Sometimes, it takes a lengthy and winding journey to make it full circle. Darian Ortiz, an outstanding graduate of the Colorado State University Department of Human Development and Family Studies and the School of Education and a first-generation student, has faced many struggles. However, it is his personal challenges that have led him to the career he loves: teaching.
CSU Ram early on
Ortiz was born and raised in Fort Collins. Growing up, he remembers his grandpa coming home from work at Moby Arena, and how he would always speak positively about CSU.
“CSU was a part of my childhood,” Ortiz said. “My grandpa would often get us free tickets from the football players or the coach at the time, Sonny Lubick. My cousins and I even had the opportunity to attend the summer football camps on several occasions. I was a CSU Ram before the age of 10, and sure enough, I was accepted into the university soon after graduating from high school.”
Just to get to CSU, however, Ortiz overcame many challenges in his young life. “I was raised by a single mother, along with three sisters,” he said. “My grandparents were heavily involved in raising us as my mom needed additional support. Although I had all the basic needs, my mom was living in poverty and my grandparents were working-class.”
Ortiz considers himself lucky that he got connected to a local City of Fort Collins facility called the Northside Aztlan Community Center, which allowed him to participate free of charge in after-school activities, summer school, basketball leagues, and more.
“Because of the support I received from my grandparents and the community, I excelled in elementary school,” he said. “However, the social group I was involved in during my transition from elementary to middle school was destructive. Many of my friends at the time got involved in drugs and gangs.”
Ortiz recalls that his close ties to his cousins allowed him to maintain focus and do relatively well throughout middle school. He struggled again his first year of high school because there was an open campus. Ortiz took advantage of the policy and did not thrive academically. He decided to transfer to another high school with a stricter attendance policy, and the teachers and counselors were very involved in his success.
At CSU, Ortiz ended up changing his major frequently, trying anthropology, business, accounting, and art over a period of three years.
“I realized I did not know my passions and that obtaining a degree was not right for me at the time. I decided to take some time off from CSU to explore myself and find my dream for the future. I became heavily involved in the Northside Aztlan Community Center, the place where I had grown up and gotten my first job as a teenager. Although I had spent countless years there as an after-school and summer camp instructor, I had not previously envisioned that type of work as a career. However, I realized I was incredibly passionate about teaching and guiding the local youth.”
Ortiz decided to return to CSU to become a teacher. He chose to major in early childhood education and said all of his courses in Human Development and Family Studies were incredible.
“The professors I had were highly invested in my success and spent a great amount of time to get to know me on a personal level,” Ortiz said. “Being back at CSU for a second time felt so different, and I believe it was because I was excited about my classes and enjoyed learning.”
Learning to teach
Although he had a great deal of experience with teaching children, the early childhood education and teacher licensure programs not only exposed him to the academic side of teaching, but also allowed him to gain experience in the Poudre School District.
“I have had the opportunity to teach at O’Dea, Timnath, and Shepardson Elementary schools,” he said. “Now, in my last semester at the university, I am lucky enough to be teaching at Irish Elementary, a dual language school. My mentor teacher has taught me more than I could have ever imagined, and I cannot wait to use my new knowledge to create an amazing kindergarten class soon.”
In addition to raising a young daughter with his wife, Brandy, Ortiz has been active outside of the classroom as well. He was working at CSU’s Early Childhood Center for the past year and a half, and his daughter, Sophia Rose, attends the childcare program at the ECC.
“Teaching at the ECC was inspiring and has taught me great techniques and strategies to de-escalate situations and calm children in an effective way. All the teachers and staff at the ECC have been inviting and inclusive and created my sense of belonging at CSU.”
Ortiz has also been involved in El Centro, one of the seven diversity offices at the University. Through this office, he received the Elizabeth Woodworth Memorial Scholarship the last three years.
Helping all students succeed
As this chapter at CSU comes to a close, Ortiz is experiencing some sadness, too. “Now that I have found such an amazing major, with outstanding teachers, and a united cohort, I am sad to leave this part of my life behind,” he said.
“I will miss all my courses that have laid the foundation for my educational knowledge of teaching. I will miss all my teachers who went above and beyond to help me build my network and guided me towards all my successes the last couple of years. I will miss my classmates, all of whom were kind and understanding of my role as a husband and father.”
Inspired by his childhood struggles and the opportunity to work with young children, Ortiz has come full circle. He is currently applying at Poudre School District for a teaching position in a kindergarten classroom.
“I hope to create a classroom environment that is truly inclusive and provides the best opportunity for all students to find success,” he said. “I want to inspire and motivate my students to excel no matter the obstacles, especially through my personal support.”
The future also brings additional exciting changes, as Ortiz and his wife will soon welcome their second daughter, Cassandra Bella.
In the meantime, Ortiz will savor his hard-earned graduation. “All the individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting through this major at CSU have had a huge impact on my ability to succeed, and I am truly blessed,” he said.
The Department of Human Development and Family Studies and the School of Education are part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.