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Special Education Graduate Deeply Committed to Helping Those Who Need the Most Help

Recién graduado en Educación Especial, comprometido a ayudar a quienes más lo necesitan

Studying at the University of Northern Colorado changed Fernando Beltran’s life. And now he is committed to changing the lives of others.


Blue graduation cap.Take a deeper look at four other exceptional graduates who forged different paths and obstacles to reach their goals.

Studying at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) changed Fernando Beltran’s life. And now he is committed to changing the lives of others.

Beltran is graduating this spring from the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in Special Education K-12 with a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Education endorsement. He was born in León, Guanajuato, México, and arrived in the United States at 6 with his parents and has lived in Greeley ever since.

After experiencing challenges as an undocumented student, he has now found what makes him happy, teaching students with cognitive and physical disabilities.

Since he was young, Beltran had to grow up without the presence of his parents. His mother was deported in 2006 during one of the largest workplace immigration raids in U.S. history. His dad some years later, leaving Beltran (12) alone with his brother Daniel (17) and his sister Adriana (15).

“It took a lot of self-discipline to get through school because I also started to work at a very young age to help out my sister,” said Beltran. “Some of my teachers demanded me to only speak English to them, and it was difficult for me because I didn’t grow up speaking English. So, aside from my efforts of having to work and go to school, I also had to deal with people who were not aware of culturally diverse education.”

Just after graduating from Northridge High School in Greeley-Evans School District 6 in 2016, Beltran spoke with a UNC admissions counselor about his future and the possibility of pursuing a college degree. The counselor talked to Beltran about different resources available to him like the Cumbres program that offers scholarships and support to students who plan to become CLD teachers (teaching students whose first language isn’t English).

“Coming to UNC completely changed my life,” said Beltran. “Being a DACA recipient and the first of my family to be a [college] student, I didn’t even know if I could go to college. But the counselor explained to me that as an undocumented student, I had a lot of support from the institution.”

Related: UNC Achieves Federal Designation as Hispanic Serving Institution

Before coming to UNC, Beltran held jobs working in onion fields and cleaning the meat packing plant on night shifts. He decided that pursuing a college degree was not only going to help him find a different kind of job, but one where he could help people with fewer opportunities.

“I always wanted to be a teacher. I love to teach other people any kind of thing. So I originally signed up for an English major,” said Beltran.

But it was when Beltran talked to a Cumbres counselor who was studying Special Education that he became convinced that teaching students with a broad range of special needs was the right path for him. He wanted to give it a try, so Beltran took one special education class and immediately fell in love with the program.

“(There is) a side of me that always wants to help the ones that need the most help,” said Beltran “To be a special education teacher you need a lot of empathy and commitment because that community requires a lot of it. It takes a lot of energy from you, and I knew I wanted to help them feel part of the community.”

While he was a student at UNC, Beltran was working 12-hour shifts seven days a week, completing his practicums during the day, taking classes in the evenings, and commuting out of state to work during weekends. Although he was managing that rhythm, life presented yet another challenge when Beltran and his wife welcomed a baby girl in 2020, the summer after his 4th year of college.

“My wife and I would take turns at night to take care of our daughter, but when the semester started and I had to go back to my regular schedule, I just saw how my wife was getting exhausted,” said Beltran “I read a lot about post-partum depression, so I decided to take a break from college to help her. I also didn’t want to miss important years of my daughter’s life.”

When Beltran left college, he knew he wanted to return at some point. Three summers later, when his daughter was a little older, he was contacted by Melissa Valtierra, the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) coordinator. She invited Beltran to explore the Finish What You Started" program, which helps students go back to college to finish their degree. And this enabled Beltran to come back to UNC and pursue his dream.

Beltran, who is currently student teaching at Greeley Central High School, is not only teaching students with special needs, he is also going to graduate with the CLD endorsement. He already has a job lined up for the fall as a special education teacher at his high school alma mater, Northridge.

“Now that I reflect on how I felt when I was going to school and didn’t have CLD teachers who were actively inclusive, I have realized how important it is that UNC trains teachers to be culturally aware,” said Beltran.

“I remember how I felt, that I couldn’t be myself when I was young. I became shy and second-guessed myself all the time. Now I can be the difference for children that come from different countries.”

Beltran believes that the school district is heading in the right direction by becoming more inclusive as the population in Greeley is becoming more culturally diverse.

“I think nowadays schools at all levels are helping culturally diverse students to feel that they are part of the community, that they belong,” said the future teacher.

Beltran said he is deeply thankful to the people from the Cumbres and COSI programs and to Jennifer Lieber, Ed.D., his Special Education advisor.

“The amount of support I received from the Cumbres Program and the COSI Program is something I will forever be grateful for,” said Beltran "And I am extremely excited that I will be helping students with a broad range of special needs and students from culturally diverse backgrounds to feel part of our community.”

Beltran is also deeply thankful for the unconditional support of his family.

“I couldn’t have done this without the support of my family. My older siblings Adriana and brother Daniel were essential to my growth as a person. They provided a roof over my head, along with my brother-in-law Selbis,” said Beltran.

“The encouragement and unconditional support from my wife have been crucial to helping me finish what I started. These people [all] played a really important role throughout different stages of my life, and I am forever thankful to have such an amazing family,” he said.

UNC is deeply committed to meeting students’ financial needs. In 2022-23, 87% of all UNC undergraduate students received some type of grant or scholarship aid that does not need to be repaid.  

Fernando Beltran received the following donor-funded scholarships and UNC institutional scholarships or other federal, state or grant aid. 

  • Cumbres Scholarship
  • Leo and Gregoria Romero Scholarship
  • Walter S. Rosenberry III Cumbres Scholarship
  • Student Emergency Support Fund
  • Frances D. Gilbert Cumbres Scholarship
  • Billie John Hasenkamp Scholarship

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