First-generation apparel and merchandising outstanding grad supports underrepresented students

Leo Andrade
Leo Andrade

Leo Andrade’s time at Colorado State University has been dedicated to making a difference for the community. As an outstanding graduate from the Department of Design and Merchandising, he spent his time getting involved at CSU and working to kick-start his career in the fashion industry. Andrade decided to choose CSU because of the apparel and merchandising major and the resources for first-generation students.

Andrade was born in Los Angeles, California and lived in Michoacan, Mexico until his family relocated to Lakewood when he was 5 years old. As a first-generation student, he had to navigate the college application and financial aid process alone.

“Being a first-generation student at a university was difficult for the first few years as my family, friends, and I were not familiar with the university process and requirements,” said Andrade. “Filling out financial aid and FAFSA proved to be difficult as my family could not help since they’ve never attended college.”

To help navigate college, Andrade was involved in the GEAR UP program in high school and the Community for Excellence program at CSU. “If I never had the GEAR UP partnership at my high school, I may have never applied for CSU and may have been completely alone in the process,” said Andrade.

Accomplishments at CSU

Leo Andrade in a black and white photo
Leo Andrade

Alongside studying apparel and merchandising with a concentration in product development, Andrade was also involved in several clubs on campus including Fashion Group International, working at the bookstore, and serving in the Key Ambassador Program. He is also currently working at the Lory student Center’s marketing department, Colab, as a graphic designer.

“All of the clubs, organizations, and work experiences I have participated in throughout the years have truly shaped who I am and an individual, professional, and leader,” said Andrade. “Each one helped me grow specific skills that have transformed me for the better.”

One of his biggest accomplishments at CSU was being named a Puksta Scholar. This scholarship program has the scholars create a social justice project around an area that the student wanted to improve within their community.

“I centered my project around supporting historically underrepresented students and helping them obtain the resources and knowledge necessary for them to obtain a higher education within art and technology,” said Andrade. “I partnered with Compass Community Collaborative School where I helped build workshops centered around sewing and graphic design during and after school.”

Outside of the classroom and work, Andrade participated in the undergraduate research showcases Celebrate Undergraduate Research and Creativity and the Multicultural Undergraduate Research Art and Leadership Symposium at CSU presenting his Puksta Scholar project. He received the 2020 Social Justice and Inclusion award at the CURC showcase.

To adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrade prioritized his mental health when completing school and work. He made an effort to give himself breaks during the day to recharge and rest. Andrade also worked on improving his time management skills to accommodate his new schedule.

“Mental health and self-care became my priorities and I’ve continued to maintain them within my top priorities,” said Andrade.

Continuing his passion for learning

Leo Andrade at the CSU ceremonial walk in graduation regalia
Andrade at the CSU ceremonial walk.

After graduating from CSU with cum laude academic distinction, Andrade will join Kohl’s as a print design intern. He will also complete his internship with the thrifting event Thriftcon, where he hopes to work once his internship is complete.

Looking back on his undergraduate career, Andrade says he will miss the CSU Ram events and his mentors who helped him navigate college.

“Although some of my support systems will still be with me even after I graduate, I will miss all of the individuals whose goals were to help me succeed,” said Andrade. “This includes faculty, advisers, colleagues, classmates, and mentors. Without them, my path here at CSU may have been rockier and less clearly laid out.”

Andrade adds that he is committed to continue learning as he enters his professional career and to always be curious about the world around him.

“One of my passions has always been self-improvement and continuous learning, so even after I graduate, I will still be teaching myself skills that benefit me in the long run,” said Andrade. “I’ve been self-taught for many years before attending CSU, so even though my undergraduate journey will soon come to an end, the learning will definitely not.”

The Department of Design and Merchandising is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.