Throughout his life and career, alumnus Eddy Reyes has learned that education is the road to getting where you want to go, with a zig-zaggy path befitting a Roadrunner.
Born and raised in Nicaragua, Reyes came to the U.S. in 1953 to attend Loyola University of Los Angeles. After college, he moved to Denver and worked as a designer and photographer in the advertising industry, establishing Reyes Studio Inc in the early 1970s. In 1993, the world of photography and advertising was going digital. Informed by his accounts that he had six months to shift to the new format, Reyes dissolved his business.
“To outfit the studio would have cost an extraordinary amount of money,” he said. “I thought, maybe this is the time to quit.”
Nearly 60 years old, Reyes wandered the now-empty buildings of his former profession. His wife, Arlen Marie Selu – a special education teacher in Denver Public Schools for 20 years – took note.
“Arlen told me I looked lost, confused, and went on to say I would make a great teacher,” he said. “It planted a seed.”
The father of five researched going back to college to become a teacher, finding what he was looking for at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Reyes shared his plan, with Selu wholeheartedly supporting the idea. At about the same time, she retired from special education, returning to graduate school to become a licensed professional counselor. They sold their house to pay for college, moved into and remodeled Reyes’s former studio and spent the next four years living like students.
“Those were busy years; we worked hard,” he said. “I was the oldest student in my classes and enjoyed every moment. Being at MSU Denver was a rich, happy and stimulating experience – what a treat!”
After graduating in 1997 with a degree in elementary education with a bilingual endorsement, Reyes worked for DPS for the next 18 years, teaching fourth and fifth graders until retiring at age 80. He spent most of his second career at Place Bridge Academy, established by DPS to serve immigrant children from across the globe. Reyes worked with his colleagues to accelerate the student’s learning of English language skills so the children could thrive academically.
“Forty-five languages were spoken in the building, and many of the students had never sat in a classroom before,” he said. “As teachers, we guided them through new and unfamiliar experiences.”
Years later, Reyes had a fortuitous reunion with a former Place Bridge Academy student while attending an MSU Denver-sponsored study abroad program in Mexico. Walking into the hotel dining room, a young woman stood up. “Mr. Reyes! Don’t you remember me?” she shouted, tears running down her face. “I was one of your students in 5th grade! You changed my life.”
“It was wonderful to see what she accomplished through education,” said Reyes, who notes that his former student earned a master’s degree in Social Work at MSU Denver. “I wish every teacher could have that kind of validating experience and realize what a difference they make in their student’s lives.”
Later, Reyes learned a friend had established a memorial scholarship at MSU Denver in honor of her late husband, who was a teacher.
“Another seed was planted,” he said. “I decided then and there I wanted to do the same for Arlen.”
In June 2022, Reyes established the Arlen M. Selu Special Education Memorial Endowment – the first scholarship of its kind at MSU Denver – to support students admitted into any of the University’s School of Education Special Education Programs, leading to teacher licensure.
“We are so grateful to Eddy Reyes for establishing this scholarship,” said Charlie Buckley, Ph.D., associate professor of Special Education. “Now more than ever, educators need acknowledgment and support – the focus on Special Education is an opportunity to increase inclusive and equitable practices in our schools.”
“Special Education professionals bring expertise to classrooms that ensure those with disabilities have access to the same learning opportunities as their peers,” she continued. “This scholarship helps bring attention to equity and inclusion, elevating the learning experience for all students.”
Reyes says it takes a special person who loves kids to pursue Special Education. “I want to help these students receive the financial support they need.”
“My wish is that every student realizes the profound difference they will make in their students’ lives, as I did when I ran into my former student in Mexico.”