Vail Valley Guardian Scholars program celebrates more student successes |

Vail Valley Guardian Scholars program celebrates more student successes

December’s Guardian graduates are, from left: Jose Gonzales (business), Jennifer Vazquez (business/marketing), Brandon Valeria (biology with a concentration in molecular biology and a chemistry minor), Fatima Blanco (business/finance) and Nick Mejia (business/marketing/management).
Ben Dodd | Special to the Daily

EDWARDS — When Guardian Scholars gather, they fill the room with so much positive energy that The Little Engine That Could seems like a total drudge.

They gathered last weekend to celebrate five more college graduates, and to show those younger that, yes, you can get there from here.

Uncommon resilience

Local Guardian Scholars’ stories are different, but they have one thing in common — uncommon resilience.

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It’s not just a money program. Guardian Scholars provides emotional and academic support for its students while they’re in college.

Local Guardian Scholars have now been graduating college for about a decade. The first, Josie Johns, graduated Columbia University in New York City.

Anais Torres earned her bachelor’s and MBA in five years and starts her new job in risk assurance with Price Waterhouse.

Clarissa Torres, Anais’ sister, is studying at Colorado Mesa University to be a radiation technician.

Christian Espinoza is a Dreamer, a DACA student, who was brought to the U.S. as a toddler. He’s working as a surgical tech with Vail Health Hospital thanks to Guardian Scholars.

This December’s grads are just as inspiring.

Brandon Valeria is headed for medical school. He majored in biology with a concentration in molecular biology with chemistry minor at CMU.

“None of us would have gone to college without this,” Valeria said.

Jose Gonzales loves to make broken vehicles run again. Through Guardian Scholars he earned his bachelor’s degree in business from Colorado Mountain College.

“Someday he will own his own business,” Ron Davis, Guardian Scholar founder, said.

Jennifer Vazquez earned her business and marketing degree from CMU.

Nick Mejia earned his business/marketing and management degree from CMU.

Fatima Blanco earned her business and finance degree at CMU and starts her new job this month in Vail Health’s finance department. By the time Blanco graduated Battle Mountain High School in 2015, she had already earned her associate degree through CMC. That’s one of the reasons she could start CMU in nursing, switch to psychology and then to business and finance and still graduate early.

Two decades of Guardian Scholars

Davis founded the program in 1998 at Cal State Fullerton and expanded it into Eagle County several years ago. Guardian Scholars is now at 70 colleges across America.

Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster is a firm believer in the program, and CMU finds a home for many Guardian Scholars.

“This is right in our wheelhouse. He’s passionate about what we’re passionate about,” Foster said of CMU’s longtime partnership with Davis and the program.

Foster points out that the cost of a college education has increase 16 times the increase in the consumer price index since 1980.

Davis met Foster 15 years ago, right after taking CMU’s reins, and began transforming the school.

“I have interfaced with countless college presidents. This guy (Foster) is the best one, bar none,” Davis said.

Walking in Guardian Scholars’ shoes

Carlos Ramirez, superintendent of Eagle County Schools, has walked in the Guardian Scholars’ shoes. He’s one of seven children whose parents were migrant farm workers. He was a pretty good high school student, but not good enough to qualify for college scholarships. His parents believed that education was the key to the American Dream, but could not afford to pay for college.

He worked a handful of full-time jobs while attending the University of California at Davis, switching from pre-law to education. Looking around his classes, he was often the only Latino.

“You have been given a gift to fulfill your dreams and make your families proud,” Ramirez told the gathering of Guardian Scholars. “Where you walk, you will leave big footprints. Others will follow because you have led the way.”

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