Our history: CMC ‘giving everybody a chance’ | PostIndependent.com

Our history: CMC ‘giving everybody a chance’

Yesenia Arreola never expected to attend college when she was growing up in Carbondale. But after participating in the Alpine Bank Latino/Hispanic Scholarship program, she earned an associate degree from Colorado Mountain College, a bachelor's from Regis University and, a few weeks ago, a maste's in social work from the University of Denver. Here she's with her son Ian wearing his mother's graduation cap. "This is my favorite graduation picture," she said.
Courtesy Yesenia Arreola |


The Post Independent this year is celebrating local institutions’ anniversaries — including our own — with a special feature many Sundays through the year. The PI traces its roots back 127 years, but 125 as a daily, while the White River National Forest looks back on 125 years and Colorado Mountain College marks 50 years. Today we offer the seventh installment of CMC history.

During the mid 1990s, Bob Young found himself attending a lot of high school graduations. Young, the founder and chairman of Alpine Bank, noticed a lack of college scholarships awarded to Latino and Hispanic students.

“It hit me how few Latino kids were planning to go to college,” he said. “I thought we should make college available to them and establish a fund where we could generate some interest within the Latino community.”

Partnering with Colorado Mountain College to create a scholarship program specifically for deserving local Latino and Hispanic students was a natural fit. Both Colorado institutions had their beginnings in the lower Roaring Fork Valley – CMC in 1967 and Alpine Bank, just six years later, in 1973.

Coincidentally, as both the college and the bank expanded their reach into new regions of the state, they often sprang up in the same communities, reflecting Colorado’s increased and diversified population.

“We largely picked locations that are the same as CMC,” said Young. “I can’t think of a better partner.”

Pioneers, together

During the same time, Mariana Velasquez-Schmahl was working with Alexandra Yajko, then-director of the Colorado Mountain College Foundation.

Velasquez-Schmahl remembers that Alpine Bank approached CMC about helping Latinos and Hispanics finance their college education.

“Being a Latina myself, besides the scholarship, I wanted to set up a ‘safety net’ since most of these students were the first in their family to graduate from both high school and college,” said Velasquez-Schmahl, who made visits with parents part of the application process. “Parents didn’t understand; they’d think, ‘Is there a catch to this?’ Many times, the Alpine Bank Scholar was a pioneer within the family.”

In 1996, its first year, five students received the Alpine Bank Latino/Hispanic Scholarship. As today, they helped cover the cost of tuition, fees and books for two years.

This year, 14 students were selected to receive renewable scholarships, worth $2,200 each year.

Current recipients aspire to become nurses, teachers or social workers, or to go into law enforcement or even the Coast Guard.

Past recipients have successful careers that also include banking, finance, education and other fields.

Leading by example

Yesenia Arreola was born in Mexico, and she and her siblings moved to the Roaring Fork Valley to join her parents in 1997, when she was 5 years old. The young girl’s hard-working, determined father stressed to his children the importance of getting a good job and building a better future – and not going to college.

“My father didn’t value education,” said Arreola. “For my dad, it was about work. He just couldn’t see how college was financially possible. It wasn’t that he wanted less for me. It was just the way he was brought up.”

At Roaring Fork High School in 2005, Arreola remembers telling her counselor she wasn’t considering college.

“She said to me, ‘Um, wait; there’s this scholarship,’” Arreola recalled. The counselor contacted Velasquez-Schmahl, and a home visit, application and winning essay later, Arreola was on her way thanks to the Alpine Bank Scholarship.

Arreola not only graduated from CMC with an associate degree in business administration, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Regis University.

And a few weeks ago she earned a master’s degree cum laude in social work from the University of Denver, thanks to that college’s partnership with CMC to bring the much-needed graduate program to the Western Slope.

More than 200 scholars

“We’ve brought an awareness to the Latino community so that many students realize they can go to college; it’s not beyond them,” Young said of the scholarship program, which now reaches students in a dozen high schools.

Now in the scholarship’s 21st year, more than 200 students have participated.

When Velasquez-Schmahl left her position at CMC, Arreola stepped into that role from 2011 to 2015, guiding Alpine Bank Latino/Hispanic Scholars herself. Now Arreola is CMC’s director of Upward Bound, a federally funded college preparatory program sponsored regionally through CMC.

Currently guiding the Alpine Bank Scholars at CMC is Katia Curbelo-Del Valle.

“These Alpine Bank Scholars are community members who give back and make a difference,” Velasquez-Schmahl said. “No matter who you are, it’s about giving everybody a chance. I’m forever grateful to Bob Young for his foresight and understanding of the importance of education for all students.”

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