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Cynthia Duarte and the Impact of COSI

Cynthia Duarte holding up her right arm posing for a picture

May 5, 2023

When Cynthia Duarte ‘23 was in the seventh grade, her family picked up and moved from El Paso, Texas to Greeley, Colorado. Growing up, she enjoyed how green the city was, all the outdoor opportunities it offered, its proximity to Denver and Fort Collins, but at that point in time, she didn’t know it was home to her future alma mater. 

After graduating from Northridge High School, Duarte started her journey in higher education at Aims Community College, pursuing her career as a teacher. However, she quickly discovered that teaching wasn’t her calling. When a mentor suggested that her strong character, caring nature and strong-mindedness would be beneficial as a probation officer, she gave it some thought and embarked on her journey into criminal justice.  

Duarte took some time off to have her baby, a beautiful little girl, before enrolling at UNC. She wanted to get her feet under her and have the funds to support herself and her child while pursuing her degree. At a certain point, however, Duarte knew it was time to go back to school, despite not having all the funding necessary to finish. She made the decision to re-enroll for the fall of 2021. 

In a stroke of luck, Duarte attended the Mexican Independence Day celebration on campus, a rare occurrence considering most university events conflict with the time she spends caring for her daughter. Not knowing anyone, her eyes happened upon a mentor of hers chatting with another woman. She walked over and introduced herself. That moment would be the catalyst to a life-changing event.  

The woman her mentor was chatting with was Nickie Archibeque, the director of UNC’s Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) Scholars Program, and she saw that Duarte was a perfect fit for the COSI “Finish What You Started” scholarship. The scholarship was created to help Colorado residents who have left university go back to school and earn their credential or degree, Duarte's exact goals.Together Duarte and Archibeque set the wheels in motion to help her obtain the funding she’d need to return to college and achieve her dream of graduating.  

“I felt relief, honestly,” Duarte said, reminiscing about the moment she found out she was awarded the scholarship. 

Since that fateful day, Duarte’s journey hasn’t been easy. Caring for her 3-year-old daughter while attending school full-time, working and volunteering as a victim’s advocate with the Greeley Police Department has been time-consuming and difficult, but she wouldn’t change a thing. She wanted her degree so she could have a better future, but knowing her daughter is watching and following in her footsteps has given her even more motivation. 

Volunteering at the Greeley Police Department has also changed Duarte’s life for the better. She plans to continue volunteering as a victim’s advocate and hopes to secure a full-time position working there now that she’s completed her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology. Helping her community is her main goal. 

“I feel like they need a lot of bilingual people because there’s a lot of Spanish-speaking people in Greeley’s community, and I feel like there’s not a lot of help in that aspect,” Duarte says.  

The population of Spanish-speaking residents in Greeley is high, but Duarte feels the amount of support and resources available in Spanish does not adequately reflect that. Her goal is to continue supporting the Spanish-speaking community ensuring they receive representation. 

After what she says feels like no time at all, Duarte graduated this spring. 

“I feel excited and nervous, and all these feelings all at once. I saw it so far away, I remember my first days of the fall semester, I was like ‘how am I going to do this?’ Literally, I was so scared,” Duarte said, flashing back to two years ago when she first set foot on the UNC campus.  

While her time on the UNC campus comes to a close, Duarte serves as a role model for others who face challenges pursuing their dreams. Her experience goes to show that with drive, determination and a little help from a chance encounter, just about anything is possible. 

Finances are just one of the many reasons a student may not complete their degree. For many students, these hardships hinder their return to higher education and act as a barrier to the life they envision for themselves. That’s what makes scholarships like COSI so important. COSI scholarships are jointly funded by the state of Colorado and our incredibly generous donors, and they give students like Duarte the chance to better themselves, their career outcomes and the community in the process.

– written by Tamsin Fleming