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‘A Pioneer for Life’

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Madeline Phipps

Morgridge graduate finishes six-year stint at DU with master’s degree in higher education policy

Diana Estrada
Diana Estrada

It’s hard for Diana Estrada to imagine her life without the University of Denver, but it’s something she’ll be doing in just a few days after she walks across the stage at commencement.

The Pueblo native has been on campus for a while—after receiving undergraduate degrees in finance and international business in 2016, she immediately began working toward a master’s degree at the Morgridge College of Education (MCE). “I wanted to continue my education right after my undergrad degree,” she says. “I really fell in love with the program offered at Morgridge.” She entered MCE’s graduate program in higher education with an emphasis on public policy.

Estrada is passionate about higher education, specifically student access to financial aid. It’s something she understands firsthand. “Financial aid is very near and dear to my heart, because without scholarships I wouldn’t have been able to afford DU,” she explains. “I want to make sure that students who pursue higher education can do it without going into significant student debt.”

During her time in the program, Estrada says she has benefitted from the experience and mentorship of her professors. Cecilia Orphan, an assistant professor in the higher education program, has made a big impact. “She’s the person who is leading the policy spectrum within higher education,” Estrada says. “She’s been pivotal to my education and without her help, I wouldn’t be here today.”

In a class she took with Orphan, Estrada says she learned valuable lessons about the importance of understanding institutions. “The class focused on shared governance, and the value of getting stakeholders in the community to enact change,” she says. “It takes into consideration a variety of perspectives and gives context for why leadership buy-in is important.”

Interning over the past year with Complete College America, an organization dedicated to promoting college completion by closing achievement gaps, provided Estrada the opportunity to analyze institutional change firsthand. Her job responsibilities involved collecting and reporting on the success of new remedial math and English programs in several states.

Right now she’s finishing up a capstone research project on funding financial aid from a federal and state perspective. “My focus is on Colorado’s College Opportunity Fund, a state organization which grants financial aid, and how we can improve it for students who are pursuing higher education,” Estrada says.

The lessons learned in her courses and internship will certainly help Estrada as she heads into her future, though it will be a bittersweet transition. “After being at DU for the past six years, it’s a part of me,” Estrada says. “I’m very emotionally attached to DU and I’ve had a great experience here—it hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’m leaving.”

To learn more about Commencement at the University of Denver, please visit the Commencement website.