By Published: Nov. 1, 2017

Scholarship recipient plans to get teaching license and help others get a good education

Higher education has always been important to Esmeralda Castillo-Cobian, an ethnic studies major at the University of Colorado Boulder. But coming from a low-income family, she sometimes felt that college was out of reach.


Esmeralda Castillo-Cobian takes a moment at the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs. At the top of the page, she poses at an event sponsored by Eye Resist featuring the activist and physicist Vandana Shiva. Photos courtesy of Esmeralda Castillo-Cobian.

"My mom calls me every night to reassure me that I belong here, even though sometimes I can’t see that myself,” Castillo-Cobian said. “Just the other night, she was telling me that she is really proud of me and that she knows how hard I have worked to get here.”

Castillo-Cobian said while her parents made her education a priority, receiving the 2017 Eagan Family Scholarship made the choice to attend CU Boulder all the easier.

The Eagan Family Endowed Scholarship provides funding to students enrolled in the Miramontes Arts and Sciences Program, which supports traditionally underrepresented and first-generation CU students as they transition from high school to college, and from college to post-graduate life. Eagan Family Scholarship recipients must have a major in the College of Arts and Sciences, be enrolled full-time, and demonstrate both academic merit and a financial need.

“(Having enough) money is always at the back of my mind, but a scholarship helps take away some of the worry about paying for tuition, food or rent,” she said.

“Receiving a scholarship makes me feel like I do have a right to this experience at CU, that I am just as deserving, that I do belong. Whether you are poor or brown, giving back to my campus community gives me an opportunity to be seen.”

Born in Mexico, Castillo-Cobian has lived most of her life in Colorado along with her two older brothers (one of whom is also a student at CU Boulder studying math). But, while scholarships helped reduce the financial barriers, cultural divides still tug at her.

“Even though I have light-skin privilege, I was still ‘the other.’ I had come from a place where I saw mostly brown people, and now on campus and in my classes, I see mostly white people. The cultural difference was huge,” she said.  

Receiving a scholarship makes me feel like I do have a right to this experience at CU, that I am just as deserving, that I do belong."

At CU Boulder, Castillo-Cobian is a member of UMAS y MEChA, a student organization for the Chicanx and Latinx communities where she has led outreach events, and Eye Resist, a student organization through CU’s Department of Ethnic Studies that examines race relations, gender issues and current events such as war. In addition, she has helped develop a summer program housed within CU Engage (a center for community-based learning) for Latino and Chicano high school students. The program is co-sponsored with UMAS and the CU School of Education.  

“My native language is Spanish, but I rarely get an opportunity to use it in my classes. Student organizations like UMAS y MEChA give me a chance to connect with people like me in social settings on campus,” she said.

Castillo-Cobian plans get her teaching license so she can teach middle and high school students in communities like the one she grew up in: Aurora, Colorado.

“In a way, my community got me (here), and I want to give back and show students that if you are given an opportunity to be in a place like CU that you can find your community and know that you belong.”