Scholar Highlights

Andréa Benton Mestas, a 1989 Boettcher Scholar, has given back to her home community of Alamosa for more than two decades in various roles at Adams State University. Currently the Title V activities director, Andréa focuses on Hispanic student success by using her own story of overcoming challenges as a Hispanic scholar. Andréa was a first-generation college student who grew up in a very low-income area. In fact, the two counties where she has spent the majority of her life are among the two poorest in Colorado. The full-ride to any Colorado university was appealing, but it was more than just the financial incentive that motivated Andréa to apply for the Boettcher Scholarship. “I remember looking over the application and how it mentioned looking for students who were giving back to the community, or ‘paying it forward,’” recalls Andréa. “I liked that the Boettcher Foundation really wanted to encourage young people to help grow Colorado.” Receiving the Boettcher Scholarship expanded opportunities for Andréa and allowed her to attend the University of Northern Colorado—an opportunity she would not otherwise have had. Beyond that, it allowed her to be a “part of something bigger.” “I honestly feel a swell of pride when I walk into the history museum and see a Boettcher Foundation plaque, or meet another scholar,” she said. Andréa was motivated to move forward and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in mathematics, despite numerous challenges, including having her son during her junior year of college. She soon returned to the San Luis Valley, where she was hired in the computing services department at Adams State University. Happy to have returned home, to be giving back to her community and to be close to her family, Andréa continued moving up at Adams State. She was soon hired as the Institutional Research Director, and was encouraged by the provost to enroll in the higher education administration and leadership master’s degree program. Andréa graduated with her master’s in 2012, again at the top of her class with a 4.0. “I loved that I was modeling how great it is to continue your education for my daughter,” Andréa said. “I started my master’s as she was finishing her senior year in high school.” Andréa realized that she loved teaching and developing curriculum, and she also loved serving Hispanic students, which led her to her current role in equity work and working with Adams State’s Title V grant. After attending a cultural workshop at the Hilos Institute, which teaches leadership skills to Hispanic communities, Andréa and some of her colleagues decided to pool their resources and bring that same type of curriculum to their students. Together they developed the curriculum and received grant funding to start teaching students. The course was incredibly successful, but soon the grant funding had run out. Around that time, Andréa happened to be at a Boettcher Foundation event where she connected with Kenzo Kawanabe, a 1990 Boettcher Scholar, a Boettcher Foundation Trustee and a fellow Alamosa native. Interested in giving back to his home community too, Kenzo provided the matching funds, which enabled Adams State to secure a National Heritage Area Grant and allowed the course to continue. Not only is this impacting students on a daily basis, but it has raised awareness statewide about the cultural richness in the valley. “I have a passion for education and for being able to help people out through a career in public service,” Andréa explained.      ...

Matt Iritani has always wanted to be a dentist. In fact, before he could sign his own name, Matt used crayons to draw a picture of himself as a dentist—a picture that he has kept all these years as a reminder of his lifelong goal. A 2011 Boettcher Scholar, Matt attended Cherry Creek High School, just blocks from his parents’ dental practice. “People often don’t like going to the dentist, but they loved my parents,” recalls Matt. His parents valued being involved in the community where they practiced and getting to know their patients beyond the dentist’s chair. “Still, my parents go to patients’ swim meets, softball games, my mom even has patients fly in from Alaska to see her,” said Matt. “I like the idea of developing relationships with my own patients and being able to volunteer and be involved in the community the way my parents have.” Currently, Matt is in dental school at the University of Colorado Denver, where his dad teaches in the program. “One of the coolest aspects of dental school is actually getting to talk with my parents about the profession,” Matt said. Being able to talk to his dad, share techniques and talk about advances in dentistry is one of Matt’s favorite parts of his chosen path. With each semester of dental school that passes, despite challenging classes, he is reassured that this is the right profession for him. “I get this feeling that this is where I am supposed to be and this is what I am supposed to do,” said Matt. “It is a little surreal, kind of like a Hollywood movie.” After Matt earns his dental degree, he plans to continue his studies in an orthodontics residency, and to eventually open his own practice in Colorado, likely close to where he grew up. But in the meantime, when he is not mounting stone models of mouths, Matt volunteers at a student-run medical clinic in Aurora, as well as Children’s Hospital. He’s also active in the Japanese-American community, and on the UCD campus, where he values giving back. “I am an upperclassman, and it's now my turn to pass on some of what I've learned,” Matt said. “The Boettcher Foundation obviously provides us with a lot of opportunities [as scholars], and I am finally beginning to feel like I am in the position to pay it forward.” Matt makes sure to share both his time as a volunteer, as well as his ever-positive attitude. Perhaps that’s why his friends, fellow classmates and even his professors have nicknamed him “Smiley.” Even during the most difficult weeks of school, Matt never loses his smile, and aims to help brighten other people’s day. “You might have a really tough day, the procedure is not working out the way you want it to or a professor might be chewing you out, but don't get down on yourself,” Matt likes to remind his friends. “We all have those days.”  ...

