Outstanding interior architecture and design grad overcomes personal tragedy to earn her degree

A headshot of Shelby Archuleta sitting in a field of grass.

Only a few months into what is supposed to be the best four years of her life, Shelby Archuleta’s world was permanently changed when her father was diagnosed with a rare cancer.

Soon after his diagnosis, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and any comfort the Colorado State University interior architecture and design major may have been able to get from in-person interactions with her friends and professors was wiped away. Still, through the intensely difficult months Archuleta experienced, the faculty and staff at CSU were always there for her, and Archuleta credits their unwavering support for her success.

‘Small-town vibes’

Archuleta’s whole family, including her parents, were born and raised in Colorado. She lived in the Westminster and Arvada area most of her life but now lives in Littleton, Colorado, just outside of Denver and Red Rocks. She knew she wanted to stay in-state for college. In addition to CSU having a competitive and accredited Interior Architecture and Design Program, the people in Fort Collins attracted her to CSU.

“I remember my first tour of CSU and how happy and friendly everyone was,” she said. “The people who live in Fort Collins give very small-town vibes, although it is a major Colorado city with a large university. Throughout my four years here, the people at CSU kept proving that notion and I have grown to love this community.”

Losing her father

Shelby Archuleta with her brother and her father in front of an ice rink
Archuleta (center), with her brother (left), and her father (right).

Archuleta’s biggest obstacle she’s had to overcome was the loss of her dad, Arnie Archuleta, this past summer. Halfway into her first year at CSU, he was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer. She and her younger brother Raymond were his main support system for two and a half years while he fought his cancer. He endured countless surgeries, chemo, radiation, and drug trials in the middle of a pandemic and her time at CSU.

“It is incredibly hard to focus on school when you are working around surgeries, doctors’ appointments, surprise ER visits and trying to keep a COVID-free household,” said Archuleta. “Thankfully, with the help of my brother, who was in high school at the time, and our amazing family and friends, I was given the opportunity to stay enrolled at CSU through all of this. Sadly, we lost my dad this past July, a mere three weeks before my brother moved into the dorms here at CSU and classes started.”

On top of everything, her mom also got diagnosed with breast cancer this past October. Thankfully, she fought and won her battle against the disease.

What Archuleta and her family have gone through in her time at CSU has been devastating. “The most encouraging thing that has pushed me to overcome all of this and make it to graduation, was the immense amount of support I have received,” she said. “I am overcome with gratitude that my brother and I have been in Fort Collins this year to tackle these challenges together with the help of our friends, family, and the CSU community.”

Support from professors

The most impactful way that Archuleta’s professors have helped her overcome obstacles throughout her time at CSU is through their compassion and understanding.

“This past year I lost the motivation to focus on my courses, my future, and my goals beyond CSU,” she said. “My professors helped me realize that I was never given the time to grieve my loss due to the timing of it all and helped me find a way to make time. Whether it was extending a deadline because I had a rough week or allowing me to take an incomplete in my capstone course, my professors supported me as a person, knowing that my academic work would resume once I gave myself patience and grace.”

Even before her father passed away and her mother’s diagnosis, Archuleta felt supported. “By recognizing that my priority was my family, my professors graciously moved exams due to surgeries and even gave me alternate assignments during the pandemic, knowing that I could not risk contracting COVID. Without these accommodations and personal guidance throughout my time here, I am confident that I would not be graduating this semester.”

Student involvement

Shelby Archuleta standing at horsetooth with her arms up
Archuleta’s family, including her parents, were born and raised in Colorado.

Archuleta has been involved with Student Hospitality Network within the Interior Architecture and Design Program, serving as both the vice president and president of this organization. She has also engaged with the Ram Welcome program, helping new students transition into the CSU community before classes start. “Interacting with new students and peers of various programs has strengthened my relationships and sense of community that I’ve made at CSU. It is extremely rewarding to share my CSU experiences with students and families so that they can make the most of their time here.”

Archuleta’s favorite activity at CSU has been my involvement with the landscape design and contracting concentration, a part of CSU’s College of Agriculture.

“I discovered that I wanted to pursue Interior Landscaping, a new industry that focuses on building landscapes within interior spaces for a multitude of intentions including health-benefits and aesthetic appeal,” said Archuleta. “The professors and students of this program have welcomed me into their studios where I built upon my previous design knowledge to design exterior spaces with plant materials and mediums. I have enjoyed the additional design theories and techniques practice, as well as the knowledge I have gained surrounding plant design.”

Archuleta is proud to have been chosen to compete in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition with the Landscape Design and Contracting Program this past spring break. She competed in both the Interior Plant Identification and Interior Landscape Design competition on behalf of CSU and did well, winning Fourth Place in the Interior Landscape Design competition and ranked fourteenth in the Interior Plant Identification event, with only two studios in that department and no prior plant classes. As a team, CSU won Ninth Place in the first in-person competition since it was last held at CSU in 2019.

Future plans

Archuleta graduates from CSU with distinction in May, and after that, she plans to give herself and her family some time.

“This year I have learned the impacts of not slowing down and giving yourself the tools to grieve and I look forward to taking the opportunity to do just that this summer, said Archuleta. “After the anniversary of my dad’s passing, I am hopeful and driven to find a job in interior landscaping and help pioneer such an innovative industry. I am excited to start this new chapter in my life where I have more freedom to enjoy every day and be thankful for it.”

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

Melanie Chaffey contributed to this story.