First-generation college student and Metropolitan State University of Denver senior Jessica Madera (accounting and finance, spring ’19) understands the value of higher education.

“As a single mother and first-generation American born to Mexican parents who only received a second-grade education, I learned the importance of receiving an education,” said Madera.

However, building a better future comes with struggles. “My journey is full of challenges and sacrifices,” Madera continued. “There is the financial strain of balancing the cost of living and the rising costs of higher education, along with dividing my time between my daughters, work, school and studying.”

There is a significant need for single parent support at MSU Denver. The fall 2018 census indicates 975 students are single parents and nearly 6,600 are children from single-parent homes. MSU Denver donor Mark J. Smith, CFP®, CPA, CIMA® and president of M.J. Smith & Associates, hopes to lighten the load for students like Madera with the Mark J. Smith Education Scholarship. “The desire to give back stems from my personal experience,” Smith said. “As a first-generation student coming from a family that could not afford to send me to college, I recognize the impact of scholarships.”

One of three children raised by a single mother who worked as a waitress, the focus was on taking care of day-to-day necessities. “While still in high school, I heard about Iowa Central Community College,” said Smith. “There were scholarships available – people were willing to invest in my education. I applied and received one.”

Mark J. Smith

“I decided that if I were ever in the position to help someone else receive an education, I would.”

When the time came, MSU Denver seemed like a natural fit. “I was impressed by what I saw,” he said. “MSU Denver has the affordability of a community college, accommodates non-traditional students and has an undergraduate degree program in personal financial planning.”

In addition to his named scholarship, Smith is a member of the Legacy Society, having included the University in his estate plans with a generous gift to help transform the lives of future students at MSU Denver.

“If it weren’t for this scholarship, I would not have been able to continue to pursue my dream of earning my degree,” Madera said. “I will not forget the generosity bestowed on me.” Smith is optimistic his philanthropic spirit will begin a cycle of giving.

“Giving back is a great, self-fulfilling endeavor,” he said. “As students are supported in their mission to improve their lives by attaining a college degree, they will be inspired to give back when they are in a position to do so.”