As FRCC begins the work of becoming a federally-designated Hispanic Serving Institution, college leaders have their eyes on a particularly successful existing program at our Boulder County Campus: the Latinx Excellence Achievement and Development Scholars (LEADS) program.
Since 2013, LEADS has been helping Latinx students be successful in college—and beyond. Students who’ve completed the one-year leadership and mentoring series call it “transformational.”
“LEADS provides scholars a safe environment where they can be their authentic selves in a community with other students, staff and community members who have shared experiences,” says Rebecca Chavez, an FRCC director who helped start the program.
LEADS has helped almost 100 mostly Latinx students develop confidence, pride in their culture and goals for the next part of their journeys. Many LEADs alumni have gone on to bachelor’s degrees and beyond; at least four graduates now have master’s degree.
Several LEADS alumni have returned to work at FRCC—and two of them currently run the program they participated in as students. “This shows how the program helps students become leaders,” says Chavez. “And we are all so proud of the leaders they have become.”
In this post, we’ll hear the stories of three former students—now employees. They share what LEADS taught them, and how they’re using what they learned to help other FRCC students achieve their dreams.
Jazmin: Bilingual Admissions & Outreach Representative
Because of her job, Jazmin Salas is one of the first employees some students encounter—before they’ve even decided to apply to FRCC. She spends a lot of time talking to prospective students about the college and what it’s like to go to school here.
“My job is to help them feel welcomed,” she says. “I feel like I know what the students need. Since I was a student myself, I know what I struggled with… what I needed help with. Now I know Front Range really well—and I know our resources—and I can help students find what they need.”
Coming Out of Her Shell
In the LEADS program, she says she learned a lot of the leadership skills that she now uses at work. The experience also boosted her self-confidence. “When I came to Front Range, it felt like a really close community. I always felt welcomed. I was a little shy, so LEADS gave me a sense of ‘I can be myself here.’”
“When I walked in the hallways, I had my head down, just going to classes,” she remembers. “LEADS helped me to feel that I could walk with my head held high.”
“I made new friends. That program changed me.”
Know Yourself, Share Your Story
In LEADS, the students learn a lot about themselves, their behavioral styles and how to communicate effectively with others. Jazmin recalls one particular meeting with a speaker from the city of Longmont.
“Louie’s session was one to remember. We all cried. His way of talking to you and sharing was great. He helped us all feel comfortable sharing our whole stories.”
Her Leadership Style
“I always have many questions but have always felt afraid to ask them,” Jazmin says. “One thing I learned [in LEADS] was that you have to ask because there are other people who might have the same question. So by asking, you’re helping them, too.”
“Front Range also helped teach me to ask for the resources that are available for every student. If I ever needed help with a class, there are tutors available. If I needed someone to talk to, we have [mental health] counselors on campus.”
“I always thought a leader was a person with power and that was it. But to be a great leader, you need to be communicative, make others feel welcome and valued. Leadership is respectful and listens.”
Transferring to a University
Jazmin graduated from FRCC in 2019 with her Associate of Arts degree in psychology. She then transferred to CU-Denver—and completed her bachelor’s degree last year.
“Transferring is a big step. It’s intimidating,” she says. But she remembers having her FRCC and LEADS team behind her for support.
You’re Not Alone
“My mentor from LEADS helped me the whole way. She helped me apply, they organized a trip to campus with the LEADS group. She’s still there for me now.”
Jazmin adds that having been through LEADS helped her feel confident at CU. She knew how to find help when she needed it. “It’s a four-year school, it’s bigger, and the resources might be harder to find than they were at FRCC. LEADS helped a lot with that.”
Well-Prepared for CU
She says her time at FRCC prepared her to be a strong student at CU.
“Every instructor at Front Range helps you so much,” she remembers. “Because of them, I was ready.”
“[When I started at FRCC], I wasn’t really confident about writing an eight-page paper, but now I know I can rock this. I remember those skills I learned from my instructors, and they really transferred with me to CU-Denver. They’ve helped me to never give up, to always go for it.”
Jazmin says her job now is all about the students. “I always want to make students feel comfortable. I want them to succeed and have the best education they can get. I want them to have a great experience like I did. I want to help them succeed in whatever path they take.”
“What I want to do here is help students with anything they need,” she adds. I can even be a mentor for them if that’s what they want.”
You can tell Jazmin loves her work at FRCC—in part because she has a close group of people she enjoys collaborating with. “Front Range always felt like a second home to me,” she adds.
“Everyone is so respectful to each other. The environment is really good for me. We’re such a strong community.”
Krystal: Pathways Advisor
When she graduated from Skyline High School, Krystal Ruvalcaba knew she wanted to go to college. “But as a first-generation student, I didn’t know the next steps,” she says.
Luckily, a friend helped her apply to FRCC… and Krystal took it from there. “The awesome thing about community colleges is that they can be that starting point for you.”
“As a student, I got super involved on campus,” she recalls. “I was a student ambassador, a work-study for Admissions & Outreach, I joined the Latinx Club and LEADS. It was a great experience and a good way to meet other students.”
At their weekly LEADS meetings, she remembers community leaders coming in to talk with the group and doing team-building activities. And she says the mentorship piece of the LEADS program made a huge difference for her.
“Finding my mentor, finding my support group at FRCC, was so important,” she says. “Finding that space and learning you can find your people—a group who supports you and gives you advice—anywhere you go.”
Finding Her Voice
Krystal recalls being very shy when she started college. “As a first-gen student, being in LEADS helped me find my voice—that what I have to say does matter.”
