Hector and fellow students at the state capitol

How perseverance led Hector Vargas to give college another shot—with excellent results.

When Hector Vargas started college in 2015, he didn’t know what he wanted to do career-wise. But he felt confident that FRCC was a good place to start.

“I got into CU Boulder, but it was expensive, and I didn’t want to spend all that money when I didn’t know what I wanted to study,” he recalls. “FRCC was a good option because the whole experience is a lot more user friendly and cost efficient.”

A first-generation student, he says he didn’t know anything about college. “But as soon as I came here, I started getting financial support, which I could use for both school and food and other things I needed.”

His journey toward success in college has been long, winding and anything but easy. “I tried college three times. I wasn’t sure I was able to do it,” he says. “Now I’m back and I’m actually doing it.”

Building a Foundation

During his first attempt at college, Hector studied graphic design—but he left FRCC after less than two semesters. “I thought to myself, ‘I’ve learned so much here already, I’m ready to go out and tackle the world. I’ll start my own graphic design business.’”

Which he promptly did. He found he enjoyed the creative work, but it was hard to keep the business afloat. He had to work for his family’s construction business to pay the bills.

“I eventually realized that I had to go back to college to study business,” he says. “I needed the skills to get a job in a field that wasn’t construction.”

Changing Majors

It had been a few years, but Hector came back to FRCC in 2020, this time in the business program. “I loved taking business classes—and again, I learned so much so quickly that gained the confidence I needed to start my own business.”

Unfortunately, with only a GED under his belt at that point, he quickly realized that what he really needed was more education—and a degree. “I got manager jobs, I worked at 7/11 and at Fedex. It wasn’t time wasted. I tried a little bit of everything.”

Perseverance Pays Off

In 2023, Hector came back to FRCC while he was working as a manager at Coors Field, home to Denver’s major league baseball team the Colorado Rockies. “I’m now studying political science because I want to make a difference in the world,” he says.

“I love the discourse in my poli sci classes and hearing people’s opinions. Macroeconomics is another class I’m really enjoying.”

He loves that many of his teachers are professionals who also work in the field in which they teach. “I’m literally learning about political science from a professor who was a candidate for office and now has served as an elected official. It’s incredible learning from people like him who have firsthand experience.”

Getting Involved

So, you might ask: What’s different this time? For one thing, Hector knows himself better now after taking several years to try different options in the working world.

Maybe even more importantly, when he came back for first his third crack at college, he really dove into the experience headfirst—not just in the classroom. He’s has gotten incredibly involved in activities and organizations on campus.

Taking on Leadership Roles

Hector decided to join FRCC’s Student Government Association (SGA) to see what it’s like to be involved in government on a small scale. He’s also now vice president of the Science Club at the Westminster Campus.

Through SGA, Hector heard about an opportunity to serve on the State Student Advisory Council. “I’ve gotten to go to the state capitol, to meet state legislators, and I get to talk to students from all the other community colleges around Colorado.”

He now serves as the chair of the statewide group. “It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m learning helpful leadership skills. It’s nice to feel that sense of leadership.”

As if all of that wasn’t enough, he’s also started two student clubs on campus to help students have some fun and get to know others with similar interests: a Pokemon Go! club and a group for fans of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Working on Campus

When he came back to FRCC this time, Hector began working on campus as well. He worked in Admissions as a student ambassador and in Student Life helping with events and the campus food pantry. “I learned so much about how colleges work,” he says.

Now he has a job in the social science department—and he says working on campus is incredibly convenient. “I can do my homework and go to class—then go to work. It’s all right next to each other,” he says. “I don’t have to drive across town to go to work, then back to school.”

He has also done some writing and editing for FRCC’s student newspaper The Front Page—and has just been hired as an equity and inclusion liaison for the college. “I’d like to make everywhere I go from now on a place that is more equitable and inclusive for all groups,” he says.

Finding Success

In the fall of 2023, Hector found out about the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), which allows students to earn credit for college courses by taking and passing exams in various subject areas.

A native Spanish speaker, he passed the CLEP language exam and was able to earn 10 college credits—saving him time and money on his degree. Those credits are accepted as part of a degree at participating colleges in Colorado, including FRCC.

Hector is also working hard in the classroom this semester and taking a heavy course load. He’s taking five classes this semester, which should give him enough credits to graduate in May.

FRCC’s President Dr. Colleen Simpson calls Hector one of the college’s “rock star” students. “Hector embodies some of the best things we see in our student body,” she says. “He’s hard working, persistent and he’s a dedicated leader.”

Advice for Other Students

This time around, Hector has truly taken advantage of the many resources that FRCC offers students. He’s in the TRIO program, which helps first-generation students succeed in college.

“TRIO always offers events that help you improve academically or professionally,” he says. “I’ve gotten help with résumé building, with communication skills. They help you with applying to four-year colleges, and make sure you’re on top of things academically and fiscally.”

He recommends other students go to visit The Peak at the Westminster Campus—a one stop shop for student resources. It houses FRCC’s Career Success Center, personal counseling services and Veterans Services.

“I got resume help and advice on jobs and scholarships. They even provide counseling to help you with emotional stuff.” He’s also gotten help at the Writing Center on campus and has received grants and scholarships to help pay for school.

Becoming a LEADS Scholar

“I’m also part of the LEADS program—which stands for Latinx Excellence and Achievement Development Scholars,” he says. “That really helps as a student. LEADS is an excellent resource—you get connected with mentors who really want to see you succeed.”

“It’s fun too—we get to express our hardships to each other and talk about how we can better ourselves as leaders. I love seeing people come out of their shells.”

What’s Next?

Hector is now set to graduate from FRCC in May with an associate degree in political science. What’s next for him?

“I’ve gotten a really well-rounded education here,” he says. “At FRCC, my professors have done a great job of familiarizing us with both theory knowledge and practical applications.” Hector also now has significant work and life experience under his belt to help guide him.

“I feel like the world is my oyster at this point.” He’s waiting to hear about his acceptance into CU Boulder, but is also considering CU Denver for his next move. Hector is also applying for a program called the CU Promise, which makes college effectively free for students who qualify for Pell grants, which he does.

“I’d like to pursue a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree,” he says. “Who knows… maybe eventually a doctorate.”

A Bright Future

Hector and fellow students at the state capitol

For now, he’s excited to keep learning. Once Hector gets more work experience in his chosen field, he hopes to eventually run for office. “Maybe in 10 years,” he estimates.

“I see a bright future for Hector,” says Dr. Simpson.  Coloradans may even get the choice to vote for him one day.

“Watch out, world,” she adds. “Hector’s going to be at the state capitol one day and we’re going to be proud to say he graduated from FRCC.”

One thing is certain: Hector Vargas plans to put his education to good use for the community.

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