Professor, school board member, entrepreneur and puppy trainer. Any of these roles could be a full-time gig for most people, but in true Boettcher Scholar style, JulieMarie Shepherd Macklin finds a way to juggle all of these and more. A 2004 Boettcher Scholar from Hinkley High School in Aurora, JulieMarie was recently hired as an instructor in the Presidents Leadership Class at the University of Colorado. The new role marks another step in a career path that has centered around community engagement and leadership. JulieMarie studied political science at CU, where she also participated in the Presidents Leadership Class. Her plan was to go to law school, but an internship at the Colorado State Capitol sparked a passion for politics while also leading to a paid staff position for two legislative sessions. She ultimately pursued both a master’s degree and Ph.D., focusing her research on American politics at the state and local level. In addition to writing her doctoral dissertation on school boards in Colorado, JulieMarie campaigned for and was elected to the board of Aurora Public Schools in 2009. She continues to serve in that role, which she describes as both incredibly demanding and extremely rewarding. “It’s been a hard time to be in the education space,” she acknowledged, noting that budget cuts have meant that much of her time is spent trying to determine how to balance dwindling budgets with minimal impact on students.” The rewards, however, show up when JulieMarie attends high school graduations, helping to present diplomas to eager graduates. “Getting to shake their hands as they walk across the stage, that is one of the most important and most impactful things I get to do,” she said. “That’s where you get to see that decision-making, and all of the structures and policies we put in place come together.” During her tenure on the school board, JulieMarie served board as president for three years. She currently serves as president of the Colorado Association of School Boards. She has managed to do all this while also holding a full-time job. She spent three years as a researcher for the Spark Policy Institute before joining the staff at the Colorado Department of Education. She left the Department of Education to take on her new role at CU. JulieMarie is eager to share her passion for public service, and she recently participated in a panel for members of the Boettcher Scholar community who were interested in pursuing public service. When asked to offer advice for people interested in public service, she noted that there are numerous opportunities to be involved and serve your community. “People equate (public service) with elected office but there are so many meaningful ways to serve that aren’t elected,” she said. “Look for different boards and commissions. Most communities are in need of committed and informed citizens to serve in these roles.” She also advises not getting discouraged if you run for a position and aren’t elected, as was her own experience when she ran for the Colorado State Legislature two years ago. In addition to her busy schedule as a college professor and school board member, JulieMarie also operates a small business selling custom-decorated sugar cookies. The business, Frosted Jules LLC, is an outgrowth of one of her favorite hobbies. While she typically only handles two to three orders per month, each order usually takes upwards of four days from start to finish. JulieMarie also raises guide dog puppies. She and her husband, Michael Macklin, also have two of their own dogs, who she refers to as “career-changers” because they weren’t good fits as guide dogs. Raising guide dogs has been a constant since JulieMarie was a student, and she distinctly remembers bringing one of her earliest trainees to her Boettcher Scholarship interview, which she considers a major turning point in her life. “Boettcher made me who I am today,” she said. “Receiving the Boettcher Scholarship was such an amazing gift and honor. Not having to think about finances allowed me to focus and take advantage of college experience, be involved in clubs, travel, take extra classes – it opened up opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.”      ...

