For Joe Lujan, earning a college degree was lifechanging in more ways than one.
The Loveland native graduated from high school in 1984 and started out working in grocery distribution. After 16 years, he moved to Arizona to join a GPS company as an inside salesperson.
“My parents believed in hard work and were just struggling to make ends meet and give us a better life than their own—and college wasn’t ever something that came up when I was a kid or a teen,” Joe says. “I figured I needed to start working as soon as I could.”
When Joe returned to Colorado in 2004, he got a foot in the door at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) as a temporary employee in the mail room. His work ethic caught the notice of management, and from there, he was hired to work full time in logistics and fleet management.
Encouraged to Pursue College
NCAR is the National Science Foundation’s first federally funded research and development center—it provides state-of-the-art resources to the atmospheric and Earth system science community. The organization encourages employees who want to better themselves through education.
After several years working there, Joe started thinking about getting a college degree. “I’d applied for a few new positions internally, but I didn’t have the education to back up the smarts, so it seemed like an important thing to do,” he says. Front Range Community College’s Westminster Campus was close to home and a convenient place to begin the journey.
To his pleasant surprise, the environment at FRCC was exactly what he was looking for. “It was a mix of students: some from my company, some who were changing careers, and others,” Joe says.
“I quickly learned that I could transfer to any public college or university in Colorado, so I started working toward that.” By 2015, Joe completed an Associate of Arts degree in business and made plans to continue on elsewhere for a bachelor’s degree.
A Bachelor’s Degree Brings New Opportunity
Joe transferred from FRCC to Colorado State University’s Global Campus and finished his Bachelor of Arts in business administration in 2019. When his manager retired from NCAR, he was approached to take over his position as import/export manager in the logistics area.
“If I didn’t have that degree, I might have been overlooked for this position,” he says. “Having my degrees from FRCC and CSU gave me that leg up. People don’t do it on purpose, but without a college degree, sometimes they doubt you. For me, though, it was a springboard to achieve my goals.”
Latino Leadership Institute
In 2021, Joe was nominated by his company to be a fellow of the Latino Leadership Institute, a nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps by unlocking the full social and economic potential of leaders and entrepreneurs who are Latinos and people of color. “It was a good experience that gave me the confidence in my life and my work to keep going and keep striving for my goals,” he says.
Making a Difference
Joe continues to enjoy his role at NCAR, a place where he is continually inspired. “I love the people I work with and what we stand for,” he says. “This is one earth and we cannot destroy it. I like that I work at a place that wants to change things for future generations.”
As he looks toward the future, Joe can’t help but reflect on his past. “FRCC was an important step in the journey,” he says. “I would recommend the college to anyone who wants to gain that edge, make a career change or better themselves. You’ll build confidence and get ahead at the same time.”