A first-generation, low income, student Angelica Valdez was in Upward Bound when she began her Adams State University great story. The federally funded program not only enabled the San Luis Valley native to realize her academic goals but also laid the foundation for her professional career.
Angelica Valdez will accept the 2022 Adams State Outstanding Alumna during the annual Homecoming Alumni Banquet on October 7, in the Student Union Building.
Not only the first in her family to attend college but the first to graduate high school, Angelica Valdez, Class of 1998 and 2008, smiles over her chai latte on a cool summer morning at Milagros Coffee House in Alamosa, Colo., as she answers questions about her close association with Adams State and Upward Bound.
Seated at the small round table, her bright red dress accents her dark hair and her intelligent brown eyes express strong emotions as she recalls her Adams State mentors. In particular Dr. Ted McNeilsmith (emeritus professor of sociology); and Dr. Clarence Parks (the late emeritus professor of sociology), left lasting impressions.
“They (McNeilsmith and Parks) were so good to me,” Angelica Valdez recalls. Dr. Parks and his wife, who was Angelica’s middle school English teacher, took a personal interest in her. Dr. Parks often held her up as an example in the classroom and the couple even invited her over for family traditions, including decorating the Christmas tree.
Her relationship with Dr. McNeilsmith continued after graduation; he was a frequent visitor to the Upward Bound Office, bringing newspaper articles that mentioned Valdez. “Ted always encouraged my goals and dreams. He and Dr. Parks were so kind and genuinely interested in my future. I was blessed to have people like that in my life. They were very instrumental in my love for Adams State.”
Angelica Valdez grew up in the San Luis Valley and understood first-hand the challenges students in the Upward Bound program face, low-income and first-generation in particular. “When you grow up with a low income and think about life, you aspire to be rich, without really knowing what that means. The environment I grew up in and my trajectory didn’t provide any guidelines and what I saw on television seemed like a fantasy. You say the word ‘rich’ without anything tied to it.
“For me, at 46, it means all the people who have always looked out for me and I am rich in relationships. I can’t explain how people like them came into my life but I am so glad they exist in this world and I am so glad they were looking out for me.”
Angelica Valdez began her professional career with the Adams State TRIO programs (Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search, and Student Support Services) as a student and was promoted to Director over the Upward Bound program in 2008, Executive Director in 2014 and added Upward Bound Math and Science in 2017. “Working at Adams State, I would ask for additional support to add to our TRIO programs. I am not afraid of the word no, and if we didn’t have the resources before, it wouldn’t hurt to ask. So often, Upward Bound champions Ken Marquez (Adams State Class of 1987 and 1994, and former VP of Student Affairs) and Bill Mansheim (former VP of finance and administration) would say, ‘Let’s try it.’”
Adding the Upward Bound Math and Science program and continuously writing to increase the capacity of students the programs could serve, Angelica increased the number of students from 94, when she accepted the position as director, to 174. She also involved 11 San Luis Valley schools with the UB Math and Science grant, up from 7 before her tenure.
“Our graduates frequently doubled the national graduation rate for first-generation students and over 200 matriculated to Adams State, during my time as executive director. My intention has always been to be the best ally for students. Working with the Upward Bound students taught me grace and humility. Sometimes I got it right and sometimes, I needed to grow and learn. I will always be appreciative of all the Upward Bound students who granted me invitation into their educational experiences.”
This year, the Upward Bound program celebrates 50 years on the Adams State campus and Angelica Valdez appreciated the 32 years her predecessor, the late Mike Garcia, Adams State Class of 1973 and 1977, dedicated to the program. He retired as the director of Adams State Upward Bound in 2008. “He built such a strong foundation that made it easy for me to grow the program. I appreciated Mike for providing his staff with ownership of their work which helped prepare me to take over the program when he retired.”
As a new supervisor, Angelica Valdez recognized that TRIO programs don’t have a lot of money for competitive wages. “It is more of a stepping stone than a career path. It took trial and error, but I realized that I could mold positions and career growth and provide opportunities for their career health. I adapted and learned to meet the challenges as a supervisor.”
She continues to stress the importance of relationships as her career trajectory continues along the path of service. “Relationships, from platonic to romantic, are much more important than you think or believe.” She encourages empathy for others. “Everyone is trying the best they can. Until the narrative changes, the story stays the same, when you allow yourself to see another’s perspective, that is when the narrative will shift and a new approach can be found.”
Always, Angelica Valdez will advocate for Adams State and its students. “The other Angelicas out there need it and our community needs Adams State.”
Her husband, Armando Valdez, Adams State emeritus associate professor of management, nominated Angelica Valdez for 2022 Outstanding Alumna Award. “We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.”
June 2014-Present Valdez Land and Livestock, LLC, Managing Member
March 2022-Present: The Colorado Trust, Regional Manager
March 2016-Present: AVAWise Consulting, Lead Consultant
December 2018-Present: Colorado State University, Priority 1 – Trainer Federal TRIO Programs
June 2008-November 2021: Adams State University, Executive TRIO Director
August 2014-July 2015: Adams State University, Ph.D. in counselor education (paused)
May 2008: Adams State University, Master of Arts in community counseling; Summa Cum Laude
August 1998: Adams State University, Bachelor of Arts in psychology and sociology; Cum Laude
2017-2021: Member Adams State University LATINX
2020-2021: Founder and Member Adams State University First-Generation Task Force
2020-2021: Founder and Member Rocky Mountain Upward Bound Consortium
2020-2022: Board Member/Treasurer Center for Restorative Programs
Lead Grant Writer: U.S. Department of Education Upward Bound Math & Science, 2017, 2021
Lead Grant Writer: U.S. Department of Education Upward Bound, 2005, 2007, 2012, 2016, 2022
Contributing Grant Writer: U.S. Department of Education Upward Bound, 88 Awarded, $185,000,000, Funded, 2022
Lead Grant Writer: Colorado Summer Food Service, Awarded, 2008-2022
Lead Grant Writer: U.S. Department of Education Student Support Services, 2014, 2019