So many questions. Unexpected hurdles. Fear of the unknown. And the challenges of time management, budget and financial quandaries can be overwhelming. No one knows this better because Mayra was once one of those now students who has needed help. But now she is someone who helps others at the Educational Opportunity Center (EOC).
“The EOC helped me overcome my fears and the obstacles that I had as a first generation, low-income student,” she says. “I am a living example that EOC can really make a positive impact on someone’s future.” Although the EOC is housed at and administered through Community College of Denver (CCD), it is open to the public and serves six counties throughout the Denver metropolitan area.
The Center provides the community with information and tools on accessing higher education, including educational planning and counseling, career exploration counseling, student financial aid advising, financial literacy, and assistance with scholarship searches, as well as college preparation workshops throughout the year. Their services have empowered many like Mayra with access to college and better paying jobs.
At the Auraria campus, the Center partners with CCD and is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Title IV, Higher Education Act. It has become a vital hub in the community, especially for first-generation students like Guzman.
Born in Michoacan, Mexico, Guzman immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13 with her family. Her adjustment to life in America was challenging and spilled over into her aspirations for a post-secondary education.
“When I moved to the USA, I struggled with the language, the culture and with school,” she explains. “Some of my classmates would make fun of the way I dressed and spoke. When our names were called at our high school graduation ceremony, some of my classmates were congratulated for being accepted into different colleges and universities, which made me feel sad because none of my teachers or counselors ever talked to me about going to college or other options. But I knew that I wanted to go to college and have a career.”
Guzman was the first in her family to attend college, so once she made the decision to attend college despite the lack of support, she was steered toward the EOC by one of her classmates.
“The people there opened many doors for me, and were the first ones to talk to me about financial aid, which was huge because I didn’t know how I would be able to afford college,” she says. “They helped me secure the funds, helped me with applications, and guided me toward a career path.
“Many who come to the EOC come from families like mine,” she says. “They come here trying to break the cycle of poverty but never make it out. The EOC helped me to break that cycle and gave me the opportunity to go to college and make a better life for myself and my family, and they’ve done that for so many others.”
The help and attention Guzman received at the EOC made such an impact on her that she now extends the same helping hand to others as an educational access specialist with the EOC. Upon graduation, she became part of the EOC team, and began helping others get through the college maze.
“Mayra helps students navigate their way through the hurdles and challenges of higher education,” says Guzman’s supervisor, Khara O’Connell. “She understands the process and is very patient with aspiring students. She has the ability to explain things carefully so they understand without being condescending. It’s one of the reasons I hired her immediately.”
On a typical day, Guzman assists approximately eight students, sometimes their parents, too.
She credits her parents as her biggest inspiration, also gives credit to those at the Center who inspired her to pay it forward.
“They set a wonderful example about the qualities needed to be an effective advisor,” she says. “That I’m able to assist students who need help and direct them to different services available in their community gives me great satisfaction.”
In the meantime, Guzman gets even greater satisfaction from the expansion of her family as she and her husband just welcomed their first child to the family.
“This is our first baby,” she beams. “My husband and I are very excited and nervous at the same time!”
It is a time in her life she can relish. And a personal milestone to go alongside her professional achievements.