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Photo by John Eisele/CSU Photography

Student success would not be possible without strong collaborations across Colorado State University. Partners in Student Success is a SOURCE special edition, published in partnership with the Division of Student Affairs, that highlights the power of collaboration and its impact on students.

Blanche Hughes

“I strongly believe that for students to excel in the classroom, we need to provide opportunities for good physical and mental health, a sense of connection, academic resources, productive places to study, nutritious meals, and safe places to live. From orientation to graduation, the Division of Student Affairs is here to help students navigate complex University processes, identify resources, and find a sense of belonging and connection; that is the most succinct way I can define what we do and how it impacts student success.” read more

Faces of student success

CSU Student Collage

Interviews by Alissa Jackson

Carolina AvilaCarolina Avila

Hometown: Fort Collins
Major: Psychology, with an Ethnic Studies Minor
Year: Third

How are you involved on campus?

SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native American Students in STEM)

“SACNAS CSU is the local chapter of an inclusive, multicultural, and multidisciplinary national organization dedicated to promoting diversity and excellence in science.

They support students of color by providing opportunities for professional/leadership development, community outreach, educational support, and training for STEM careers. We also have conversations outside of STEM about social justice issues affecting our communities.”

Greatest lesson learned

“My greatest lesson learned is that engaging and finding a community makes the college experience better. When I transferred to CSU in 2019, I went to El Centro to connect with Latinx students. At that time, I was struggling to accept my Latinx identity. I had experienced assimilation in my K-12 education, and I started embracing my Latinx identity in college.

When I went to El Centro, I felt that I was not Latinx enough to be in that space. I felt that there were unspoken rules of what it meant to be Latinx, and I did not fit that definition. After trying it several times in person, I decided to find my community elsewhere. I joined SACNAS, and with the organization being mostly Latinx, I felt that I belonged. I started to engage with El Centro again with Hot Chips Hot Topics in 2020. It was great to reconnect with El Centro and discover what I was missing out on.”

Advice to incoming students?

“My advice would be that it is OK to take your time to figure out what you want to do with your life. I changed my major five times before coming to CSU. It was necessary to do some self-exploration to discover what I wanted to do. I would recommend taking classes outside of your major that interest you. Taking an introduction to ethnic studies class is what motivated me to add an ethnic studies minor. It has enriched my learning experience. Also, students need to take advantage of the resources that CSU has to offer.”

Advice to incoming students?

“Enjoy your undergraduate experience. Do all the things you want to do and learn as much as you can. Also, recognize that burnout is real and take the time you need to recharge.”

Kimberly R CarracedoKimberly R. Carracedo

Hometown: Colorado Springs
Major: Major in Political Science concentrated in Global Policy and Government; Major in International Studies concentrated in Latin American Studies; Minor in Sociology concentrated in Criminology
Year: Third

How were you involved on campus?

El Centro’s Somos RAMS program, fellow at Fort Collins high school through the Los Caminos Program, secretary for the Korean Culture Club, and student event coordinator for El Centro

“During my time as a student event coordinator for El Centro, I have worked on a variety of different programs. During the fall semester of 2020, my peers and I facilitated a dialogue series for students to discuss current issues and topics that impact the Latinx community at CSU. I run our monthly Instagram segment called Cultural Recipes. This segment highlights Latinx staff and faculty while they share their higher ed journey while cooking delicious food.

They helped me navigate through classes and motivated me with different goals and assignments. They also provided me with some of my closest friends and introduced me to people I probably would have never met if I didn’t join these groups.”

Greatest lesson learned

“My greatest lesson learned was patience. Due to COVID-19, programming has been difficult. However, with the help of my peers and professional staff, we persevered and will continue to adapt to the ever-changing world around us.”

Reflection on your time at CSU?

“I was nervous when I first came to CSU. Coming from my local community college, which had many individuals that looked like me, to a predominantly white institution was a big step in my life. Thanks to the friends, peers, and staff that I’ve met here, my perception has changed. I’m no longer nervous of what’s around me, and the unknown is something that I strive to jump into and learn more about.”

Advice to incoming students?

