For most college students, spring break is a time to travel with friends or relax at home. But Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF) Scholars Alfonso Barrera and Karla Muniz wanted to do something different. Both students are participants of the DSF Leadership Program, a partnership between Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) and DSF that aims to boost persistence and graduation rates. Both Scholars recently served as site leaders in the Alternative Break Program (ABP) sponsored by MSU. Instead of hanging out on a beach or a couch for their week without classes, they led other program participants in new experiences and giving back through volunteer service.
Alfonso, a nursing major and 2016 graduate of High Tech Early College, headed to Fort Collins where he volunteered with Harvest Farm, a community serving those recovering from homelessness and addiction. There, he assisted with everyday resident activities where he met residents and learned about their stories.
Although Alfonso admits the trip brought him a little outside his comfort zone, he relished the opportunity to interact with both the residents in the community and fellow students on the trip. He said the experience as site leader taught him empathy and sharpened his leadership skills, helping him to “be able to make decisions not only for myself but also for the people who I’m leading.”
The trip also helped him recognize the pivotal role DSF has played in both his personal and professional development. Far from just a way to make college more affordable, DSF’s mission helps him in many other areas of life.
“DSF has supported me financially but that has little do with the person I have become,” he reflects. “It gives students the chance to grow and makes students who will become difference-makers in society one day.”
Karla, who graduated from South High School in 2016 and is now a social work major, ventured outside of Colorado through the ABP. As site leader, she helped organize an expedition to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona where she and a group of students volunteered for three days. During their time with park rangers, they learned all about how wildfires, micro-trash and pollution affect both the park and our everyday lives.
By planning and executing the trip, Karla said the Leadership Program has helped her continue to develop her leadership skills. While she admits she was nervous at first—especially because this was ABP’s first trip outside Colorado—the journey went off without a hitch.
“Taking a moment to contemplate all the work and effort that was put into this project and seeing the end result was priceless,” Karla says.
Karla shares that she did not become involved with DSF programming on campus until her sophomore year in college. Then she met Lauren Koppel, assistant director of scholarship support and retention at MSU, who helped connect her to resources like the Leadership Program.
“Lauren helped me achieve much more than what I anticipated. As soon as I received help, my involvement with DSF and the campus overall improved, which allowed me to grow as a person and student,” she says. With Lauren’s help, Karla has gained access to further scholarship support and serves as a peer mentor for fellow DSF scholars.
For their hard work as site leaders through the ABP, Alfonso and Karla—along with Jasmine Villalobos-Valles, also a DSF Scholar site leader through the ABP—received an award at the MSU Student Involvement and Leadership Awards for Outstanding Student Employee Team Project – Roadways Scholarship Support and Retention Alternative Break Site Leaders. Congratulations, Alfonso, Karla, and Jasmine!
DSF is grateful for our strong partnership with MSU through the Leadership Program to support our Scholars in their development as leaders on campus and beyond. To learn more about the program, click here.