Luis Hernandez Guerrero has gone from outsider to advocate during his time at CU Denver. “I found confidence through my studies, traveled abroad, met my current partner, became independent, improved my creative work, improved my English, and more,” he said. But to become a college student, he had to first overcome some challenges.
When he was 15, Hernandez Guerrero moved from a small town in Mexico to Boulder, Colorado. “At the time, I didn’t speak English except for a few words,” he said. The language barrier and his family’s socio-economic circumstances made high school difficult. “I felt like an outcast, because I was living in a trailer park in a mobile home so small that it was challenging to focus on my studies, relationships, and well-being,” he explained. “I felt like I didn’t belong, like I wasn’t supposed to be here.”
Hernandez Guerrero wasn’t doing well academically. It took a tragic event to make him want to change and improve his life situation through education. During his junior year in high school, his mother died. “I found motivation,” he said. “That summer, after she passed away, my perspective on life changed. I decided to change my reality, so I retook some classes in order to improve my GPA, and I started to explore my identity and talents.”
Even though she came from a low-income household with 12 siblings, Hernandez Guerrero’s mother had been an elementary school teacher in Mexico. She had attended a technical school program that trained teachers to work in rural areas. “For her to have that opportunity was a big deal,” Hernandez Guerrero said. “I grew up surrounded by books, inspired by the curiosity she always had.”
After Hernandez Guerrero graduated from high school, he came to CU Denver, because he was drawn to its location and diverse students. “Living in the city had always been a dream,” he said. Living in Denver provided other benefits too. “My goal was to move from my home in Boulder, because we all spoke Spanish. I moved to the dorms to be immersed in the English language.”
From Engineering to Digital Design
His first semester as a Lynx proved to be very different than his high school experience. “People were friendlier,” he said. “From supervisors and professors to the students themselves, I found people rooting for me.” One of those people was Professor Michelle Carpenter, MFA, chair of Visual Arts, who took an interest in Hernandez Guerrero’s creative work. “She said I was very talented,” he said.
After discussing his major with Carpenter and investigating careers in the arts, Hernandez Guerrero decided to switch his major from engineering to digital design: “It was a hard decision, because the arts are considered to lead to careers where you can’t earn enough money.” He was afraid his father, who works as a landscaper, would object. “My dad didn’t finish elementary school; he doesn’t know how to read,” Hernandez Guerrero said. Ultimately, his father was happy that Hernandez Guerrero followed his passion.
Once Hernandez Guerrero got more comfortable at CU Denver, he decided to help other immigrants and Latinx students. He joined the Latinx Undergraduate Leadership Advancement (LULA) Program, became a Peer Advocate Leader (PAL), and served on the Dean’s Advisory Board in the College of Arts & Media. Through his leadership work, he learned valuable lessons about community. “The LULA and PAL programs really showed me how to be an advocate for others,” he said.
Hernandez Guerrero’s interest in community and innovation led him to join the Design Horizons Lab program. He developed a business idea, Queernet, a social and community-building platform to connect and empower Queer Youth. Queernet was awarded most innovative solution during the pitch night competition.
When Hernandez Guerrero began his American education in Boulder, he felt like an outcast, partially because he didn’t have access to the same resources his peers had. But he found his place at CU Denver. “I’m thankful for all the opportunities at CU Denver and for everyone who has crossed paths with me during my time here,” he said.
Whatever Hernandez Guerrero pursues after graduation, he will continue to be an advocate for others. “I want people to feel comfortable,” he said. “I want students to feel like they belong, like they are building community.”