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An evening of celebration and thanks

The Reisher Scholar Program continues to pay it forward

By Lynne Winter ‘17

The value of earning a college degree cannot be underestimated. According to economists with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, on average, all degrees in all fields from all colleges generate an annual return between 9 and 16 percent. Beyond the monetary gain, college graduates report higher levels of happiness and job satisfaction.

Still, the cost of higher education can prove prohibitive for students eager to achieve the American dream. The Reisher Scholars Program makes it possible for exceptional students at MSU Denver to earn a college degree while avoiding additional debt.

On the evening of Sept. 20, 50 MSU Denver students joined family members, friends, members of the Reisher Scholars Program and the Denver Foundation, along with Roadways and University Advancement staff, to celebrate the extraordinary achievement of being chosen as a Reisher Scholar.

MSU Denver Student Retention and Scholar Success Program Coordinator Cary Aplin-Gomez kicked off the evening, congratulating scholarship recipients and reminding them to take a moment to appreciate their success.

“There were over 4000 students qualified for this scholarship and more than 200 applied,” said Aplin-Gomez. “You are the outstanding students who were chosen. Be proud of yourselves.”

Jack Czarniecki, scholarship officer for The Denver Foundation, followed Aplin-Gomez and spoke to the remarkable 18-year collaboration between MSU Denver and the Reisher Scholar Program. “Enjoy this evening of reflection and accomplishments,” said Czarniecki. “Support one another and know that you are not alone as you go forward in your journey. On behalf of the Reisher family, congratulations!”

New Roadrunner family member Will Simpkins, Ph.D., vice president of student affairs, discussed his own college experience as a first-generation student and commended the Reisher Scholars on making the best decision of their lives by choosing to attend MSU Denver. He noted that the scholarship is a direct result of the opportunities the GI Bill provided for Roger Reisher when he returned home from WWII and the Reisher family’s desire to pay it forward.  

“Ask yourself, what impact will you have in the future?” said Simpkins, challenging the scholars to consider the impact they can have on future MSU Denver students. “When you walk across the stage to receive your diploma, I will ask you this: How are you going to pay it forward?”

“The entire Roadrunner family stands behind you,” he continued. “Once a Roadrunner, always a Roadrunner. Run your own road, but always come home.”

Following dinner, Reisher Scholar, 2018 cohort, Rusul Hammond (nutrition and dietetics), described the path that brought her to MSU Denver. Civil unrest in her home country of Iraq made it dangerous for Hammond and her family to stay, so they moved to the U.S. in search of a safer life. “When I got to the United States, I had nothing,” said Hammond. “No home, friends or education.”

Hammond enrolled in classes at MSU Denver after being encouraged by her husband, a student at the time. “When I am tired, I remember what I am going to achieve and that my husband and children will be proud of me,” she said. “Believe in yourself and the rest will fall into place.”


The evening ended with MSU Denver alumna and Reisher graduate, DeAnna Castaneda (B.A. women’s studies, ‘17) sharing her story of struggle and challenge. “I saw the flyer for the Reisher Scholars Program on the very day the application was due,” she said. “I could have walked away, believing that I didn’t have time to fill it out, or I could do what I did – hunker down in the Student Success Building and push my way through filling out the application and writing my essay.”

Her tenacity paid off. Castaneda now has a career she is proud of and is eternally thankful for the support of the Reisher Scholar Program. “Walking across the stage to receive my diploma was the best day of my life,” said Castaneda. “Donors are truly the wind beneath our wings.”

For more information about the Reisher Scholars Program, contact Gwen Thompson, senior director of development, at or 303-615-2051.

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Learn more about how the Reisher Scholars Program transforms the lives of students at MSU Denver.

MSU Denver alumna Lola Salazar is transforming lives

For more than a decade, the Salazar Family Foundation has been helping students access higher education

By Traci McBee Rowe

Lola Salazar ’89 (center) and Carmen Lerma Mendoza (right), executive director of the Salazar Family Foundation, with 2016-17 beneficiaries of Salazar Scholarship funding

Metropolitan State University of Denver alumna Lola Salazar (elementary education ’89) understands the impact that having access to a high-quality education can have on a person’s future. Motivated to transform lives, Salazar has been supporting the students of MSU Denver for over a decade. In April 2018, approximately 27 Salazar Family Foundation scholarship recipients were able to meet and thank Salazar in person over lunch.

“I am likely the oldest student in the room,” one of the students, Stephanie, said. After getting married in high school, having four kids and being a stay-at-home mom while her husband earned a degree, she is now studying to become a teacher. “I returned to school because I wanted to serve as a role model for my kids.”

“I am thankful for the opportunity you have given me,” Stephanie said to Salazar, echoing the overall sentiment of gratitude in the room.

Scanning the room, Salazar said, “I see myself in a lot of you.” Having worked while her husband attended college, she began her MSU Denver education as a 22-year-old with two kids at home. Salazar earned her bachelor’s degree in 3 1/2 years and went on to complete her masters in less than two years, after which she taught in the Jefferson County School District.

In 1999, she and her husband, Rob, started the Salazar Family Foundation. Life long advocates of education, the Salazars established the Foundation to assist in the growth and development of educational nonprofit organizations. Its mission: “to impact the lifelong learning of students through supporting the growth and efforts of organizations committed to improving the quality of education.” 

The Salazar Family Foundation created a scholarship fund at MSU Denver that supports three distinct types of students, with the first awards issued for the 2016-17 academic year. Center for Urban Education Scholarships give preference to first-generation students, students from high schools underrepresented at MSU Denver and part-time students who will become full-time students with the help of the award. Athletic scholarships require student-athletes to participate in all mandatory Athletic Leadership Program activities and remain NCAA Division II eligible. School of Education scholarships support full-time students in one of the Teacher Education programs. The initial investment allocation and scholarship award amounts differ — the Salazars review areas of greatest need that match their personal preferences.

Students who attended the luncheon shared stories of hard work and a commitment to achieving educational dreams and gave thanks to the Salazars. “Thanks to your scholarship, I’m still here,” said Alexis; and another student noted, “this scholarship provided me with a community.”

“It was a great afternoon, being able to meet the scholarship recipients and hear their stories,” said Salazar. “I feel blessed to know that the Salazar Family Foundation can make a positive impact on their educational journey.”

To learn more about supporting scholarships, contact Brett Befus, associate vice president of advancement and campaign director, at or 303-605-5819.

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