A fortuitous speaker lineup helped Boettcher Scholar Leigh Gillette reconnect with the Boettcher Foundation and launch a second career as a teacher in Durango. Leigh, a 1989 Boettcher Scholar from Colorado Springs, spent her career as an environmental educator, helping people to understand and appreciate the world around them. While it was a rewarding role that had taken her around the state, she wanted to engage more directly with students and spend more time in Durango, where she had been working as an educator for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “I’ve always been curious and a bit jealous of teachers and the relationships they can build with students,” Leigh said. “They have the luxury of time to work with students for a whole year.” Leigh began to seriously consider a career change when was speaking at a conference of superintendents in the San Luis Valley. She was listed on the agenda immediately after a presentation by the Boettcher Teacher Residency. “I heard their presentation, and I just knew that was the direction I would be taking,” The Boettcher Teacher Residency, funded by the Boettcher Foundation and operated by PEBC, the Public Education and Business Coalition, prepares people to have exceptional teaching careers through a hands-on master’s degree program. Boettcher Teachers are placed in classrooms with mentor teachers, allowing them to develop classroom experience from the start. Leigh explored the possibility of pursuing an alternative teacher licensure but wanted the professional support provided by a residency model. “The Boettcher Teacher Residency just seemed to be everything I needed,” she said, adding that her prior experience as a Boettcher Scholar offered an extra level of confidence. “Seeing the Boettcher name attached to the program sealed the deal for me. I knew it was going to be great.” While the Boettcher Teacher Residency is still relatively new compared to the scholarship program, Leigh is the second Boettcher Scholar who has entered the program and gone on to become a classroom teacher. She said that being a Boettcher Scholar enabled her to attend Colorado College without the burden of figuring out how to pay for it or graduating with debt. That freedom allowed her to accept her first environmental educator role at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Center in Northern Minnesota, even though the position only paid for her room and board. She went on to hold a variety of environmental educator roles, eventually taking her to Aspen and then to Durango, where she worked at the nonprofit Durango Nature Studies before joining the Colorado Division of Wildlife. After entering the Boettcher Teacher Residency, Leigh spent the year teaching sixth-grade science at Miller Middle School in Durango, a position she will return to next school year. As a newly minted-teacher, Leigh is eager to give back to Colorado by educating the next generation of students. “Personally I feel like I’m maintaining that Boettcher mentality of giving back to the state that has supported me so much,” she said.  ...

Though you may have never seen Dee Bradley Baker, a 1981 Boettcher Scholar from Greeley, you’ve likely heard his voice. As a voice actor, Dee has brought literally thousands of characters to life, including animals in Disney’s latest The Jungle Book, Perch Perkins in Spongebob Squarepants, Klaus the German fish in American Dad, Fish in the Boxtrolls and even Daffy Duck and Tasmanian Devil in the 1996 movie Space Jam. Dee’s voice acting career has now spanned three decades, but as a Boettcher Scholar at Colorado College, he never planned on being an actor. In June, Dee visited the Boettcher Foundation office, where he talked about the impact of receiving the Boettcher Scholarship. He also treated the staff to a variety of his most famous character voices and entertaining sound effects. (Check out the video below for Dee's voice acting tips and creature noises that actually scared our office neighbors). “The reason I can do what I do now is from the education that I was allowed,” said Dee. “I always liked animals, monsters, biology and arts. I’m a liberal arts poster child.” Attending college as a Boettcher Scholar, Dee was able to take classes in a variety of areas and explore all of his passions. His majors reflected his top interests: philosophy, biology and German. Now, he’s able to apply all of those degrees daily in his career. His knowledge of biology gives him insight into how non-humans communicate, and his German shines through in Klaus, a character that was originally intended to be French until Dee auditioned as German. “Happily with a Boettcher scholarship I emerged into the real world debt-free, which allowed me to not freak out, and not enter the world with a sense of fearfulness or dread like many students unfortunately do,” said Dee. After college, Dee began doing musical theater and singing telegrams in Colorado Springs. He also did amateur stand-up, finding inspiration in Monty Python and Steve Martin. He discovered his comedic niche in making “weird sounds.” “I had no acting goals and didn’t think about it as a career. I just liked it,” said Dee, slipping into his best Beetlejuice voice. A few years later, Dee performed in Disney World Shows, including Beetlejuice, and finally made his way to L.A. to perform in his first show, Legends of the Hidden Temple, an action-adventure game show for children on Nickelodeon. From there, he continued honing his craft, becoming a go-to-guy for character voices in movies, animated shows and even video games. Though he has tried on-screen acting, Dee has always preferred voice-acting, which he thinks is in-part due to his Colorado roots. “Voice acting has more anonymity and fewer liabilities. As an actor, you can end up with a somewhat insane life,” explained Dee, “And that’s what I like about coming back to Colorado. It’s nice to reset yourself to your roots and your ‘normal.’” Dee appreciates the focus on community, quality of life, rationality and sense of health that is present in Colorado. “Plus, it feels like home to me,” said Dee, even though he’s now lived in L.A. for half of his life. While in Colorado, Dee also has the opportunity to spend time with his family and practice his hobbies—insect and flower photography, learning to play bass so that he can combine 70’s funk with the music of Bach and his most recent pursuit of studying American history to better understand the current political climate. “I love taking pictures of bugs and flowers. I am amateur but I love the feeling that I am walking past a poem,” Dee said while buzzing like a bee. During his time in Hollywood, Dee has seen many actors give-in to Hollywood pressures, which is why he operates a free informational website where he shares his experience and tips for young people interested in voice acting. “You don’t solve your life by gaining fame or money. Ultimately it’s what you stand for and how you treat people.” Dee said. And for Boettcher Scholars, his advice is to take risks and to trust yourself. “The Boettcher Foundation gave me the gift of freedom of mind space. I was able to graduate college with those tools to try things and to not be afraid of failure. I always say: Find your career at an intersection of what you love and what you’re good at (so good that people will actually pay you money to do it). You may not yet know what that is and finding it may take years of trial and error. Trust yourself. I was an amateur actor until my late 20s.” ...

