Student Stories

Nancy palacios

Nancy Palacios-Casillas

Nancy Palacios-Casillas is currently a first-generation student majoring in Chicana/o Studies at MSU Denver.  “I am pursuing a college degree because I want to obtain the necessary skills to go back to my community and give back.  I want to work with underrepresented, marginalized youth in communities like mine to make sure that they are being led positively and have the support they need through their road to success.  Also, it is extremely important to me to obtain and pursue a degree because my parents have allowed me to get an education, something that they never had.  Everyone has a different path, do not beat yourself down if your road to success looks slightly different from your peers.  Remember that you belong on campus, no matter the stereotypes.  You may feel alone sometimes, but remember, you have the power to create change, your voice matters, and you will be successful.  Your ancestors are standing behind you, every step of the way. Todo a Su Tiempo, Si Se Puede!”

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Estéfani Peña Figueroa

“Peña Figueroa, a student with DACA protection, graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver this month with a degree in healthcare management. Her younger sister is graduating from Denver’s DSST: College View High School.

Many Colorado academic institutions canceled or postponed their graduation ceremonies to reduce the spread of the highly contagious new coronavirus. For first-generation college students such as Peña Figueroa — the first person in her family to earn a college degree — the dissolution of a graduation ceremony felt especially stinging. “I really wanted to go to school since I was little, but the education in Guatemala was so expensive and not the best opportunity,” Peña Figueroa said, her voice cracking. “Although my mother didn’t really know how to read back then, she would always try to read to me and always tell me — sorry I get so emotional — she would always tell me about the importance of going to school and going to college. My parents decided to give my little sister and me a better future.”

By Elizabeth Hernandez, The Denver Post. Read the rest of the article here.

Brandon wheel

Brandon "Wheelz" Wheeldon

“I can stand in front of other vets and say, ‘I’ve dealt with mental health issues. Now, I’m gonna guide you through the BS you’re going through, too.” COVID-19 is shining a light on the underlying issues veterans face that the country has been unable to fix, including a stigma attached to asking for help, said veterans working in Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Peer Advisors for Veteran Education program. It’s an exercise in trust-building that Brandon knows well. “So much of the military, across all branches, is shaped around this concept of ‘team,’” said the 2009 criminal-justice alum and current Master of Social Work student. “You’re trained from your first day of service to rely on those to the left of you and the right of you – that doesn’t go away.” Read the full article here.

Janelle Padilla

Janelle Padilla

Before Janelle Padilla ever stepped foot on the Auraria Campus, she knew she wanted to work in marketing.

While she was attending John F. Kennedy High School, she took a marketing class that helped her realize her passion for the field. She became interested in seeing what companies are doing to intrigue consumers and fell for the psychology behind different marketing strategies.

“I really want to do something in the digital marketing field. I’m hoping to continue on with social media, paid ads and more,” said Padilla. “All of that is what I feel like I need to be in. There is so much more to marketing that people don’t realize. That is what is so intriguing about it.”

Padilla is on the right path toward accomplishing her dreams of working in marketing as the soon to be 23-year-old graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a major in marketing and a certification in digital marketing earlier this month. She was awarded the most outstanding marketing student award from the university and graduated with Summa Cum Laude honors for her academic achievements.

Jose Puente puente

Jose Puente Puente

Jose has been an outstanding employee across a variety of positions in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology over the past few years, starting as a front-desk assistant and student coordinator for recruitment to the department’s then-Academic Advisor Samantha Borrego. When she became the coordinator of First-Generation Initiatives, she hired Jose as a family leader in their office. Through excelling in his Sociology coursework and collaborative interactions with classmates, faculty and staff, Jose was also hired as a student tutor for the course Social Statistics. This course is viewed as one of the most challenging in the Sociology major, but through Jose’s patience, dedication, generous giving of time and excellent communication and explanatory abilities, he has helped many students not only succeed but shine in the course. Jose excelled at in-person tutoring prior to the pandemic but became even more invaluable when the course and tutoring pivoted to the virtual environment. He has maintained a flexible attitude and good-natured sense of humor and jovialness that puts students at ease when feeling stressed and anxious by the current learning environment.

