Angelica Cruz was a strong student from the first day she walked into a Denver preschool classroom. She spoke no English, but that didn’t slow her down. By kindergarten she had soaked up the English language and transitioned to an all-English classroom.
She was well on her way to a strong academic career.
“I always did really well in school,” the 2015 Colorado State University graduate said one early autumn evening, seated in a Cherry Creek coffee shop. “And I always had teachers encouraging me.”
Angelica has loving parents, with whom she maintains close ties, but she says their own limited experiences with school meant that they weren’t able to help her much with homework. Nor did they understand her drive to go to college and beyond.
“When it came to school, I had to do it all on my own,” she said.
Her parents came to the U.S. from the Mexican state of Zacatecas when they were teenagers. Her father attended school only through third grade, and her mother through eighth grade. They had four children. Angelica has an older brother, an older sister, and a twin sister. She is the only one to have graduated from college. Her twin attended Concorde Career College and works as as a certified dental assistant. Her bother is a truck driver, and her older sister is a stay-at-home mom who lives with her parents.
And Angelica? She graduated from CSU with a Bachelor’s degree in apparel merchandising. “I’ve wanted to go into business for along time, and I love clothes. So what better major could there be for me?” she said with a smile. “I fell in love with (the major) with the first class.”
Shortly after graduating she landed a product allocator position at Sports Authority’s corporate headquarters in Englewood. She is responsible for distributing volleyball and wrestling clothing and equipment to Sports Authority stores across the country.
College would have been a distant dream for Angelica were it not for the Denver Scholarship Foundation Future Center at Montbello High School. Her parents are of modest means (her father is a construction laborer, her mother a seamstress at the Simmons mattress factory near Denver International Airport) and told her they would not be able to help pay for college.
“I was literally always in the Future Center after school. They helped me a lot, by requiring me to apply to at least two colleges, helping with my essays.”
And thanks to Angelica’s strong academic credentials and diligence, LaRae Scott-Jennings, who ran the Future Center at Montbello was able to help her land enough scholarships and grants to pay for all four years at CSU. She graduated debt-free, a fact which makes her beam with pride.
Once CSU accepted Angelica, Scott-Jennings also steered her to an opportunity that made her first year at CSU smoother. Key Communities is a 17-year-old program at CSU that provides a supportive environment for students who might need extra support adjusting to college life. The students live together in Key Communities houses and participate in a variety of leadership-building and bonding activities.
“In high school a lot of kids didn’t understand what college was all about. But in Key Communities, I found a lot of DPS graduates like me who were first generation college students,” Angelica said. “That first year would have been a really hard adjustment without Key Communities.”
What’s next for Angelica? She hopes to move up the ladder at Sports Authority to become a buyer. Eventually, she wants to earn an MBA and open her own clothing business.
Anyone who spends a few minutes chatting with Angelica will come away with no doubt that she will accomplish her goals.