The vote of confidence inherent in being named a Boettcher Scholar allowed Tracy Wahl to feed her curiosity, search for her “inner spark” and eventually find her place as executive producer for editorial franchises at NPR. Tracy, a 1986 Boettcher Scholar, has worked at NPR in Washington, D.C. for twenty years, but still feels a strong connection to her Colorado roots. “My job is incredible, but my heart will always be in Colorado,” said Tracy. The daughter of a federal hydrologist, Tracy spent much of her childhood moving around the country, but her parents always wanted to settle in Colorado to be close to Tracy’s grandparents. By the time she entered high school, Tracy’s family permanently relocated to Arvada. From there, Tracy attended the University of Colorado and majored in communication, forming a tight network with her fellow Boettcher Scholars. “When I was at CU, Boettcher Scholars seemed to gravitate toward each other,” said Tracy. “When I met someone who was a Boettcher Scholar, I knew there was something special about them. I knew we’d share a common bond—openness and curiosity.” Tracy’s unique view of the world and desire to explore prompted her to move to Tokyo—without a job—after graduating college. She attributes part of that fearlessness to the confidence that came from being named a scholar as an eighteen-year-old. While in Japan, Tracy helped to open a library that catered to local English teachers. She contributed to the procurement of books and partnerships, and to designing the store, which later turned into a multi-million dollar company. When she returned to the U.S. to attend graduate school, Tracy volunteered at a radio station and learned to cut tape. “At the time, that was the type of skill you needed to get in the door at media companies,” Tracy remembered. It was because of that skill that NPR hired Tracy as a temp. She worked the overnight edition—a shift that had less-than-glamorous hours. Soon after, she began working for the Morning Edition. While her then-boss was receiving chemotherapy treatments, Tracy acted as interim executive producer. “I was definitely punching above my weight, but I knew I needed to keep the show going at the highest-quality and give my boss time to recover,” Tracy said. As a result of her hard work and ability to handle stress, Tracy was later hired as the permanent executive producer of the Morning Edition. In her current role, Tracy supports the various public radio member stations across the country by helping to connect them both with their local and national communities. Just like in college, Tracy is ever-motivated by curiosity—a value she tries to infuse into her work at NPR every day. Similarly, she encourages others to pursue opportunities that “light your inner spark.” In her spare time, Tracy enjoys researching outlets for storytelling. Her favorites: Instagram and Netflix. “Part of my job is to see how storytelling is done on different platforms,” Tracy said. She especially enjoys social photography and the value of a community of people who come together to share their passion in a creative way. Even from outside Colorado, Tracy feels tied to her Boettcher community. “I still love forming relationships with scholars and I think we can all have an increased impact on our world if we’re connected,” she said. Currently, Tracy helps the Boettcher community build these relationships by serving on the Boettcher Scholar Alumni Board....

