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CMU's Liban Shongolo and President John Marshall Testify in Support of Colorado State Representative Rick Taggart's First-Generation Legislation

In an inspiring blend of sports, education and advocacy, Colorado Mesa University first-generation student-athlete Liban Shongolo, accompanied by CMU President John Marshall, testified before the House Education Committee. Their testimony focused on an important piece of legislation introduced to the Colorado General Assembly by western Colorado State Representative Rick Taggart, aimed at supporting first-generation college students.

Shongolo, a former Adams City High School standout and current star safety for CMU's football team, brings a unique perspective to the discussion. His journey from a Kenyan refugee camp to becoming a high school quarterback and then a college football player and an academic achiever, exemplifies the resilience and determination of first-generation students. Beyond the field, Shongolo's commitment to his community through his organization, Box State Boys, showcases his dedication to fostering opportunities for young athletes, aligning seamlessly with the objectives of Representative Taggart's bill HB24-1082 First-Generation-Serving Higher Education Institutions.

When asked about what attracted him to CMU, Shongolo replied, "We're a first-generation supporting institution. We have first-generation beyond the student body — it's staff that are serving…in the university. That was attractive to me because I knew that I was going to be…a part of the community outside of the classroom, outside of the football field. I knew that the men and women that I see on the daily look like me and understand what I came from, and that meant a…ton to me."

As a first-generation serving institution, more than 45% of CMU's student body identifies as first-generation, meaning these students are the first in their families to pursue higher education. Shongolo is just one of thousands of first-generation students currently attending CMU. By presenting his testimony to the committee, he is advancing support for his fellow students and paving a way for accessible, affordable education for future Mavericks.

"I got the chance to speak to my local middle school a while ago and they asked me, 'How can I afford it? I don't know who's there. What does it look like?' And I told them that as long as you hold up your end of the bargain, you work hard, you score those test scores, you hold your grades up, that there are people there that are willing to make a way for you. That's why I chose CMU," said Shongolo.

The joint testimony shed light on the challenges faced by first-generation students. By sharing personal experiences and insights from the university's perspective, Shongolo and President Marshall aim to underscore the importance of the bill in promoting increased access to higher education for those who need it most.

"Our challenge is to find those individuals who have the talent, have the ambition, who have what we need. The leaders of our communities, of our state, of our country for tomorrow, and they have no idea that they possess that leadership. Our challenge collectively is to figure out how to find those students. Provide them with pathways and support them along the way," said Marshall.

Shongolo and Marshall's testimony is not just a dialogue on policy but a narrative of empowerment and community impact. As they addressed the assembly, their stories resonated with countless first-generation students across Colorado, symbolizing CMU initiatives like the CMU Promise and Where We Become Mavericks partnership with local school districts.

To listen to full transcript, please visit the House Education Committee.


Written by David Ludlam and Madelynn Fellet