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First-gen Friday at Colorado Capitol unites Mavericks, Roadrunners and Grizzlies

Colorado House and Senate issue tributes to first-generation college students

The Colorado General Assembly honored Colorado Mesa University (CMU) students on Friday, March 6, as more than 20 first-generation college students stood on the floor of the Colorado House and Senate chambers. Students from the three universities were joined by CMU President Tim Foster and Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSUD) President Janine Davison.

“The so-called urban/rural divide has sometimes dominated politics in Colorado. Metro State is in Denver, Adams is in south-central Colorado and CMU is on the western slope,” said CMU Associated Student Government President Beau Flores. “But Friday, we gathered in one place bridging divides and asking legislators to understand the unique needs of first-generation college students.”

In addition to serving as CMU student body president, Flores is also a first-generation college student.

CMU’s first-generation students departed Grand Junction the morning of Thursday, March 5, and arrived at the state capitol in time for a reception with Colorado’s elected leaders. The students wore yellow T-shirts and told legislators that universities who serve people that are the first in their families to attend college need better representation in Colorado’s higher education funding formula.

“Mavericks, Roadrunners and Grizzlies compete fiercely on the athletic field and in the classroom, but when it comes to supporting funding for first-generation students — we stand shoulder to shoulder,” said CMU Student Trustee Amara Hobbs.

After the reception, the three-university coalition entered the House and Senate chambers where members of the Colorado General Assembly honored the contributions of first-generation students through formal tributes.

State Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez spoke of first-generation students and explained why she supports them.

“I know these issues firsthand because I am also the first in my family to attend college and so is my husband,” said Gonzalas-Guiterrez. “Higher education is a powerful tool for students.”

Rep. Gonzales-Gutierrez was joined by her daughters because she felt they should hear about why being first in your family to attend college is important.

The message shared by Rep. Gonzales-Guiterez was echoed by Rep. Leslie Herod who also welcomed students from CMU as they stood among applauding legislators.

Members of the general assembly representing western Colorado also took time to speak and share their appreciation for CMU first-generation students. Rep. Mathew Soper was moved by the conversations he shared with first-generations students earlier that morning.

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CMU alumnus and State Rep. Matt Soper
with first-generation students

“Hearing their stories and learning that they are the first in their families to ever attend college is really moving,” said Rep. Soper. “And it’s really inspiring because what you are able to do by going to college will not only impact your family, but will benefit your community as well.”

Rep. Perry Will of Rio Blanco County spoke to CMU students ending his remarks as students cheered when he flashed the mav horn gesture asking that, “all CMU students please join me and Mav Up.”

Rep. Janice Rich from Grand Junction welcomed President Foster and thanked CMU students for attending the tribute session.

The community of Montrose is host to a CMU campus location, and the event included a number of Montrose-area, first-generation students. Rep. Marc Catlin represents Montrose and also spoke during the tribute session. Catlin is a CMU alumnus and a first-generation college graduate.

“I was the first member of my family to go to college,” said Rep. Catlin. “It took me a whole lot of years and a whole lot of tries, but I got the job done.”

Catlin explained he was able to complete college because of the support he received while attending CMU.

“You folks that are in college and are the first generation don’t realize and don’t know how many people you are influencing right now. There are people in your community, people in your family and people in your neighborhood that are watching you and that are impressed that you would take the challenge on.”

Rep. Catlin concluded his remarks reminding CMU students to “hold their heads high” because they are attending college for the betterment of their own lives as well as the betterment of their communities.

First-Gen Friday at the Capitol was not the first time that CMU and MSUD stood in unity before the legislature. In January 2020, Foster and Davidson joined students in testifying before the Colorado General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC). During that time students implored the JBC to consider the needs of students who don’t fit the traditional model of a four-year, second or third-generation college student.

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CMU President Tim Foster and MSUD President Janine Davidson

“I’m was as proud of our students on First-Gen Friday as I have ever been in my career,” said Foster. “Advocating for yourself is something that takes courage, time, energy and effort and there was a lot of that on display at the capitol. Earlier this year Mavericks were at the capitol to testify, but last week they were under the golden dome to be honored. Recognition by the legislature demonstrates the Colorado General Assembly understands the importance of these aspiring young people to the future of Colorado.”

In August 2019, CMU hosted an on-campus celebration of first-generation students. The event included a video that was retweeted by the nation’s first Hispanic female astronaut and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The video helped people around Colorado take notice of what it means to be the first in your family to acquire a higher education.

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Written by David Ludlam