Arnold Chacon leads an agency responsible for such high-stakes, far-reaching work as negotiations with Iran to reach a nuclear agreement, opening a new chapter in the United States’ relationship with the Cuban people, combating terrorists linked to ISIS and forging international alliances to mitigate the effects of climate change. He admits that his early experiences did not necessarily make him a natural for a career in diplomacy, but a love of public service and a desire to give back propelled him to his current role as Director General of the United States Foreign Service. A 1974 Boettcher Scholar, Arnold Chacon has led a life of service ever since he was in college, free to explore his passion for diplomacy without the burden of paying college tuition. A Denver native, Arnold attended North High School and later University of Colorado Boulder, where he was part of the President’s Leadership Class and majored in international studies. “Initially, I believed that the best way to help my community was to become a doctor, hence my seven summers doing volunteer work in Central America providing children with vaccinations and other public health services,” said Arnold. While based in Central America, he worked closely with U.S. development workers and diplomats, which inspired him to consider a new field of study. “I was smitten by the possibility of service abroad, switched my major to international affairs, joined the Foreign Service and found my calling in public service,” said Arnold. As a diplomat, he was posted in Honduras, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Italy and Spain, as well as in the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. His domestic assignments in Washington D.C. included service as Deputy Executive Secretary for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. As part of her team, Arnold traveled extensively to the Middle East, Europe and Asia. He also served as the American Ambassador to Guatemala prior to becoming Director General. “Those of us in Foreign Service work to help shape a peaceful, prosperous, just and democratic world. The painstaking work of a diplomat, especially in the current international environment of fear and daunting challenges, is a privilege and high honor,” said Arnold. Though Arnold has a deep-seated service ethic, he would not have predicted his extensive career in government. “My family was among the first Spanish and Mexican settlers in Colorado and New Mexico. For generations very few people in my family traveled far from home. Nothing in my background and working class upbringing would have suggested that a diplomatic career was in my future,” said Arnold. His roots are what motivated him to work hard in school, give back to his community and apply for the Boettcher Scholarship. “The Boettcher scholarship allowed me to indulge my passion for international travel and take advantage of volunteer internship opportunities, which would have been difficult if not impossible had I needed to finance my education. The prestige and support inherent in a Boettcher scholarship opened many doors to me as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, giving me the confidence, mentorship support and leadership skills I needed to succeed academically and professionally,” Arnold said. In his free time, Arnold enjoys gardening, hiking and spending time and traveling with his wife and three children. His wife, originally from Honduras, is also a member of the U.S. Foreign Service. His oldest daughter is an attorney in Silicon Valley, and his younger daughter is helping to develop a new museum at the State Department called the U.S. Diplomacy Center. His son is an economics and philosophy major at the University of Chicago, and plans to go into public service as well. Arnold has been serving his country for nearly four decades, and is still fueled by the same passion that inspired him to join the Foreign Service. “I’m passionate about educating students, especially students from historically underrepresented communities, about the different opportunities in the State Department and at our embassies overseas,” he said. When asked what advice he would give to current Boettcher Scholars, Arnold said “follow your dreams and ‘go long.’ Whether you are overcoming ordinary life challenges or extraordinary hurdles and circumstances, if you dream big—and complement that dream with grit and perseverance—big things will happen. You will certainly lose nothing, and possibly gain an extraordinary life.”        ...

Jack Pottle, a 1973 Boettcher Scholar, has helped shape some of Colorado’s top industries—from working in cable to providing homes for some of Denver’s trendiest new restaurants. And though Jack has called Colorado home for his entire life, he likely would not still be here without the Boettcher Scholarship. A Denver native, Jack Pottle attended Kennedy High school. Like many Boettcher Scholars, he originally planned to attend college out of state, setting his sights on a liberal arts college in California. “I hadn’t even applied to Colorado College, but after receiving the scholarship, it turned out that CC was an extraordinary place to go to school,” Jack said. Being a liberal arts major, Jack jokes that he could not decide what to do, which has led him to have five distinct careers. After graduating from CC, Jack began his career in the research and consulting business. Soon after, he began a career in cable, at the time when the growing industry made Denver the “cable capital of the world”, by joining Rifkin Communications as vice president of operations. He continued his tenure in cable as the president and chief operating officer of Fanch Communications. After selling the company in 1999, Jack joined the competitive telephone business, an industry he considers both very challenging and very rewarding. After selling that company in 2006, Jack became a managing partner at Viridian Investment Partners, a firm specializing in private equity. Currently, in his fifth career, Jack works to redevelop and repurpose old, historic buildings in North Denver. Recently, he helped to transform one of Denver’s historic brothels into Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox restaurant in the LoDo neighborhood, as well as redeveloping Cobbler’s Corner in the Sunnyside neighborhood. And still, Jack prioritizes community service and the spirit of giving back. “I think the fact that I am still in Colorado now is because of receiving the scholarship, and I think it also instilled in me a desire to give back.” His community involvement has primarily focused on education. He has served on the boards of the Young Americans National Bank, Colorado College and now Escuela de Guadalupe—a dual language school in Denver, whose mission is to develop its students into compassionate leaders. “I came from a family of educators, which taught me the importance of education and that there is no “magic ticket” in life, but that receiving an education is as close to one as it gets,” Jack said. It is that idea that fueled him during his own education, and has inspired him to help shape education in Colorado....