Stories of first generation students take center stage at Building Bridges dinner

Dozens of first generation College of Business students gathered for the March 7 Building Bridges dinner to celebrate their shared experiences. (Photos | John Eisele, CSU Photography)

Jazmin Arias’ family used one simple word to describe how it feels to see her chasing her dreams at Colorado State University: proud. 

“My journey to this campus is filled with family and love,” the junior business administration major said from the stage at the 10th annual Building Bridges dinner, which was held on March 7 and honored the first-generation students in the CSU College of Business. 

Arias, who grew up in a Spanish speaking household, learned English in kindergarten and soon became a translator for her parents as they navigated immigration issues. During her speech, she recounted how she once saved her cousins from a house fire, and what it was like to be just nine years old and explain to officers what had just happened to her family. 

“But I still went to school the next day,” Arias said.  

She’s now the chief marketing executive for the First Generation Business Association and helps mentor fellow Latinx students who are navigating college for the first time. 

Stories like hers took centerstage during the Building Bridges dinner, an annual tradition that organizer and Senior Lead Academic Adviser Alex Diemer said can help show first-generation students that they are truly part of a larger community in the CSU College of Business. 

“It helps bring people this amazing realization of ‘I belong here, this is my campus, this is my college, my home and I’m in good company, surrounded by other First Generation students, staff and faculty,’” she said.

In addition to celebrating the students and their families, the dinner also showcases the College of Business’ on-campus support system aimed at ensuring that these students don’t just become the first to go to college: They also become the first to graduate. 

Building Bridges also offered an opportunity for networking with College of Business faculty members and business leaders, including Joe Villegas, a CSU alum who was the vice president for financial planning and analysis at Food Services of America. 

During his keynote speech, he recounted growing up with parents who had beginnings working in farms and fields before forging their own successful careers – all while inspiring him to become the first in his family to complete a higher education. 

“I realized that no matter how hard the challenges I had to face, none compared to the ones my parents had growing up,” Villegas said. 

Diemer said a degree is an incredibly powerful tool in general, but especially for the first generation community. 

“It can positively change the trajectories of those who surround the students, those who came before them and those who will come after them,” she said. “There is a ripple effect.” 

Everyone in attendance had stories of overcoming obstacles to reach CSU, including Eden Bruner, who is now the president of the First Generation Business Association. She came to CSU as a scholastic powerhouse with high expectations, but ended her first semester in college on academic probation as she struggled to adapt to the new routines. 

“When I got here and started my freshman year, I was very, very lost, and it was so much different from high school,” she said. 

With help from her CSU support system, she turned things around and is now on track to graduate early – and even earn her master’s degree at 21 years old. 

Like Arias, Bruner said she couldn’t be where she is without her family – and like Arias’ family, her mom Piper Knoll used the word “proud” when asked what it meant to see her at CSU. 

“Seeing her now, this is where she’s meant to be,” Knoll said. 

About CSU’s College of Business

The College of Business at Colorado State University is focused on using business to create a better world.

As an AACSB-accredited business school, the College is among the top five percent of business colleges worldwide, providing programs and career support services to more than 2,500 undergraduate and 1,300 graduate students. Faculty help students across our top-ranked on-campus and online programs develop the knowledge, skills and values to navigate a rapidly evolving business world and address global challenges with sustainable business solutions. Our students are known for their creativity, work ethic and resilience—resulting in an undergraduate job offer and placement rate of over 90% within 90 days of graduation.

The College’s highly ranked programs include its Online MBA, which has been ranked the No. 1 program in Colorado by U.S. News and World Report for six years running and achieved No. 16 for employability worldwide from QS Quacquarelli Symonds. The College’s Impact MBA is also ranked by Corporate Knights as a Top 20 “Better World MBA” worldwide.