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First-Generation Success Story Supports Next Generation of Graduates

CMU first-generation alumnus is back on campus making a difference in the lives of other first-gen students

Rafael Orozco, a 2015 Colorado Mesa University graduate, is back leading first-generation students to success as the new TRIO Student Support Services program director. Originally from a small town in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Orozco moved to Fort Collins, Colorado in middle school. He said he chose CMU based on the small class sizes and the welcome and approachable feeling he had after taking a tour of campus. Since his time in the classroom, Orozco went on to earn his master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver. He eventually made his way back to the Grand Valley through a job that may be more of a calling than a career.

“I thought this would be a great way for me to give back to the institution that taught me kind of everything I know and to TRIO, the program that helped me cross the finish line,” he said.  

Orozco has come full circle. He was once a member of TRIO, a program that helps students achieve their academic, personal, financial and professional goals while expanding their knowledge of the world around them through workshops, mentorships and more.

“I received a lot of guidance from the previous TRIO Director Melissa Calhoon. I relied on TRIO a lot as an undergraduate. The program helped me map out my graduation plan, gave me advice when I needed it and helped me financially,” said Orozco. “TRIO is all about having people in your corner when you need them.”

Orozco said he is excited to work with first-generation students and connect with the campus community once again.  

“CMU already does a great job of supporting first-generation students. My goal is to take what’s already there and make it bigger,” said Orozco.   

The first celebration of first-gen students under Orozco’s leadership is the Fearless First event. All of campus is invited to The Plaza from 11am-12pm for a campus-wide barbecue. At noon, President John Marshall, first-generation student Shayli Peterson, first-generation faculty member Barry Laga, PhD, and first-generation staff member Allison Steigerwald, PhD, will speak at the event. There will be cake, a photo booth and a raffle drawing at 12:30pm with prizes from Admissions, Student Life and the President’s Office. There will also be a social media contest.

Orozco said he hopes this event creates more awareness on campus for all the resources and support that are out there for first-generation students, and says it’s not just TRIO, but wants everyone to know that faculty, staff and other students around campus have their backs.


Written by Kelsey Coleman