In recent years, the CU Denver Business School has welcomed growing populations of students who are the first in their families to pursue a college degree, as well as students of color. Recognizing the unique strengths that these communities possess—and the unique challenges they face—Dean Scott Dawson and other leaders in the Business School made a commitment in 2020 to reimagine the first-generation and multicultural student experience.
By 2021, they had recruited a circle of partners and supporters from across the Denver business community to help realize their vision. In August 2021, the First Generation and Multicultural (FaM) Business Program was born, and Nimol Hen, a leader in academic advising with over 20 years of experience at CU Denver, was named its first director.
Leadership Rooted in Personal Experience
Dawson said the FaM program is a crucial addition to the Business School’s student services that will foster community and provide resources tailored to students who may not have always seen themselves reflected in business environments.
“The diversity of our student body is one of the Business School’s most important assets. And education is one of our most powerful tools to ensure that all learners—including those who have been historically under-represented in many fields of business—have access to opportunities that enable them to thrive in their careers,” said Dawson. “I am very grateful to Nimol Hen for leading the FaM program, as well as the donors and partners who are making this important initiative possible.”
Hen is a proud first-gen college student herself, having come to the U.S. as a child refugee. “Like many first-gen’ers and students of color, I would not be where I am today without the champions I met along my academic journey who helped me access the resources I needed to thrive as a student and complete my degree,” she said. “I am incredibly humbled to have this opportunity to serve, and advocate for, our students through the FaM program.”
From Listening, to Building, to Impact
During the 2021–22 academic year, Hen piloted elements of the program and met regularly with focus groups composed of current first-gen and multicultural students, who contributed their ideas and feedback. Following this pilot year of learning and building, the FaM program is welcoming its first official cohort of 70-plus students this fall. The FaM student journey will include:
- Internships, experiential learning, and events built around the program’s key themes of leadership, service, and career
- Financial support via scholarships and paid internships
- Mentorship opportunities with peers, alumni, and business professionals
- Increased access to academic/career readiness services that prepare students to launch their careers
Partners Provide Funding, Mentorship, and Opportunity
A “Founders’ Circle” of industry partners and donors from the local business community provides ongoing advising and philanthropic support for the program. The Founders’ Circle includes representatives from leading businesses like FirstBank and Schwab—long-time partners of the Business School, who provided the lead gifts to establish FaM—plus members of the school’s Board of Advisors, as well as engaged alumni who see their own experiences reflected in FaM.
FaM’s corporate partners provide the program with mentors and advisors, opportunities for internships and experiential learning, and critical financial support to expand student scholarships and programming. FaM, in turn, offers businesses a talent pipeline of diverse professionals poised to become leaders and change-makers in their fields.
“A Program That Shows Its Values Through Its Actions”
Oscar Fraire ’22, who helped shape the FaM program during its pilot year before graduating in May, said of his experience: “In addition to providing me with key resources and experiences for my success as a first-generation student, FaM provided me with an amazing community of other first-generation students facing similar challenges. It is an honor to be part of a program that shows its values through its actions.”
Hen, her students, and their supporters are excited to see FaM’s official launch this fall, and they’re even more excited for the growth and impact to come. Hen intends to continue building support and resources for the program, and hopes to ramp up to serve 100 students per year in the near term and even larger cohorts as CU Denver and its Business School grow.