ALAMOSA —When TRiO Retention Specialist, Ellen Hanson, saw the e-mail from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Outstanding Colorado Community College Educator Award program, she immediately thought of Juliana Chaparro. In its first year, this award program was established to recognize the top teachers, faculty and staff at community colleges in the state of Colorado who go above and beyond to support students as they pursue their higher education dreams.
“They say ‘Students First’ at Trinidad State,” said Hanson, “She’s (Chaparro) Students First 100 percent! She has been pivotal in making important changes on this campus. All events for new students and even graduation may be set up by the recruiting team or the graduation committee but are fine-tuned and smoothed out by this woman.”
Working along side each other at Trinidad State for the past seven years has given Hanson the opportunity to see Chaparro in action. The illogical room numbering system, that confused students and visitors alike, needed revamping. Chaparro stayed up late one night to develop a more fluid system of room numbering and presented that to Hanson the next day. When she asked, “What do you think?” Hanson responded, “You’ve gotta share this.” With the college president’s blessing, the project received a go-ahead and Chaparro’s idea crystalized with the Marketing Department producing the new room numbers – double digits for the north building and 100s and 200s for the first and second floors in the main building, all in consecutive order, unlike before. To further lessen confusion and allow students to confirm where their classes meet, Chaparro makes sure that each semester the classroom schedule is posted outside each classroom door. “Those are the kinds of things she has done here,” said Hanson, “It has been for the institution always.”
Chaparro was instrumental in revamping the college advising process. Now each of the four advisors (including Chaparro) have assigned programs to advise students using touch screen monitors that are synchronized with the new software the college is using. The idea is to promote independence in students by helping them learn to navigate through the portal using the innovative tools available. They can schedule appointments with their advisors, see their schedules and synchronize them with their calendars and much more. Chaparro advises the health sciences including CNA, nursing, EMT and medical assisting. The other three advisors report directly to Chaparro who also directs the TRiO program. TRiO assists those who are first generation college students, low income or may have a disability. Currently serving 144 students at the Alamosa Campus, TRiO’s mission is to help students complete a post-secondary education. Chaparro also oversees the Learning Center. She manages the tutors who teach there as well as the work study students located in the front office. These work studies greet new students and visitors and can arrange appointments with college staff.
Along with Hanson, Chaparro established a recycling program on campus to help students be more aware of their environment. Once each week they take the aluminum, cardboard and plastic that has been collected to the local recycling center.
When Chaparro is working with a new TRiO student, she tells them, “School is like going to a foreign country. You can go by yourself and you can have a good time, but TRiO can be that friend that knows all the good places and knows the language of schools, that can be with you and make your journey more fun.”
When Chaparro came to the United States with her boyfriend, Miguel, she was only 19. She did not speak English. Although she had completed three semesters of college in Bogota, Colombia, she needed money to be able to continue. With no school financial aid in Colombia and a slim job market, she decided to emigrate to the United States to work and make money for school. She worked as a coat clerk at a five-star restaurant in Central Park for two years. She made good money but didn’t want to spend the next 30 years at a monotonous job. During this time, she married Miguel and they moved to the Valley so he could attend ASU. To help her adjust to the culture and to learn to speak English, she started her education in the United States by earning a GED from TSJC. After completing that, she transferred to ASU where she earned bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Psychology with a minor in Art. She went on for a masters in Community Counseling and later a certificate for Higher Education. “The beginning was rough,” she said. “I was scared to death and very frustrated when I understood only half of what was said in the classroom. Without my husband’s support, l wouldn’t have been able to do this.”
Chaparro’s mother, who has a third-grade education, always told her daughter, “Your education will be your wings to fly.”
Chaparro, who participated in TRiO at ASU, said that when she got the job at Trinidad State, she felt like she was returning home, like the circle was complete. “In the same classroom where I studied for my GED, I am now helping other first-generation students from disadvantaged backgrounds pursue their dreams of completing college – just as Anna Mae Rael-Lindsay (retired GED program director) helped me to pursue mine,” said Chaparro.
Chaparro ended a speech she gave at a GED graduation with a quote from Oprah Winfrey, “It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you.” She went on to say, “We only truly succeed when we help others, and now I have found that opportunity at Trinidad State. I love it here. It is a perfect fit. I am part of the Trinidad family.”
Whether or not, Chaparro has been the instigator for changes, she “embraces the opportunity to start implementing ideas and bringing them to life.” Hanson knows no one more deserving of the Outstanding Colorado Community College Educator Award at Trinidad State than Juliana Chaparro.