Passion to pay it forward: Outstanding grads in Los Caminos program left their mark at CSU

Group of Los Caminos mentors and femtors with high school students in large ballroom.

Los Caminos program mentors/femtors created bonds with their Fort Collins High School mentees/femtees rooted in an appreciation for their culture and education. 

Mentorship/femtorship is a process filled with empathetic listening and setting an example. Each of the seniors in the Colorado State University Los Caminos program stood out as mentors/femtors in their own ways, leaving a legacy of advocacy, social justice, leadership, and friendship as they set their eyes on the next step of their journeys after graduation.

Outstanding grads Jennifer Gomez, David Jaquez, Grace Jimenez, Yulisa Muñoz, Jackie Terrazas, and Bhreanna Quinlan from the College of Health and Human Sciences, and Bianca Villa from the College of Liberal Arts, all played a significant role in furthering the program.


Femtoring is a horizontal, collaborative, and collective mentoring challenging top-down mentoring. This term has been used and identified by Student of Color activists across universities, colleges, and communities acknowledging female labor and reciprocal teaching and learning in mentoring.

Supported by a Pharos Bohemian Foundation grant and other funding sources for the past four years, the Caminos Program: Pathways to Education addresses the specific academic needs of Latinx/Indigenous high school students and provides access to and understanding of higher education and career readiness. In collaboration with Fort Collins High School, CSU’s El Centro Cultural Center, and the School of Education, Caminos CSU students are accepted into the fellowship program after applying and meeting qualifications to work with high school students.

“Since our CSU student fellows look like the student population we serve, speak their language, and understand their cultura (culture), becomes deeply significant for our high school students,” said Christine Vega, post-doctoral fellow in the School of Education. “The representation of Los Caminos mentors allows the high school students to feel seen and valued and begin to spark in them that they too can go to college and be that femtor/mentor college student with a vision to further their college or career pathway.”

“The students impacted their mentees at Fort Collins High School through their bi-weekly interaction in class,” said Hsiao-Ching Lin, Ph.D. student in the School of Education. “Each of them featured distinct influence according to their personalities, compassion, and commitment to the students.”

Some of the femtors/mentors share a bit about themselves, and their experiences below.

Jennifer Gomez | Human Development and Family Studies

Jennifer Gomez stands in her commencement regalia holding her degree.Hometown: Commerce City, Colorado

Jennifer Gomez is the first of her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. In high school, Gomez witnessed that many of her classmates at Adams City High School did not see higher education in their futures, as she attended one of the lowest-performing high schools in the state.

“We lacked programs that helped low-income students of color when it came to higher education and career readiness,” Gomez said.

With this experience, Gomez saw Caminos as an opportunity to help students with a similar background to see that attending college and fostering a bright future was possible. The program also guided her in manifesting goals of her own.

“Caminos has made all the difference in my college career, working with the kids at FCHS and creating a culture of reciprocity within our own community was a beautiful experience,” Gomez said.

Gomez has already begun her career and was employed in a prestigious position serving as an advocate specialist in the victim-witness unit with the 17th Judicial District, District Attorney’s office. Her strong Spanish speaking skills are critical as she communicates and interprets with and for some of the victims.

David Jaquez | Construction Management

Hometown: Aurora, Colorado

David Jaquez’s path to CSU was primarily unpaved. By the age of 19, Jaquez had been present at a murder trial and was a high school dropout.

“Although I was just a witness, it was an event that had completely changed my life,” Jaquez said.

After the tumultuous period in his young adulthood, Jaquez found solace in Caminos. Through the mentoring process, Jaquez was able to turn the negative experiences of his life into lessons for the Fort Collins High School students, freeing him from the frustration and pain of his past.

While giving back to the students, Jaquez saw the parallels of their lives and learned from the students as much as they would learn from him. Jaquez credits his time with Los Caminos as the primary reason for his success at CSU, as he found a true adoration for working with underrepresented and misunderstood student populations.

“Just like they could see themselves within me, I could see younger versions of myself in them,” Jaquez said.

This spring, David began his career in construction management as a project engineer for Mark Young Construction. He also hopes to make a return to higher education.

