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Our students, their stories

April 7, 2016

Manuel Caballero found political asylum in the U.S. after fleeing his native Panama. He plans to earn an MBA after he graduates from MSU Denver. PHOTO: Courtesy of Manuel Caballero.
Manuel Caballero found political asylum in the U.S. after fleeing his native Panama. He plans to earn an MBA after he graduates from MSU Denver. PHOTO: Courtesy of Manuel Caballero.

On Dec. 20, 1989, at 1 a.m. local time in Panama, the U.S. military initiated Operation Just Cause. The Panamanian’s refer to the operation, the fighting, the disarming of the Panamanian Defense Force and the deposition of Manuel Noriega as “La Invasión.”

La Invasión changed the course of Panama’s history, and the course of Manuel Caballero’s life.

“I was about to graduate university and become a CPA right before the invasion,” said Caballero, a management major in MSU Denver’s College of Business. “I was fighting to keep the schools open and wound up on the military’s wanted list.”

His family was granted political asylum and moved to Northern California when Caballero was 18. As political refugees they made do by taking odd jobs and working as field hands. Caballero eventually landed a position at Transamerica as an assistant in the loan department, but his asthma prompted his family to move to Colorado where he received treatment at National Jewish Hospital. Denver’s dry air helped Caballero breathe easier – on many levels – and the next phase of his life began.

More than 20 years after leaving Panama, Caballero found himself back in a classroom, first at the Community College of Denver and then as a transfer student at MSU Denver.

“Here I was, 47 years old, working three jobs, and I decide to go back to school,” he said. “I thought I would be the oldest student on campus but it turns out that I was one of many older learners.”

Caballero found assistance and friends within the Student Academic Success Center and Career Services. “Everyone listened to me and found ways to help me with writing skills, resume revision and how I could use my prior experience to find a career,” he said.

Now he’s a member and officer in the Golden Key Honor Society and The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, producer of a TV and radio show for Met Media, and the editor for Vistazo, the Spanish segment for The Metropolitan.

“I squeezed myself into that position,” he said. “I saw errors and sent in corrections. Instead of getting in trouble they offered me a job.”

Caballero is also a fellow with the Brother 2 Brother program. He sees it as an obligation to help others who are going through a tough time. Caballero knows firsthand what it is like to struggle. He has experienced homelessness and benefited from the campus Food Bank. He wants others to know that they are not alone in their struggle and that getting a degree is possible despite the odds.

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree he is going to pursue an MBA. It is something that no one in his family has accomplished, until now.

“I feel proud of what I’m becoming,” Caballero said. “Here I’m looked at as someone who matters, someone with intellect. MSU Denver definitely transformed my life.”

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