CU Denver Student Oscar Fraire—From Apathy to Engagement
CU Denver graduating student Oscar Fraire grew up in the border town of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where his parents ran flower shops and a convenience store. He was 8 years old when he migrated to the U.S. with his parents and two sisters in 2007, fleeing escalating drug cartel-related violence. The family lived in a relative’s basement in the Denver suburb of Thornton, eventually moving to a one-bedroom apartment.
“I was in third grade in the local school and didn’t speak a word of English,” Fraire says. “I don’t remember it well but my mom says I would come home pretty frustrated because I was trying to make friends but no one knew what I was saying.”
In fifth grade, Fraire and his younger sister tested into Pinnacle Charter School, where he attended middle school through high school. “Giving us a better education was part of my parents’ reason for applying for U.S. work visas and leaving Mexico,” he says. “I had a love-hate relationship with school, having to learn a different language and whole new system, and struggled with every subject.”
His parents insisted he go to college and Fraire enrolled at Community College of Denver (CCD) in the fall of 2017 to pursue an associate’s degree in business administration. His sophomore year, he landed a job as office assistant for the Academic Advising & Student Success Center that eventually segued into a position as assistant to the program coordinator.
Igniting a Passion for Involvement
“I was around professionals and talking to advisors all the time,” he says. “I started attending more events, becoming aware of all that was happening on campus, and developed a passion for getting involved,” Fraire says. He became a peer mentor in the Urban Male Initiative program serving CCD male students by recognizing the unique challenges they face as urban men.
While still working at CCD, Fraire transferred to CU Denver in the spring of 2020 and majored in business management and entrepreneurship in the Business School. After the pandemic hit in March 2020, he worked remotely at CCD until he was laid off as a result of budgetary cuts. Fraire then took a job as student involvement ambassador in the CU Denver Student Life & Campus Community office.
Student involvement ambassadors assist with the registration process for student organizations “and help students realize how involvement can lead to all kinds of opportunities on campus,” Fraire says. Part of his job entails crafting marketing campaigns focused on student engagement. “All the ambassadors have different specialties and our boss, Jacob Henry, (coordinator for student organizations), really maximizes our different strengths. Mine is showcasing involved students at CU Denver.”
For example, Fraire recently developed a video 20 Questions with a Student Involvement Ambassador inspired by Vogue’s 73 Questions Video Series, wherein celebrities are asked to answer rapid-fire questions on a variety of topics. “I thought this would be a good segment to help people understand what the student involvement experience is like,” Fraire says. “I did a video for our social media focused on the journey of an involved student.”
Henry believes Fraire’s ability to create engaging and informative marketing campaigns will serve him well wherever he goes in the field of business management. “Oscar is very strong in communication and has taken over creative projects in our office,” says Henry. “He has a great vision for his future. The sky is the limit for him.”
In the fall of 2021, Fraire became involved in student government as college council representative for the Business School, where he assisted Director Nimol Hen in the First-Generation and Multicultural (FaM) Business Program.
At CU Denver, Fraire also found “really good professors who truly care about student learning” and classes and instructors that helped him envision a future career, like Jim Lopresti, professor of entrepreneurship management at the Business School. “Every time I talk to him, I’m very inspired,” Fraire says. “In the class I had with him called ‘Visionary Leadership,’ he made us look at what we would like to do and focus on personal growth. He has the philosophy that for you to create a great business, you should first develop yourself. It was one of the most thought-provoking classes I’ve ever taken.”
Fraire cites his study-abroad trip to Cuba—Cuba Libre – Innovation & Culture—in early January, as life-changing. “It allowed me to recognize the amount of opportunity I have as a U.S. citizen,” he says. “Meeting entrepreneurs that have every odd stacked against them but still managed to succeed helped me realize anything is possible if you really want it.”
Passing It Forward for Positive Change
Fraire believes his time at CU Denver helped transform his biggest challenge—believing in himself—into one of his greatest strengths. “I wasn’t at the top of my class in high school and didn’t really care about school, but college has been very different,” he says. “I’m proud of my ability to grow and take time to develop a strong character and I attribute this to my college experience. I was able to build a community of friends, professionals, mentors, professors by putting myself in situations that were uncomfortable at first through my roles at CCD and CU Denver.”
He shares what he’s learned by volunteering to mentor other students through the Business School Mentor Collective. “It’s all about passing it forward to the next batch of students,” he says. “I always tell mentees that learning to really show up is the most important thing. Being willing to show up has brought me great opportunities.”
Fraire plans to pursue a career in consulting and organizational development and explore how corporate culture “plays a huge role in success but is also one of the most difficult things for a business to create or change.” He dreams of one day owning a consulting company focused on helping business executives “recognize the influence they can have in meeting the challenges we’re all dealing with—promoting inclusiveness, diversity, equity—to create positive change.”