Student excels by marrying passion with campus employment

Maritza Arizaga grew up hiking and camping with her family throughout her native Mexico and western Colorado. Those experiences instilled her with a deep passion for the environment. So when she saw that Colorado State University’s Center for Protected Areas Management was hiring work-study students, she jumped at the opportunity.

Blending her passion and work has paid off, as she’s earned several distinctions for her outstanding performance as a student employee.

Mariza Arizaga, Ryan Finchum and Jim Barborak
Arizaga with Ryan Finchum (left) and Jim Barborak Center for Protected Areas Management co-directors

Arizaga, a first-generation senior ecosystem science and sustainability major, is CSU’s 2015-2016 Student Employee of the Year, winning in a strong field of 60 nominees. Ryan Finchum, co-director of the Center, cited her initiative, dedication, and follow-through as reasons she was worthy of the honor.

“Maritza’s given our program critical capacity to stay engaged with our past training participants,” Finchum explained. “Our network is our most valuable asset since we’ve trained over 2,000 people from over 40 countries. She’s really helped us take that engagement to the next level.”

Arizaga didn’t think twice of going above and beyond, and was touched when she found out. “I was kind of surprised,” she said, “and very excited too. I had no idea I was being nominated. I was just working and doing my thing, but it was nice to know and very humbling to have been nominated.”

Arizaga is responsible for managing follow-ups with participants in programs the center runs with conservation and protected area leaders from around the world. A born self-starter, she took initiative to improve the trainings immediately by suggesting, and then spearheading, a project to create a guide that helps the the center’s trainees navigate protected areas throughout northern Colorado.

“I really enjoy the fact that I can interact with so many people from different cultures, and apply my Spanish skills and expand my skillset on the job,” she explained. “It’s made me more passionate about conservation.”

From translating materials into Spanish, to developing story maps of areas they work in and keeping things running smoothly during programs, Arizaga has shown tremendous skill, maturity, and professionalism. “She’s great at all the things you need done to ensure a program runs successfully,” Finchum added. “The way she conducts herself is really top notch.”

Arizaga has worked to ensure more minorities engage in parks and protected areas.  “Growing up, I had a strong value and sense of place in nature. I’ve noticed the lack of minority groups participating in national parks or wilderness activities. As minority groups grow, there needs to be greater concern for protecting our national parks and protected areas, so everyone needs to be included and deserves to understand what the environment can provide.”

Maritza Arizaga
Maritza Arizaga reflects on her award.

When Arizaga was presented with the CSU award it came along with a couple of other big surprises her supervisors successfully kept to themselves. She was unaware that she was not only CSU’s winner, but also the winner from the State of Colorado, and the Western Region’s Student Employee of the Year, where she was selected from among nearly 600 other nominees.

Arizaga was also one of four regional winners considered for the National Student Employee of the Year award.

Finchum joked that he’d be happy to see her held back so that she could continue working at the center, but was also quick to point out that “with students with capabilities like hers, we’re able to empower them to be the face and the voice of the center.” Arizaga will soon be looking for a job in community-based sustainable development where she’ll need to dedicate an entire shelf in her office to hold all of her honors.

The Center for Protected Area Management is dedicated to the conservation and management of the world’s national parks and reserves by engaging in capacity building, applied research, and technical collaboration with the organizations that help manage them and the communities whose well-being depends on them. The Center is a part of the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources in the Warner College of Natural Resources.

CSU’s Office of Student Financial Services selects the Student Employee of the Year annually, and awards the winner a $1,000 scholarship. Learn more about student employment week on CSU’s website.