When Tim Marquez graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in the Denver Public Schools, he was clueless on how to get college scholarships. He eventually attended the Colorado School of Mines, where he received a degree in petroleum engineering and became highly successful.
In 2006, he decided to give back to his city by establishing a $50 million challenge grant (it meets every dollar that Denver schools raise) to provide every needy student who applies with a scholarship of up to $6,000 for as long as five years to any Colorado-based university.
Now the Denver Scholarship Fund (DSF) works to inspire and empower public school students. So when Cynthia Castillo, the senior college financial aid advisor who works one-on-one with students at Abraham Lincoln High School daily, visits the classroom, everyone is welcome. “The scholarship is need-based, but the service is for anyone. I wouldn’t have the heart to turn someone away,” she says.
DSF’s counseling space at each of the nine high schools where it has a full-time presence is called Future Center—at Abraham Lincoln, it’s a converted choir room—and each is staffed by a full-time financial aid advisor on Marquez’s payroll. Castillo works one-on-one with any students who drop in to help them explore career choices and decide which high school courses they need to reach that goal.
Castillo also sets aside time for what she dubs “intrusive advising.” She sends passes to excuse students from class whom teachers and faculty have recommended she reach out to, and she and each student spend that time chatting about the student’s future. Sometimes she combs the school database to find students whose records match a scholarship opportunity and then sends an invitation to drop by for some good news. “By the end of the year, I will have met with 95 percent of our 1,752 students and 100 percent of the seniors,” she says.
The Future Centers are inviting spaces where students know they can use the computers to apply for scholarships, fill out college enrollment applications, or research a career choice, but many times they simply plop down with their lunch and finish homework.
Denver Public Schools counts 660 students from the pilot year enrolled at various colleges; roughly one-third of college-bound graduates who received their diplomas in 2008 took advantage of the DSF scholarship money.