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Making education more accessible for first-generation college students

Josephine Benavidez

In a fortunate stroke of serendipity, Josephine Benavidez reconnected with a former student while looking for a nurse to care for her ailing husband, Fernando. While on the phone with a nurse to whom she had been referred, the nurse stopped to ask:

"Mrs. B?"

On the other line was Malinda, a graduate of the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth El College of Nursing and Health Sciences at UCCS—someone Josephine knew since the 9th grade and who was a graduate of the Pre-Collegiate Development Program (PCDP) of which Josephine was director for 18 years.

In a twist of fate, the PCDP program gave Malinda the foundation to be successful as a first-generation college student. Her CU education allowed Malinda to become not only a nurse, but the very same nurse who took care of Josephine's husband until his passing in 2016.

This is a powerful testament to how far someone can go when they have the right support and knowledge of what is possible.

Josephine was born and raised in La Junta, Colorado, a southeastern Colorado town. When her father died suddenly, Josephine was pulled from 10th grade to stay home and take care of her younger siblings while her mother worked.

"There was no food in the house on the day my mother buried my father," Josephine said.

Josephine Benavidez and students

Initially, Josephine had little encouragement for her to return to school; her high school guidance counselor told Josephine she probably wouldn't finish.

These memories fueled her to change the lives of hundreds of students who have walked a similar path.

"In the population we work with, parents have no idea their children can go to college," she said. "They don't see the value or know where to start. It is necessary to bring this message to first-generation students and their parents."

Since retiring in 2015, Josephine's spirit of mentorship and support continues to transform lives. Her philanthropic gifts provide two annual scholarships to communications students. In addition, the Benavidez Endowed Scholarship for communication students who are non-traditional or first-generation students will be funded with a gift from Josephine's estate and she has also included UCCS as a beneficiary of her retirement accounts.

"I want to support UCCS and the larger CU system and the lives that are transformed by the education CU provides. I want to give back to an institution that really gave a lot to me," Josephine said.