Growing up in Los Angeles with her mother and grandmother who were Mexican immigrants, CU Denver Student Chloe Frazee never imagined she would attend college, let alone graduate. “Mom worked a lot, and my grandma couldn’t speak English,” she says. At 15, Frazee and her older brother moved to Colorado to live with their godparents. “I’d been struggling with school and moved to be closer to family here.”
Frazee attended Centaurus High School in Boulder County where her English teacher Kyle Reichert helped rekindle her love for learning. “Because of my grades in California I was placed in lower-level classes, but he introduced me to advanced classes,” she says. “I was able to transform my grades and take AP courses. He pushed me to look into CU Denver and apply.”
Frazee started at CU Denver in the fall of 2018, initially interested in becoming an English teacher like Reichert. But an intro to criminal justice class she took with assistant professor Sheila Huss, PhD, captured her interest and changed her mind.
“We read a book called ‘I Am Troy Davis’ about how a Black man was accused of robbing a store and killing someone, put on death row, and went through all kinds of injustices,” she says. “It made me realize how unfair the criminal justice system is and how much it needs to change, especially for people of color.”
Frazee was likewise smitten with an ethnic studies course she took with Katherine Mohrman, PhD, and decided to minor in ethnic studies. “I’m still taking classes from her, and she helped me learn how to structure an essay, read and annotate articles, and write professional emails,” Frazee says. “She has really advocated for me. When I had some personal issues, she was always there asking how she could help. She always said if you can’t afford the textbook, let me know and we’ll work something out.”
Mohrman has nothing but praise for Frazee as a student and human being. “I was incredibly lucky to encounter such a smart, conscientious, and kind individual,” says Mohrman. “Watching Chloe develop her talents has been a highlight of my experience at CU Denver. I know whatever she does next, whomever she encounters, her contributions will be deeply felt and impactful.”
Getting Needed Support and Giving It Back
An FYE (First-Year Experiences) course introduced Frazee to the PAL (Peer Advocate Leader) program. PALs are student mentors trained to help connect students with Auraria Campus resources and the CU Denver community through peer-level support that promotes student achievement, growth, and learning throughout their career at CU Denver.
“FYE classes give freshmen information on time management, mental and physical health, resources and tutoring available on campus,” Frazee says. “PALs are placed in FYE and other intro classes to share what they’ve learned about meeting the challenges of college-level work and help students develop skills to succeed.”
Frazee’s freshman year PAL, Will Whitworth, “gave me lots of tips that made a big impact,” Frazee says. “I was confused about how to handle it all, because college was so different from high school.” When she found herself hunting for another job at the end of sophomore year, she applied and was accepted as a peer mentor and ended up working with Whitworth.
Assigned to attend specific classes, PALs check in with students by email, meet one-on-one, and hold office hours to answer questions and provide support. “The first class I was a PAL for was during COVID, so everything was online,” Frazee says. “We had a small group of students for a course on race and ethnicity. At first, students were very shy but by the end they started sharing. One of them shared a very personal story about problems with their family life and I reached out later to check on them. Now they’re thinking about applying to become a PAL.”
Another low-income, first-generation student was struggling with technology and turning in assignments. “The professor and I helped her find tools that would work for her,” Frazee says. “She always had a lot of important and uplifting things to say in class. That still makes me smile.”
Frazee recently served as PAL for a class presented entirely in Spanish. “All of the students were Latino, a lot of them first-generation with parents who were immigrants,” she says. “That was my background and I loved giving back to my community.”
She admits the pandemic presented extra hurdles for many already challenged students, herself included. “We got to spend time together on Zoom, but it was difficult not being able to meet face-to-face. But I think it also made it more memorable because we were all part of what was happening.”
Kelsi Miles, PAL coordinator at CU Denver, provided much-needed support. “She talked about the importance of mental health and taking breaks for all PALS,” Frazee says. “The pandemic made my anxiety worse, and she was always there for me. She gave presentations on mental health and brought someone from the Counseling Center in to talk about that. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college, so we sat down and discussed options that helped me lean into Teach for America.”
“Chloe provided mentorship to dozens of first-year and transfer students in her two years with PAL,” says Kelsi Miles, MA. “Chloe demonstrates excellence in her commitment to her communities, her peers, and herself. PAL is a forever organization, and we cannot wait to see Chloe thrive post-graduation!”
Preventing Incarceration through Education
Frazee is thrilled to have been accepted into Teach for America for next year, assigned to an elementary school in Denver. “Their mission of helping low-income communities and communities of color really speaks to me as a person of color who grew up in a low-income community,” she says. “I want to work on giving students the tools they need through education, so they don’t end up in the criminal system.”
She considers her upcoming graduation from CU Denver her greatest accomplishment. “I never thought I’d get a college degree,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here today without the teachers and professors who have been my lifeline. I can’t wait to become that lifeline for students.”