“I’m not sure on what capacity yet, all I know is I would like to continue helping those same students that I owe so much of my growth to,” Jaquez said.

Grace Jimenez, Lizeth Arellano, Cecilia Jaquez, and David Jaquez in theFort Collins High School gym

From Left: Grace Jimenez, Lizeth Arellano (former Los Caminos coordinator and School of Education alumna, B.S. ’19), Jaquez’s sister Cecilia Jaquez (former Los Caminos coordinator and CSU alumna, B.S. ’18) and Jaquez at Fort Collins High School.

Grace Jimenez | Human Development and Family Studies

Grace Jimenez seated in the CSU auxiliary gym in her graduation regalia. Hometown: Denver, Colorado

Grace Jimenez’s choices to come to CSU and join the Caminos program were both “no brainers.” Knowing that she wanted to get more involved in the community, Los Caminos was an opportunity that felt made for her.

“After meeting some of the mentors and seeing them interact with the students, I knew I wanted to be a part of that,” Jimenez said.

Upon joining, Jimenez’s experience at CSU became amplified. While furthering her own education, she was simultaneously enriching the lives of younger students, which melded her passions into one. “Through this program, I have met so many great students, peers, and staff at both FCHS and CSU,” Jimenez said.

After graduation, Jimenez is seeking a career in education.

Jackie Terrazas | Construction Management

Jackie Terrazas seated near the entrance of Colorado State University in a black crewneck sweatshirt and black denim jeans.Hometown: LaSalle, Colorado

After falling in love with CSU and the construction management program, Terrazas felt that she truly found her place and purpose at CSU upon joining Caminos –  recommended by her friend, Jimenez. Her time with the program reinforced her confidence, giving her the feeling that she was a source of inspiration.

“Coming around the students made me feel good about myself at CSU,” Terrazas said. “It gave me the feeling that even if I thought I had no idea what I was doing, the students could look up to me and think to themselves ‘If she can be successful in college, so can I.’”

Upon graduating, Terrazas looks to start her career in construction and hopes to eventually own and operate her own construction management company.

Yulisa Muñoz-Tena | School of Social Work

Hometown: Commerce City, Colorado. Born in Namiquipa, Chihuahua Mexico

Looking back at her undergraduate experience, Muñoz-Tena is grateful to have been seen as who she is: a Dreamer, a woman of color, a first-generation student, and a scholar. Before she was enrolled as a student, Muñoz-Tena participated in the Bridge Scholars program and knew she found her home at CSU.

With a natural knack for making connections, Muñoz-Tena quickly became immersed in Caminos alongside her childhood friend, (Jennifer) Gomez. Once involved, she knew that it was a part of her purpose to serve the students; students in which she saw a reflection of her younger self.

“I know what it’s like to come to college feeling that I am 10 steps behind compared to others, and the worst part is that it’s not even something we can control,” Muñoz-Tena said.”It’s an obstacle that we, nonetheless, have to overcome.”

Through femtoring, Muñoz-Tena’s college experience that came with occasional obstacles became less of a burden and more of a labor of love.

“When I would walk into the classroom and see these students with a smile on their face and passion in their hearts, I had no option but to return the same energy they gave me,” Muñoz-Tena said.

From working with the students to collaborating with the leadership team and faculty, Muñoz-Tena is quick to express her gratitude for her time with Los Caminos and is appreciative to have mentors/femtors and mentees/femtees who believe in her.

Muñoz-Tena currently works for Neighbor to Neighbor as a bilingual housing counselor, serving on the front-lines to aid underprivileged communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. After graduation, Muñoz-Tena hopes to take some time away from school to gain work experience before returning to the classroom to pursue a master’s degree.

Bhreanna Quinlan | School of Education

Bhreanna Quinlan seated on a purple bench wearing a lavender, floral dress.Hometown: Brighton, Colorado

It was during Bhreanna Quinlan’s second semester at CSU when she first crossed paths with Antonette Aragón, associate professor in the School of Education and instructor of her introduction to schooling course. Aragón invited Quinlan to join Caminos, and since then her involvement has been integral.