“I know it’s what most people say but getting involved will help you progress. Also, the people you meet along the way will be blessings or lessons, and learning from each one will impact your growth exponentially. Move at your own pace and enjoy each and every moment of this experience, you’re only in your undergrad once.”

Kurtis R CunninghamKurtis R. Cunningham

Hometown: Fort Collins
Major: Political Science and International Studies
Year: Graduate student 

How are you involved on campus?

Adult Learner and Veteran Services (ALVS) Office and the Student Veterans Organization (SVO)

Favorite experience?

“My favorite experience was attending the Student Veterans of America National Convention. I went in 2019 and 2020. The 2019 SVA NATCON was held at Disney World. We spent our nights having deep conversations learning about experiences we all faced. This built a strong bond between all of us that attended, bonds that are still held today, despite many of us graduating. For the 2020 SVA NATCON, I was honored to be an attendee because CSU was named Chapter of the Year by the Student Veterans of America.”

What is the culture like in your organization?

“The ALVS culture is awesome. You get a chance to speak with other non-traditional students going through the process of going to college. I get to learn from the adult learners on their experiences at the university and from fellow student veterans. I identify as both a veteran and an adult learner.”

Do you feel your involvement at CSU helped your journey through college?

“One hundred percent yes! I was unsure about going to college at a later age, being surrounded by students 10 years younger than me. The ALVS and the SVO showed that I did belong, and this allowed me to feel more comfortable in my classes and with traditional-aged students.”

Reflection on your time at CSU?

“ALVS taught me that being involved with organizations at CSU will make for a better experience. It doesn’t matter what organization you become involved with, any involvement in student organizations will make your time at CSU easier and more fun. Involvement in student organizations helps you find friends and build your network.”

Advice to incoming students?

“Have fun and get involved. I would not have been nearly as successful as I was (and still am) pursuing higher education.”

Nizhoni A HatchNizhoni A. Hatch

Hometown: Denver
Major: Biomedical Sciences with a Chemistry minor
Year: Second

How are you involved on campus?

Native American Cultural Center, Honors Program, and Undergraduate Research Honors Program

“My involvement with these programs has enriched my academic experience and provided new opportunities to explore my interests.

Through the Native American Cultural Center, I have found a welcoming community, found employment opportunities, advanced my academics, nurtured my cultural knowledge and participated in fulfilling volunteer opportunities, which give back to the Native community and increase Native visibility. The opportunities through NACC have enriched my undergraduate experience – academically and culturally.”

Empowerment moment

“NACC has taught me to embrace my Native American culture in all my pursuits; and in doing so, I am fighting the historic discrimination against Native Americans and preserving my ancestors’ threatened traditions. My background is a source of motivation, and the support from the Native community has been fundamental in my journey. Without support from the Indigenous community, I would have continued falsely thinking I needed to be white to fulfill my ambitions. I am so grateful I found NACC and their unending support.”

Reflection on your time at CSU?

“Before I came to CSU, I was used to being the only Native student in the classroom – I was used to being underestimated, underrepresented and misunderstood. Once I found NACC at CSU, I realized the importance of community and support.

I found other Native students with big dreams, I was mentored by people who believed I could succeed, I found role models who inspire me every day to continue to persevere in all my undertakings.

Ambitions should never be suppressed, and cultural identity should never be a source of shame, and my involvement with the NACC has proved a welcoming community is essential in obliterating these beliefs. I never thought I could find such overwhelming support and compassion in university, and since I have come to CSU, I have found a home away from home.”

Advice to incoming students?

“I want other Native people to know they are capable of accomplishing their wildest dreams and there are others who want to see them succeed; they just have to get involved in the community.

If I could talk to myself in high school, I would tell myself it’s OK to be confused. It’s OK to be vulnerable and ask for help because nobody expects you to know the answers until you’ve asked the right questions. So ask questions! Take advantage of every opportunity you’re given, because every time you try something new, you learn more about what you like and what kind of person you want to be. College is the perfect place to explore everything and anything!”

Maya C SiegelMaya C. Siegel

Hometown: Evergreen, Colorado
Major: Marketing and Entrepreneurship
Year: Third

How are you involved on campus?

MURALS, American Sign Language Club, Honors Program, Collegiate DECA, and College of Business Mentoring Program

“Choosing to explore multiple clubs my freshman year helped me to make connections early on, which greatly improved my college experience. In fact, the majority of my closest friends at CSU are the ones I made in my first year.