Faculty & Staff Stories

tisha Townsend

Tisha Townsend, Associate Director, TRiO Student Support Services

I graduated from MSU Denver with my Bachelor’s in Spanish and currently studying for my Master’s at UC Denver in Spanish. It was important for me to connect with my language since no one made me speak Spanish growing up. I love learning about language and literature so it’s been a really great experience for me. I’m proud to be first-gen because I’m doing something that was really hard and scary at times, but I kept going. My mom always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, so I just went with that. It took me 10 years to get my bachelor’s but I did it, and now I have a job that I love and I’m studying my personal passions. It’s been hard work, but worth it. 
Get to know your professors, they can be your biggest ally and resource for help. Get advice from advisors, and always take the path that sparks passion. Get a degree that you enjoy studying, because that will lead you to work you enjoy. Get an internship! Use your resources, you never know who might be able to help you!


Megan Lazorski, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

“In general, my experience was very exciting, inspiring, and rewarding. I always felt like I was doing something intrepid and special for myself and my family. On the other hand, though, many things seemed quite unintuitive, which made me. I feel like I was somehow out of place or missing a piece to the puzzle. I often felt like I needed to work much harder to achieve similar results to my peers, and even if I looked comparable “on paper,” I always felt behind. This was not necessarily a bad thing because it strengthened my already hefty work ethic and allowed me to prove to myself just how hard I could push myself to achieve my goals. However, as I moved on to graduate school, I had more tasks, and I had to divide my time even more finely. This experience forced me to study more efficiently instead of just studying more. This experience also helped me realize that there is such a thing as overworking and over-studying, and those behaviors tanked my efficiency. I still struggle with this issue to this day! However, I try to remind myself that hard work is not the same as constantly overworking, and balanced life is a goal for everyone though what looks like is likely to be different for each person.”

Kristy Lyons

Kristy Lyons, Associate Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences

“I had a great time in my classes, where I felt like I knew how to be a student. But I struggled with college processes – figuring out a major and finding a way to pay for my rent, bills, and eat. I also worried a lot about what I’d do after college but had no idea how to actually figure out a career plan. I also felt a kind of disconnect when I went home – like I couldn’t really talk to anyone in my family about what my college experience was like because it felt too fancy or out of touch. None of my friends at school were first-gen (that I knew of), and my friends from high school who went to college all seemed to have a very different experience because their parents were paying for school and their rent and even giving them spending money! I felt kind of in my own little bubble where I couldn’t be my full authentic self with anyone.

kat Martinez

Katherine (Kat) Martinez, Ph.D. Gender Institute for Teaching and Advocacy

“Being a first-generation undergraduate student was challenging. I enrolled in a primarily White institution because I received a scholarship that would pay for four years of college. Having this financial stability was a privilege I had earned, but being in this environment with many students who had unearned (class and race) privileges was a daily reminder that I did not quite belong. I did not know how to be a student: how to take notes, how to study, which classes to choose, how to become involved in campus activities, how to engage with faculty, etc. By the end of my first year of school, I had determined that I would quit and move back to my hometown in Southwestern Colorado to be closer to my family. I stayed in school because of a TRiO mentor who encouraged me to keep trying. And I did, eventually graduating and deciding to enroll in graduate school, which was even more difficult as a first-generation student. However, in graduate school, I found my voice, found my people, and found my calling as a teacher. I still experienced imposter syndrome; I still doubted myself and my abilities but learned that I deserved to be in the classroom, and I deserved the opportunities afforded other students.”

nick recker

Nicholas Recker, Ph.D., Professor, Sociology & Anthropology

“The two biggest items which helped me were: great mentoring and staying on track. I was lucky to meet people who understood my goals and gave great advice. Additionally, I worked hard to make good progress towards my degree every semester. COVID-19 makes staying on track difficult (in addition to work and family obligations), though Metro State is working to help students succeed despite these obstacles.”