Community College of Denver (CCD) student Emanuel Walker doesn’t recall much about emigrating with his mother from a refugee camp in Liberia in 2004.
“I was four years old,” he says. “We came to Denver with only two bags and lived in a one-bedroom apartment on Colfax.”
Emanuel attended schools in Aurora and almost didn’t graduate high school.
“I was an African immigrant but didn’t speak my native tongue and an African American but not born here. My black friends sometimes pushed me away. I was ostracized by both groups. We had an African club at school and my African people sometimes laughed at me.”
Junior year, Emanuel’s history teacher Melissa Lucero encouraged him to try sports. Emanuel joined the swim team as a swimmer and diver. The discipline helped boost his grades while breaking social norms.
“The stereotype was that black people can’t swim,” he explains. “My friend and I were the only black people on teams. It was really eye-opening.”
Emanuel wanted to go to a four-year college but knew nothing about financial aid or scholarships. He applied and was accepted to Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma but he soon ran out of money and returned home.
His high school friend Augustine Todey, who was attending CCD, walked Emanuel through the application and financial aid process and Emanuel started at CCD in spring 2018.
His introductory business class professor Michelle Glasmann helped him overcome his social anxiety by inviting him to numerous networking events.
“It got me out of my comfort zone. She told me to keep working hard; she had faith in me.”
Quickly connecting with professors and students, Emanuel went from a 1.8 GPA in high school to his current 3.58.
“It felt very welcoming,” he says. “I could go to any staff member on campus with questions.”
He started a work-study job in his office as an office assistant, working directly with executive assistant Angelica Rueda, who got Emanuel involved in more campus events.
“It brought my confidence up and opened up a lot of connections for me,” Emanuel says. “Michelle Glassman told me if you ever wanted to know something about a company or someone who knew everyone, go to the executive assistants because they run the show.”
Emanuel landed leadership positions in several organizations including the Urban Male Initiative, a campus club that provides opportunities to engage in Auraria campus culture, cultivate leadership skills, and participate in community service. He is also chairman of the State Student Advisory Council representing students in student governments across the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), is president of the National Society of Leadership and Success honor society at CCD, and sits on the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education.
He credits the campus for providing a nurturing environment.
“I take the train and the campus has everything I need. I get my homework done and afterward, I can watch movies and take advantage of events I couldn’t experience anywhere else. I know most of the kids by name and feel like everybody has my back.”
Exploring business classes allowed Emanuel to discover his true calling: “I was always good with computers and saw my goal in Computer Information Systems (CIS).”
He is earning his associate’s degree in CIS with an emphasis on information security and plans to apply to a variety of public and private four-year institutions to further his education.
“CCD has helped me develop the interpersonal communication to excel so that not only am I good with computers, but I can communicate complex things in a way that simplifies them,” he says.
Emanuel is a Denver Foundation Scholar through COSI (Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative), a participant in the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program, and received the CCCS Rising Star Award for academic achievement, integrity, and community service and the Outstanding Student Award from CCD his first year. He channels his enthusiasm for CCD into advocacy.
“I’ve been contacted by my high school and a couple others to let students know that community college should be their first choice,” he says. “CCD helped me find the right positions and classes to further my goals. It would have been way too expensive to find that at a four-year school taking classes that had nothing to do with my major.”
His mother tears up when she thinks about all he’s achieved. “She had this young boy who struggled in school and now can become the person he wants to be,” Emanuel says.
A TED Talk by a man who trained women in Africa to make solar panels to light their villages inspired Emanuel’s dream of bringing solar panels to every village in Liberia. Hooking them up to a grid could empower the whole environment in the land where he was born.
“Coming from where I was in high school to where I am now,” he muses, “seriously, all of it came from CCD.”