As a child, Edgar Robles of Denver built bridges with popsicle sticks, reassembled broken items, and wondered about the mechanics of trains and cars. By the time he entered John F. Kennedy High School, he knew he wanted to be an engineer. No one else in his family had gone to college, though. He started to doubt if it was possible and questioned how he would pay for it.
Then, he visited the Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF) Future Center at his high school. His Future Center advisor, Renae Bruning, walked him through every step he would need to plan for and pay for college. Robles was accepted to Colorado School of Mines and graduated in 2013, thanks to financing options made possible by DSF. Today, Robles is a civil engineering associate at a firm with more than 90 offices across the United States and overseas. “If it wasn’t for the Future Center, I honestly don’t know where I would be,” Robles says.
Since 2006, DSF has been making college a possibility for Denver Public School students facing multiple barriers. The organization has awarded $36 million in scholarships to more than 6,300 DPS graduates for college degrees or certificates in skilled trades.
“Really, it’s about access,” says Lorii Rabinowitz, chief executive officer of DSF. “A lot of what we hear from students is, ‘I can’t afford it, it’s not for me,’ or ‘I’m not smart enough.’ It breaks your heart to hear it.”
DSF awards renewable scholarships—up to $4,000 per year—to any DPS student who applies and meets their requirements. (One of the requirements is applying for at least three other scholarships, to help further reduce costs.) The work of getting students to meet these requirements starts at the Future Centers, which have 12 locations inside different DPS schools, and currently serves 25 schools.
Future Center advisors work primarily with high school seniors, alongside their schools’ guidance counselors, to guide students through the college application and financial aid processes. “There’s a lot of small group work, and they can ask questions,” Rabinowitz says. “It’s an empowering experience for the students to (learn to) be in charge of getting together their transcripts and everything they need.”
The majority of DSF scholars are pursuing degrees at four-year institutions, but others can earn certificates for various trades or community college.
“Advisors meet individually with each student and ask, ‘What interests you? What do you want to explore?’ ” explains Rabinowitz. “It opens up the dialog, and (the outcome) looks so different for each student.”
Students can apply for DSF scholarships from early February to April 1.