Published: Oct. 2, 2023

By Joe Arney

A desire to learn, a chance to chase his dream job, the opportunity to develop new skills—for Leopoldo Rivera IV, all of those were important reasons to attend college. 

Students in a circle toss a beach ball back and forth during orientation.But for the first-generation CMCI student from northern Colorado, a major reason is family. Rivera is the oldest of four who is working to set a strong example for his siblings while honoring the memory of his mother, who died 10 years ago. 

“My mom put a lot of expectations on me as the oldest, but I tried to embrace that,” said Rivera, a first-year journalism student. “She taught me to work hard, study hard and do what it takes to succeed. I wanted to make her proud by being the first in my family to attend.” 

Rivera joins an impressive class of first-year students at the College of Media, Communication and Information. It’s the largest and academically strongest class in the college’s history. 

“There’s no better way to get inspired by the work we do at CMCI than to hear from our students, especially our Class of 2027,” said Lori Bergen, founding dean of the college. “It’s so rewarding to meet our new students and appreciate the academic aptitude, diversity of backgrounds and passion for learning they bring to our growing community.”

First-year class is 20% larger

New students seated in a circle during orientation get to know one another.Rivera brings extensive sportswriting experience to Boulder, including two years at his hometown newspaper, and hopes CMCI helps him discover how to develop his voice so he can land his dream job on a show like ESPN’s “First Take.” 

This year’s incoming first-year class is made up of 390 new students, a 20% increase over last year and well above the 2019 high-water mark of 341. Nearly 24% come from diverse or underrepresented backgrounds, an improvement over last year’s 19.8% percent. 

Meanwhile, the average first-year student has a high school GPA of 3.68, a slight increase from last year, and while standardized test results are no longer required as part of an application, the average ACT of 28.2 is the highest score yet.

“I feel like I truly belong at CU Boulder,” he said. “I want to learn as much as I can at CMCI so I can create my own legacy.” 

Cincinnati native Zach Giesenschlag, who plans to study communication at CMCI, said CU Boulder is a sort of homecoming. Though he has no family here, his parents got engaged in Colorado, and after growing up in the heartland, the skier and photographer wanted to be near the mountains.

“Location was important to me, and I heard so many good things about CMCI when I was looking at programs,” he said. 

Students walk into the Byron White Club as orientation activities get underway.Like many students enrolling from out of state, Giesenschlag has relished the chance to meet new people, both through CommRAP, the college’s residential academic program, and activities like Sko Buffs Sports; he’s already had the chance to anchor the club’s live show. If he continues to pursue that, he may be following in the footsteps of his father, who has worked in broadcast journalism for years. 

“It’s a hard industry to get into, so another reason I’m happy to be here are the experiences I can get and connections I can make,” he said. 

‘Why would I want to be anywhere else?’

Caroline Pellerito brings a unique set of experiences to CMCI—she deferred her admission a year to skate with Disney on Ice, giving her the opportunity to see the country and understand that she was a brand ambassador for a major corporation during the experience. 

Both reasons helped bring her here to study strategic communication.

Pellerito, of Vail, missed her family while she was on the road, so she’s grateful to be closer to home as a student. “And I spent a lot of time in random cities, which was fun, but it helps you appreciate that Colorado is the best,” she said. “Why would I want to be anywhere else?”

“I’d like to become a person who can speak up for others who don’t have a voice. I hope being at CMCI helps me get to where I want to be.”
    Diego Simental

Seeing how Feld Entertainment—which produces Disney on Ice—approaches public relations up close gave her an idea that she might enjoy that as a career. While she’d love to return to Disney on Ice after graduation, perhaps in a PR-focused role, for now, she’s most excited to study abroad. 

For Isabella Herrera, a first-generation student from Aurora, it was CU Boulder’s culture that stood out when she was considering colleges. As she talked about CMCI’s precollegiate programs—she completed both Pathways and Connections—her phone intermittently buzzed with text messages from her new friends, proof she’s already feeling at home.

A student holds a beach ball while answering a question at orientation.“I’d love to study and maybe get an internship in London,” Pellerito said. “I’m so excited to put myself out there and spend more time in such an incredible city.” 

“I met two of my best friends in Pathways, and we go to class every day together,” she said. 

Herrera earned multiple scholarships to attend CU Boulder, which she said have offered her the freedom to explore the different opportunities at CMCI. A media production student, she’s already started working as a stage production assistant at Macky Auditorium. 

“My scholarships have helped me be more open minded—I was able to look for jobs that were more about the experience I could get, as opposed to just needing the money,” she said. “I’m spending more time making friends and less time worrying about how to pay for school.” 

The community was also instrumental in helping Julia Zentmyer feel at home on campus. The Madison, Wisconsin, native made fast friends with her roommate, “who has been really nice to me,” she said. “I’ve started meeting new people through her, which has helped me feel more at home on such a large campus—whether we’re going to the Rec Center or Red Rocks.” 

A strategic communication major, Zentmyer liked that CMCI would allow her to explore both her interests in business and communication—and the great outdoors. She’s already fallen in love with hiking at nearby Chautauqua and looks forward to exploring more—both on the trails and in her classes.

A Super calling

Ranney Willis, meanwhile, followed his older sister, Matilda, to CU—but in a way, he was following Superman, who unexpectedly became the subject of a guest lecture by Rick Stevens, associate dean of undergraduate education and associate professor of media studies. 

“I got to learn about how pop culture has an actual effect in the world, which is how I got interested in CMCI,” Willis said. “My parents and I got a chance to speak with professor Stevens afterward, and the first thing I asked was whether there are jobs in this.”

Two female first-year students pose outdoors on their first day of class.Willis, who is majoring in media studies, is interested in one day working in a studio that specializes in video games or animation. He’s already tried out to compete in esports with the CU Gaming club.

“The community at CU is big—but that’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s nice to know I’m not alone in the journey of exploration and discovery that I’m on.”

Diego Simental is a new student who isn’t new to campus—he first visited CU Boulder in the seventh grade. The Commerce City native and first-generation student was the anchor of his high school’s news program, and is studying journalism in the hopes of becoming a newscaster. 

A highlight of his own Pathways experience was the chance to visit the local CBS station in Denver during a trip to the city over the summer.

“I’d like to become a person who can speak up for others who don’t have a voice,” Simental said. “I hope being at CMCI helps me get to where I want to be.” 

Unsurprisingly, another first-year personality helped draw plenty of students to CU’s Class of 2027. For Rivera, the aspiring sports journalist, Deion Sanders’ arrival at Folsom Field “was kind of the last calling.”

“I listened to Coach Prime’s press conference, and he said something like, this is the place to be, and the time to be here is now,” Rivera said. “And I thought, I want to be a part of this, because this is history in the making. I don’t know how, but I want to be a part of it.” 

Snapshot: CMCI’s incoming class

CMCI welcomed 390 new first-year students to its Class of 2027, but the total incoming student population—when you include 59 undergraduate transfer students and 52 graduate students—is 501. That total eclipses the total incoming class of 442 last year and is well above the previous high of 468, recorded in 2019.