As a working parent and first-generation student, Diane Sanchez Calderon has plenty of things to do—but she still finds ways to give back. From mentoring to volunteering to interning, Sanchez Calderon is dedicated to making an impact in her community.
While going to school full-time, she held an internship at Sister Carmen Community Center, where she helped Spanish-speaking families create community projects. And her caring nature led her to also work as a paraeducator at a high school in Boulder for children with special needs. She credits CU Denver’s online programming options with giving her a way to fit it all in.
On Dec. 17, she’ll graduate with a bachelor of science degree in Human Development and Family Relations so she can keep making a difference. “The fact that my degree is online has made things easier for me as I raise my daughter, provide for mi familia, and support my community,” said Sanchez Calderon. “My parents told me, ‘Echale ganas [Give it all you’ve got], and the world will be a better place because of your hard work and empathy.’”
Once a week, Sanchez Calderon dedicates her evenings to assisting her CU Denver professor, Ruben Anguiano, with a support group named Esperanza (Hope) he founded to assist Latino students with their college journey. As a mentor, Sanchez Calderon helps Latino high school and first-generation college students like herself balance school and work through emotional support. She also helps students with college, financial aid, and scholarship applications in English and Spanish. Recently, she assisted a student, who aspires to become a teacher, with an essay for a full-ride scholarship application to Central Michigan University.
Anguiano, the former chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Relations, said he formed the group 30 years ago to help Latino students navigate the college education process. “Due to [their] complex journey, I wanted to spend extra time serving high school and college students outside office hours who needed greater access to resources and support services,” Anguiano said. “While I am proud to help them succeed and reach their college dreams through scholarships, this is the only bilingual group of this nature in the northern metro Denver area. To reach more students, we need more groups like these.”
Paving the Way
The oldest of four children, Sanchez Calderon is the first in her family to attend a four-year university. And she hopes that she’s not the last: She’d like her four-year-old daughter to follow in her footsteps. Having spent her life translating from English to Spanish for her family, she knew it was her calling to give back to others who needed it.
“Growing up in a Hispanic household, I learned Spanish at home and English in school,” Sanchez Calderon said. “As a bilingual communicator, I take pride in understanding a family’s needs and assisting them with information in the language they feel most comfortable communicating in. It warms my heart when they smile back with gratitude.”
After graduation (she is a 2022 Graduate Award recipient), Sanchez Calderon plans to get a master’s degree in social work and, upon completion, aspires to work at a refugee or immigration center in Lafayette, where she can use her bilingual skills to assist the Hispanic community.
“As a first-gen, I’m paving the way for future generations by breaking cycles and barriers and becoming a resource and a mentor to other first-gen students,” Sanchez Calderon said. “I want to serve as a role model as Professor Ruben has been to me.”