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'Non-traditional' paths to higher education becoming more popular among young people

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Maritza Medina is one of 175 college graduates in 2023 who received help from the DSF through scholarships.
Maritza Medina/Denver Scholarship Foundation

DENVER — Maritza Medina knew she wanted to continue her education after high school, but wasn’t sure how.  

She ended up taking a somewhat unique path after working with advisors with the Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF), a nonprofit that helps guide students in Denver Public Schools through high school and college.  

The assistance came “not even with just school stuff, but just making sure I was okay, if I was okay in my household, and how I felt every day," Medina said. "It was nice to have someone who was caring like that,” she explained, adding that her higher education journey would be different without DSF assistance.

Colorado Voices

Taking a 'non-traditional' path to higher education

Medina is one of 336 college graduates in 2023 who received help from the DSF through scholarships. The organization started in 2006 with the knowledge that the barriers to higher education often go beyond financial.  The organization’s advisors work with DPS students in grades 9 through 12 in 15 DSF “Future Centers,” which are located in 19 Denver Public High schools.

Need-based scholarships are awarded to high school graduates who want to attend community college, technical college, or a university in Colorado.

“I don’t know what I would have done because I had an advisor who gave us lots of options. We went on lots of tours and to meetings,” she said. Simply applying to schools would have been a challenge, Medina added. 

With the help of the DSF, Medina satisfied her entrepreneurial spirit and got her aesthetician certificate right after graduating high school so she could earn income while going to the Community College of Denver. Now a recent graduate of CCD, her next plan is to attend Metropolitan State University of Denver and study psychology, eventually earning her master’s degree with the hopes of becoming a counselor or therapist. 

“Right now, I’m thinking about working with children or young adults,” she said, adding — with a laugh — that she is already a good listener as an aesthetician when she’s giving people facials. 

Medina’s DSF advisor on the CCD campus is Cynthia Gallegos. 

 “I think students are initially a little stand-offish about my energy because I want to really engage them, but after a while we just build off of the energy that we have mutually,” Gallegos said.  

Gallegos explained that she has high hopes for what Medina can accomplish. “My pride goes beyond the individual. I know it took a lot of people to support Maritza, and it wasn’t just me. And the scholarship she gets [through the DSF] might help reduce some anxiety she might have to continue her studies, and so taking advantage of that and putting herself to task was a huge opportunity for Martiza.”

Medina said her family is beyond proud and thrilled for her. “They’re excited overall to see what I’m going to do with everything and what path I’m going to take.”

Dana Knowles is the managing editor at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at

Julio Sandoval is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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