They helped me navigate through classes and motivated me with different goals and assignments. They also provided me with some of my closest friends and introduced me to people I probably would have never met if I didn’t join these groups.”

Empowerment moment

“My biggest takeaway from MURALS (Multicultural Undergraduate Research Art and Leadership Symposium) was how active the CSU community is and how deeply the faculty care about the students. It’s easy to feel invisible at a big school, especially as a freshman, so being invited to participate in MURALS (and then seeing faculty coming to the event and supporting the participants) meant a lot to me.”

Reflection on your time at CSU?

“Initially, I was very anxious moving from high school to college without my best friends, especially because I had known most of them since elementary school.

That said, I ended up really enjoying my freshman year and securing a 4.0 GPA. I made great friends and faculty through the Honors Program and found that the CSU community as a whole is very supportive.”

Advice to incoming students?

“Take chances, say ‘yes’ to new experiences, and remember that college is about more than grades.

Nelson Mandela once said, ‘May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.’ This is a mindset that I’ve found particularly helpful throughout my college career, especially during times of anxiety.”

Jaylen L SpiresJaylen L. Spires

Hometown: Compton, California
Major: Hospitality Management with a minor in Business
Year: Fourth

How are you involved on campus?

Key Academic, Community of Excellence, President of Black Definition, and worked at the Black/African American Cultural Center (B/AACC) as a mentor, peer coordinator, and now, Lead Peer Coordinator

Favorite experience

“I was president of Black Definition, an organization made up of presidents of the B/AACC-supported student organizations (also known as Presidents Council) that provide knowledge of African American culture to the campus of Colorado State University and share Black awareness year-round with an emphasis on the month of February, which is Black History Month.

My favorite experience in this organization was the year I was in the role of president. We brought Dr. Yusef Salaam, member of the Exonerated Five, an award-winning motivational and transformational speaker, author, and coach.”

Reflection on your time at CSU?

“I was scared to come to a predominantly white institution. As my time here moved on, I grew to understand the uncertainty of life on campus. My fear turned into confidence once I got comfortable.”

Advice to incoming students?

“Maya Angelou once said, ‘You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.’ I’ve been through unfortunate times during my years at CSU, but I didn’t let them shape the person I am today. I looked beyond them to a better future. I’d say, don’t let the world change the course of your future, manifest your future self in whichever way YOU prefer.”

Luce StoneLuce Stone

Hometown: Salt Lake City
Major: Ethnic Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies
Year: Fourth

How are you involved on campus?

WGAC (Women and Gender Advocacy Center)

“I have been working with the WGAC as a member of the Red Whistle Brigade for about three years (this spring is my sixth semester). The Red Whistle Brigade is one branch of the WGAC’s student staff, and we provide education around consent, healthy relationships, relationship violence and other related topics. For students who were incoming first years before 2020, Brigade was the group presentation/skit around consent during summer orientation.”

Favorite Experience and why?

“Wow, I have so many positive experiences and fantastic memories from the WGAC it’s hard to pick one. Our annual Consent Turns Me On (CTMO) carnival is definitely up there. I never thought I would spend time in college running carnival games involving practicing asking for consent, but I did, and it was an absolute blast. I love how the WGAC — and particularly in my role on Brigade — uses light-hearted education tools like participatory games or skits to communicate important information around consent and relationship violence. It makes it easier for survivors who might be in the room to interact with the content, while also helping bring these topics to light and encouraging conversation.”

Reflection on your time at CSU?

“Honestly, I was absolutely terrified to start as a first year at CSU. I had no idea what I wanted to study, I was from a different state, and I knew absolutely nothing about the university I had committed to. Joining the Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies programs at CSU, as well as the WGAC, helped me reach a place to grow and change throughout my time in college. I am so thankful to the individuals in those departments who helped encourage my growth and were patient with me while I tried to find my way through the past four years.

Advice to incoming students?