Mentoring/femtoring the students directly aligned with Quinlan’s goal to become a teacher and helped her affirm her career plans.

“My time with Caminos helped solidify that I wanted to become a science teacher,” Quinlan said. “Through this program, I have also become quite close with Dra. Aragón, and she was able to introduce me to other professors and open up more opportunities at CSU that all prepared me to become a teacher.”

Thanks to her time with Los Caminos, Quinlan is well equipped to begin teaching at Frederick High School as a biology teacher. She will begin her career next fall.

Bianca Villa | College of Liberal Arts – Journalism and Media Communication

Bianca Villa in her graduation regalia on a green lawn. Hometown: Henderson, CO

When choosing her higher-education destination, CSU was a last-minute decision for Villa. Though it took some time to settle in, Villa knew that CSU was where she was meant to be. Los Caminos solidified her decision even further.

Villa shares a similar sentiment with her Caminos colleagues, that the process of mentoring/femtoring is rewarding for all parties involved.

“Joining and volunteering pushed me and reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing,” Villa said. “Part of the reason I went to college was to prove to others that, as a Latina, I can do it, and that people of color are not behind others; we’re right beside them achieving amazing things.”

After graduation, Villa hopes to begin her career in mass media.

Messages from Los Caminos CSU leadership

In recognition of the outstanding grad’s accomplishments and to show gratitude for their service to Los Caminos, the CSU leadership of the program expresses their appreciation.

Hsiao Ching-Lin smiles.Hsiao-Ching Lin, Ph.D. student in School of Education: Jennifer and Yulisa you brought such gentleness and patience every time you worked with the Los Caminos students, and I knew you touched students who were not only silent but strong. Jackie and Grace, your energy and wit offered the students a vibrant hope while dealing with difficult times. David, your passion for the students revealed how they admired, listened and loved you. Bianca, thank you for your dedication to being the coordinator bridging leadership and CSU mentor/femtor’s efforts to the high school students with care for students’ engagement in class.

Dra. Salazar seated near a Japanese cherry blossom.Guadalupe Salazar, Ph.D., director of El Centro: Congratulations and I am so proud of you. I knew you would make it and never doubted you for a second. You worked hard and made it happen for you and your family. Never forget your roots and thank your ancestors for being resistant and showing you your cultural wealth. You are a product of their resistance and aspirational hope. This I know for sure. Amigas/os take care and I know we will always be there for you. And remember the strength you bring to your future is in the depth of who you are; “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” Mexican Proverb

Dr. Antonette Aragón in a pink sweater.Antonette Aragón, Ph.D., associate professor, School of Education: Together as both Caminos femtors/mentors and Caminos high school students you all related to one another through common bonds as students of color in our society. Your dedication to Caminos helped build our program through many discussions, questions, trust, and robust energy. In our program I hope you will always know how you are mirrors through the “In Lak Ech’ ” Mayan poem:

Tu eres mi otro yo/You are my other me

Si te hago daño a ti/If I do harm to you

Me hago daño a mi mismo/I do harm to myself

Si te amo y respeto/If I love and respect you

Me amo y respeto yo/I love and respect myself.

I can’t thank you enough for all of your cariño (caring), corazón (heart) and generosity of your spirit as you contributed to making Los Caminos into the loving familia (family) and program it is. Gracias por todo (thank you for all)!

I am thrilled because you all have worked so hard to complete your degree, meeting deadlines, being flexible through this trying time, and completing this important step to your important future. And I am sad because I will miss your smiles and energy brought to the students and our community. As you move on, I know without a doubt that your dedication and determination will bring forth embers of hope in our communities as you embark on this new stage of achievement.

Dra. Vega wears a turquoise shawl.Christine Vega, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow in the School of Education: You did it! iFelicidades! iSí se puede! We are very proud of you and your commitment to this important work in our community. This is only the beginning of your transformative life. Carry this work with you and accountability to your mission and vision filled with love. Remember, you have your ancestors behind you, and also, a community we co-created together by opening Caminos for you and others! As you move forward, always remember “each one, teach one”; bring someone with you, and share your knowledge, palabra (word), and wisdom.