Unlocking success

Cristian Solano-C├│rdova had everything he needed to succeed in college except U.S. citizenship.

By Dan Vaccaro

Publish Date: April 18, 2016

Photo by Sara Hertwig

Cristian Solano-Córdova was always a high-achieving student. Throughout elementary, middle and high school he tested into advanced classes and excelled. Intelligent, articulate and bilingual, he seemed to have everything he needed to succeed in college. Everything, that is, except U.S. citizenship.

“When I finished high school, I felt like there was a giant locked door in front of me that I couldn’t open,” he recalled. “I’ve been in the U.S. since I was three years old and have always felt like I was a part of this country, but in this case, my country didn’t think the same of me.”

Solano-Córdova took the advice of his high school guidance counselor and applied to a local private college. He got in, but money was a major obstacle. His mother worked in the service industry and he wasn’t eligible for government funds, so he needed to find other funding sources. Between scholarships and savings, he made it through his first semester. But by December, he’d spent his entire savings. He simply couldn’t afford it, he decided, and left.

For a few years, he floated. He worked and waited, and honestly thought he might never have the opportunity to go to college. But then something unexpected happened – the door opened.

In 2012, MSU Denver decided to offer a non-resident tuition rate for eligible undocumented students, paving the way for the passage of Colorado’s ASSET legislation in 2013. The University remains a leader in this arena, enrolling half of all undocumented students in the state.

“I signed up the very first day,” said Solano-Córdova of MSU Denver’s special tuition rate. “I was inspired and encouraged that the people at this university cared enough to push me forward rather than hold me back.”

Solano-Córdova has made the most of his opportunity. He studies modern languages and biology, and plans to graduate in spring 2016. His ultimate goal is to combine those two passions in the field of cognitive neuroscience with a specialization in language. He is currently exploring a yearlong internship after graduation with hopes of someday applying to a combined M.D./Ph.D. program.

Besides academics, Solano-Córdova keeps a busy schedule. He is president of the Student Government Assembly, among other extracurricular activities, and finds great satisfaction in organizing students, raising awareness of issues and working for positive change on campus.

“I’m so proud to be part of a school where students are fighting and working for what they want,” he said. “Many of our undocumented students have to pay for their education almost entirely out of pocket. Some of our students are parents and many come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, so their families may not have the resources to help fund their education. I’ve personally learned a lot about perseverance, self-actualization and refusing to give up on what you want to accomplish.”

Yet sometimes no matter how hard you work, you run into one of those giant locked doors. Cristian Solano-Córdova – a future doctor and leader – came very close to being left outside. Thankfully, he found the key and unlocked his future.