Community and Opportunity Through the DULAA Scholarship
When Aron Rodriguez (BA ’19, BS ’19, MAcc ’20) came to the University of Denver as a first-year student, he was at a disadvantage in learning to navigate a complex environment. He was, after all, the first in his family to attend college.
He felt alone during his first quarter. Like many first-generation Latinx college students, Rodriguez had difficulty finding a place of belonging within a college environment very different from the community where he grew up. Navigating the social environment while maintaining A's in his classes felt overwhelming. He questioned whether pursuing higher education was worth the adversities he was facing.
Then Rodriguez attended a scholarship reception where he met members of the DU Latino Alumni Association (DULAA), many of whom also had been first-generation students. In talking to them, he found plenty of support and began to understand that he was not alone in his journey. As a result, he opted to stick with college. Now Rodriguez has three degrees in accounting and political science from DU, and he is looking forward to making a difference in the world through his career in accounting.
Rodriguez and other students like him are exactly why DULAA created a scholarship several years ago. Knowing the challenges that Latinx students can face — both financially and culturally — the leaders of DULAA set out to help clear the path for DU students for years to come.
“I really want more Latinos to have an opportunity to go to college,” says Eileen Young (MLS ’99), one of the founding donors of the DULAA Scholarship. “Families often don’t have enough money to send their kids to college. This is my way of giving back and making sure we have money available for students who want to go.”
The DULAA Scholarship is open to DU students of Latinx heritage who have a demonstrated commitment to the Latinx community and experience in working with the community. Alex Dominguez, a fourth-year student majoring in communications studies with a minor in Asian studies, tells of their experience mentoring students in their majority-Latinx high school.
“Everyone from my high school was first-generation, so no one had the resources they needed to know how to apply to college,” says Dominguez, who helped edit their peers’ college applications and essays. They also worked with Girls Inc. of Metro Denver, offering counseling and tutoring in math for girls, and with Adelante Mujer, a program that helps Latinx girls find the resources they need to go to college.
Such a commitment to community pervades the DULAA Scholarship experience. Through the DULAA Scholarship and the included mentoring, students receive funding for their education and a community that supports them throughout their years at DU and beyond.
“The community that we create here helps people to not feel othered, to be able to ask the questions they have, ask for what they need from professors. Some students don’t know that they can ask for help. We create that safe space for them to find the resources they need. We help them navigate the college experience when their parents can’t help because they didn’t attend college,” says Lori Garcia-McGehee (BS ’95).
Students find their DULAA mentors to be a great resource even beyond their years at DU, checking in about how to navigate salary negotiation, retirement plans and other elements of professional life. The DULAA leadership connects students with internships and offers sessions for students thinking about going to grad school, bringing in current practitioners in the field for those conversations.
The DULAA leadership agrees that attending DU was a transformational opportunity that opened the doors to lifelong friendships and meaningful careers. They give to the DULAA Scholarship so the students of today and tomorrow can experience the same and better.
In providing financial support for more Latinx students to attend DU and in working to break down cultural barriers, the DULAA Scholarship and its donors are helping to transform culture at DU. Many members of DULAA were the first in their families to go to college. Finding friends and allies along the way — a familia to walk alongside them — was central to navigating the college journey.
“Through the DULAA Scholarship, I found community,” Dominguez says. “My high school friend Valeria is also a recipient, and it was wonderful to see her at the scholarship reception and know that we are a part of this together. Rodriguez has also provided a great deal of support, particularly as I navigated my study abroad experience. The financial support of the scholarship was crucial to my being able to attend DU. Finding community has made a tremendous impact as well.”
“Community is vital to succeeding in college and in a career beyond college,” says Andrea Smith (BA ’85, JD ’88). “We need to be there to help them get through. That’s how we got through.”
Receiving the DULAA Scholarship has made a tremendous impact on Dominguez — and on their family. “My sister graduated from DU last year, and I plan to graduate in 2021. We are the first people in our family to finish high school, in addition to college. It’s a really big deal to my family that we are both getting the schooling that we wanted and needed. The DULAA Scholarship helped keep that legacy going, for me to be alongside my sister as the two first people in our family in the past 100 years to graduate from school.”
Rodriguez continues to mentor undergraduate students like Dominguez, making sure they know they aren’t alone in their journeys. “Going to college is a new environment for everyone, no matter your background, and it’s important for us to be there for them and give back to them,” he says. “I loved all my donors and am so grateful for them. People who give to the DULAA Scholarship are giving to something that will directly touch students’ lives. This is support that they really need. You’re giving students the opportunity to truly focus on school and have that college experience that everyone hopes to have.”
If you would like to give in support of the DU Latino Alumni Association's endowed scholarship, please click here.
If you would like more information on supporting scholarships at the University of Denver, please contact Roger Smith, Executive Director of Development, Special Initiatives, by e-mail.