I would tell incoming first-years that it’s okay to feel alone or unsure for the first part of your college experience. It’s a big transition and you grow a lot over the course of four years. I would probably tell first years that if there’s a center you’re interested in learning more about, or a cool class you want to take, or even an entire major you want to explore — do it! There are so many amazing opportunities and programs available at CSU, and incredible people to meet once you find spaces/groups that reflect your interests. Stay focused on what makes you happy, drink lots of water, and take advantage of the chance to broaden your horizons!”

Jeannie VongJeannie Vong

Hometown: San Francisco
Major: Communication Studies with a minor in Global Environment Sustainability
Year: Third

How are you involved on campus?

Asian Pacific American Cultural Center as the Pre-collegiate Youth Coordinator and APIDA

“Much of my involvement on campus is related to the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center as I began working my second year as the Pre-collegiate Youth Coordinator, which has remained a role that requires much flexibility and doing other work. I was a member of the Asian Pacific American Student Association, which is an affiliated organization of APACC that aims for educational and social events surrounding Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) identities and cultures.

Toward the end of my second year, I had become the vice president of APASA. I wanted to do even more for my community during the pandemic but struggled to find methods as everything seemingly went online. I became a peer mentor at APACC to be a guide for four first-year and transfer APIDA students who have many of the same identities as myself. There was also an open position for the APACC representative on the President’s Multicultural Student Advisory Committee, which I took on.”

Empowerment moment

“It’s been rather awe-inspiring to see so many students wanting to improve the experiences of themselves and each other. I mean, speaking for myself, I know that much of the work being done, I will never really see come to light, but that doesn’t make me want to stop.”

Reflection on your time at CSU?

“I really thought I would just focus on my education because that’s why I’m here. Obviously, that didn’t last long. I think that finding the people that actually make you feel like it’s worth staying on campus that extra hour changes how you feel at CSU.

I definitely think being involved has helped me, especially working at APACC and being a part of PMSAC. Just the training I received by working in the LSC opened my eyes to just how many resources are available to students. I’ve also found that the class for peer mentor prioritizes teaching the mentors about these resources, occasionally having representatives come speak, such as with the Career Center.”

 Advice to incoming students?

“I think my big takeaway as I approach graduation is that this is not forever, but it sure can open a ton of doors. Don’t be afraid to see what’s available and recognize your worth. Don’t let your grades define you. Drink water! Find resources and actually use them (if you’re scared, hit up someone to help you!). Take time for yourself. Grab opportunities as they come, but don’t forget to look for some yourself.”

Matthew T. YohannesMatthew T. Yohannes

Hometown: Centennial, Colorado
Major: Neuroscience with a minor in Political Science
Year: Fourth

How are you involved on campus?

College of Natural Sciences, Learning Assistant, TRIUNFO Tutoring Program, Neuroscience Science Organization

Favorite experience and why?

“As a member of the JUR (Journal of Undergraduate Research), I got to help review, compile and edit articles from undergraduate students around the world. It is a great experience because I get the opportunity to expose myself to a wide range of undergraduate research.

Moreover, as an associate director of training, I am responsible for meeting with and training new associate editors who are interested in joining the JUR team. It is always great to meet with other undergraduate students. Through JUR, I also learned that there are many different fields that can contribute to scholarly work and research. Furthermore, I get to learn a lot from reading (and reviewing) numerous articles from different academic fields. It really helps me to broaden my perspectives.”

Greatest lesson?

“I got to learn that what I put in is what I get out. I am 100% responsible for everything that I do. I learned that I need to take responsibility for my decisions. This helped me learn that having a strong internal locus of control is key to helping me stay motivated.”

Takeaways you’d like to share?

“I would recommend that you should interact with (and talk to) professors, advisers and teachers! Do not be afraid to put yourself out there and meet with them. Many students do not attend office hours – but I would recommend that you try to go. It is a good idea to make connections with these people early on, as they can provide you with valuable insights and support that can help to enrich your college education.

Moreover, I would definitely like to add onto this — and say that you should always look to break down large ‘goals’ into smaller, actionable steps! Whatever goal you have in mind, it is always a good idea to break it down into smaller, more pragmatic goals that you can achieve!

That is important because taking smaller steps can provide you with a sense of accomplishment, and keep you motivated. Also, try to stay consistent! It is often much better to study for one hour every day a few weeks before an exam, than it is to study for five or six hours the day before hand.”

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