.

She chose CU largely because of the strong reputation of the Army ROTC program.

CU's ROTC program won one of eight MacArthur Awards in the nation for the unit's achievements in the 2011-12 school year. The Boulder campus was selected as the top unit of the Cadet Command's Fifth Brigade, which consists of 36 senior Army ROTC programs in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

"I love the structure and the commitment and sense of duty that comes with it," she said.

Improving job market, higher offers

Early employment survey results show that the Class of 2013 won't just be getting more job offers than their peers in the last graduating class, but they'll also be offered higher starting salaries.

The Collegiate Employee Research Institute is reporting that hiring of new bachelor's degree candidates was expected to bump up by about 5 percent this year, though Lisa Severy, director of CU's Career Services, expects that increase to be even higher.

Since the start of the academic year in August, the career center has posted 6,350 different positions for CU students and graduates, many with multiple openings to fill, Severy said.

"Considering that's just one mechanism for finding positions, we hope that graduating students are finding a range of opportunities," Severy said. "Of course the push to the academic finish at graduation is intense, so some students probably haven't begun their search yet. We look forward to assisting those students after graduation."

Ben Mead, bottom left, and Kelly Oliver, discuss their senior project during the senior breakfast on Friday.University of Colorado senior engineering
Ben Mead, bottom left, and Kelly Oliver, discuss their senior project during the senior breakfast on Friday. University of Colorado senior engineering students, staff, and professors, were part of a pre-graduation school breakfast. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

The average starting salary for new college graduates earning bachelor's degrees has increased 5.3 percent since last year, according to a new report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE. The survey found that on average, the starting salary for college graduates is $44,928, up from 2012 average starting salary of $42,666.

"The sizable gains in several disciplines -- particularly in health sciences and business -- have helped to drive up the average starting salary for the Class of 2013," said Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director.

Engineers in high demand

The colleges and employers association also found that the highest-paying majors are mostly in engineering, with petroleum engineers earning $93,500 right out of college.

The other majors that command the highest salaries are computer engineering, chemical engineering, computer science and aerospace engineering.

Mackes said that engineering majors are consistently among the highest paid because the demand for them is so great.

Over in CU's College of Engineering and Applied Science on Friday morning, the college hosted a brunch for graduating seniors.

Graduating senior Brian Dickinson, a civil engineering major, said he's already had a few job interviews -- but no offers just yet.

He's worked a couple of summer internships, including one with Jacobs Engineering on a project at Denver International Airport. In the interim between college graduation and entering the "real world," Dickinson is planning a road trip, and seeing how many Major League Baseball games he can catch on his route from Colorado to the East Coast.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or anasb@dailycamera.com.