Nov 132011
Authors: Andrew Carrera

Editors note: This story is the third installment in a six part series on CSU’s Dream Project.

Marianna Pfiffner is a self-proclaimed geek.

“I had enough credits to graduate my junior year, but I decided to stay another year because it’s free school, and it’ll prepare me even more for college,” said the Poudre High School senior. “I really like school anyways. It’s my favorite thing to do. I love taking notes. I’ll rewrite my notes over and over and over again. I’m so excited to be in lectures! I can’t wait!”

But even with a love of learning and a work ethic to match, her path to higher education still isn’t without its barriers.

“My dad’s gone, so he can’t really help me. My mom, she has a lot of stress in her life, so I don’t want to have anything to add to that,” she said.

It’s for students like these that CSU’s Dream Project exists. The student-initiated campus group, started in November of 2009, helps local low-income, first-generation and ethnically diverse high school students with the college application process by putting them through a two-year mentor program.

The group recently hosted its second annual “Admissions Weekend Workshop” from Saturday to Sunday, where 34 of the program’s mentors coached 48 of its scholars from Poudre and Fort Collins High School students through applying to colleges and universities.

The Dream Project has been meeting with its participants since the beginning of the fall semester in preparation for the weekend.

“It’s our biggest event for the year, because we have a chance to bring all of our scholars and mentors together,” said Edna Muñoz, head of the Dream Project’s steering committee. “I would say that it encompasses everything that we’ve been working on into one weekend.”

The CSU group partnered with university writing tutors and campus academic officials, including Jim Rawlins, executive director of admissions, and Blane Harding, the director of advising, recruitment and retention for the College of Liberal Arts and the university’s prelaw advisor, to answer questions about the sometimes-convoluted higher education admissions process.

“Our big goal for the weekend is to get students to apply to at least two schools,” Muñoz said. “After this, we focus on getting money for school.”

“I do a lot of work in Commerce City, Fort Lupton –– I do outreach all over. CSU is the one who shows up and gives a damn about these kids,” said Michelle Wellman, director of student outreach and engagement at the university’s Access Center. “This is tied directly into CSU’s land grant mission. That’s why we feel a lot different from CU–Boulder. We provide access to people from all backgrounds, not just if you’re moneyed and from Vermont.”

But the Dream Project can’t be described as a group of college students taking pity on the less fortunate, she said. Many of the program’s mentors are also coming from first-generation, low income and ethnically diverse circumstances just like their mentees, which helps the CSU students look at them as “assets” instead of “deficits.”

“We don’t use the thinking, ‘Aw, poor kids from the north side.’ It’s like, where are the diamonds in the rough? These are the kids that we’re grabbing and pulling into higher education,” she said. “It’s so awesome.”

One of their names is Denisee Gonzalez. Both of her parents were born in Mexico. Her mom obtained a sixth grade education and has been working ever since.

“She’s a custodian right now,” said the Fort Collins High School senior.

Gonzalez, however, is interested in pursuing a career in the medical field and is applying to CSU.

“Going into college, if I do good, as I get to a place where I want to be, then I can help my family financially, upgrade how they live, help my brothers get a better education than what they have right now,” Gonzalez said. “If I didn’t have the Dream Project to depend on then I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at

By the numbers


The number of Dream Project mentors who participated in Admissions Weekend Workshop.


The number of Dream Project scholars who participated in Admissions Weekend Workshop.


The number of hours that Admissions Weekend Workshop lasted between Saturday and Sunday.


The approximate number of college applications that were filled out by area high school seniors during Admissions Weekend Workshop.

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