She says programs like LEADS are important because they give students a chance to find their community and a sense of belonging. “They already have leadership skills,” she points out. “We just remind them and help them see how their diversity and background adds to whatever space they join.”
Krystal thinks one of the most important lessons FRCC and LEADS taught her was how to advocate for herself. “I have a new sense of confidence in myself—I know I can do this. I’m ready to ask the right questions and find resources to help me be successful.”
Krystal graduated from FRCC with an associate degree in business, then transferred to Metropolitan State University of Denver. She graduated in 2018 with her bachelor’s degree in business management.
She says the confidence she built during her time at FRCC has prepared her for pretty much anything. “I’ll be ready for whatever comes next in my career.”
Paying It Forward
Now an FRCC advisor, Krystal’s goal is to help students the same way people helped her—because she’s been in their shoes. “I know how it feels when you’re first starting and you don’t even know what questions to ask.”
“Community college is something I’m passionate about,” she says. “I love the students I serve—they’re amazing. They go through so much, coming from all different walks of life.”
Her favorite moments at work? When a student leaves her office “feeling better, more confident about their direction, and ready for the next steps in their higher ed path.”
Krystal loves that she gets to be involved from the start of a student’s time at FRCC right through to when they finish. “I get to know them, their aspirations. It’s powerful work and it fills my heart.”
“I’m so proud of our students,” she adds. “They were scared like me, but when they finish, they realize ‘I can do it.’ Seeing them get new opportunities, that’s so beautiful to me.”
Krystal is now co-chair of the LEADS program—helping to organize, activities, events and speakers for the group. It’s a lot of work, but she says it’s totally worth it.
“I get to know the students on an individual basis. They reach out for advice and I get to learn about their experiences.”
LEADS provides a “space safe for them to be vulnerable—a totally different space we create. It’s so nice to see their connections within the cohort.” Krystal says the group dynamic starts off shy, but once the students get to know one another, they’re really open with each other and become close friends.
“Sometimes, in certain spaces, Latinx—or other historically marginalized—students may not feel comfortable saying what they mean. That’s why groups like LEADS are crucial.”
Susana: Pathways Advisor
When Susana Gallegos moved to the US from Mexico after 10th grade, she experienced what many older kids do when they immigrate. “Because I was still learning English, I had to go back to ninth grade when I was supposed to be in eleventh,” she says.
Despite that setback, she stuck with it, graduated from high school and started at FRCC in the fall of 2014. “I didn’t know how to be a college student at all, how to navigate the educational system,” she remembers. That’s when an instructor told her about the LEADS program.
Lessons from LEADS
As a LEADS scholar, she learned about different behavioral styles—including her own—and how to channel her extroversion to be a leader. “I learned so much in such a short amount of time.”
“I remember we went to the Chamber of Commerce,” Susana says. “That was intimidating, being surrounded by business leaders in our community.” But even though she was nervous, these were the types of experiences that helped her grow and find her voice. “LEADS made me realize who I am—what kind of Latina I am,” Susana says.
“I also learned that, wherever I go, finding my community is important,” she adds. “If I’m able to find a couple of people with similar interests, I know that helps. LEADS helped me learn how to do that.”
Transferring to CSU
When she finished her associate degree, Susana transferred to Colorado State University. “My classes at FRCC were actually harder than the ones at CSU,” she discovered. “So, I was already prepared for the school work.”
At FRCC she had also learned that if you talk to your instructors, they can help with issues in the classroom—and sometimes beyond. LEADS had also taught her that it’s OK to speak out. “That gave me confidence to ask questions and talk in class at the university.”
Outside the Classroom
But Susana was not entirely ready for the impact of going to such a big school. She felt lonely at first. “I couldn’t find myself there.”
That’s when she remembered what she had learned in LEADS about finding her community. “I joined a Latina sorority… I shared my experience with immigrating… I found my little group of people.”
And that was all it took. Susana now has a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies with a concentration in leadership and entrepreneurship.
Working at FRCC
Susana says returning to FRCC as an employee felt like coming back home. “My goal has always been to help students navigate the educational system. I keep seeing students like me who just need a little help finding their path.”
She started out as an admissions & outreach representative for the college, and remembers going to Erie High School where the students flocked to her. “They didn’t know they would have opportunities to go to college, regardless of whether they had papers or not.”
“No one who looked like them had ever come to their school to talk to them about college,” she recalls. “They were really interested… and not afraid to ask me questions.”
Susana had always wanted to be an academic advisor—a role she moved into after about a year. “When I was a student, my advisor at FRCC was great,” she remembers.
“He sat down and made a plan with me to help me graduate. That made such an impact; it was life changing for me. I wanted to help people like he helped me.”
In addition to her work as an advisor, Susana also helps run the LEADS program. “I see how hard it is for these students. LEADS is my way to be able to connect with them in a more profound way.”
The program is a significant time commitment. The group spends two hours together every Friday. “I know how they’re feeling because I felt that way too. I reassure them that LEADS is going to make a difference. They just need to stick with it. I tell them that it’s worth it. It works.”
Telling Her Story
As an organizer of LEADS, she also encourages students to ask questions. “It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. Even if you just ask your friends, it’s a start to finding the answers you need.”
And she reminds them to be open and share their stories, whoever they’re with. “You never know how your story will help others. People’s stories are powerful. I learned that from LEADS. I didn’t know how sharing my story would impact others—and now I do.”
When LEADS students get ready to graduate, Susana gives them the same advice that she got: “You’re always a part of us. Whatever you need, you can always come back here for guidance.”