Student Stories

Lily’Okalani Hafoka is a senior Metropolitan State University of Denver. She is majoring in Psychology and will graduate Spring 2017. She is a DSF scholar and her Colorado Challenge Counselor is Kyle Castro.

Lily’Okalani shared the following regarding her background and participation in the Colorado Challenge program.

Like many of students of color, I come from a low-income single parent household. My father was deported to Tonga when I was in middle school, and my mother was doing her best to support my siblings and me. After a while we were no longer able to afford the motel we were staying in, and ended up living out of our car. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and I stopped going to school because of our situation. Half of the year went by and I was determined not to be a dropout, so I reached out to a teacher who assisted me in enrolling back in school. Taking extra classes during the semester with courses in the summer, I was able to walk across the stage, on time, and with honors, in May of 2013.

I am a first-generation college student. I work full-time, and the majority of my academic career I took 18 credits per semester to ensure that I would graduate in four years or less. When I walk across the stage May 12th of this year, it will be just another goal I can cross off my list.

I'm currently applying to the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver for the Dual Master’s Degree Program in Public Administration and Juris Doctorate. In doing so, I will gain the skills necessary to fight to provide more opportunities for members of marginalized communities on the side of public policy and/or law.

The Colorado Challenge Program has definitely been a bridge builder and supported me when I had no support from family or friends. During my sophomore year of college, I was being kicked out, but CO Challenge connected me to my first on campus job which helped me save enough money to get my own apartment. I was also connected and pushed to apply for the Reisher scholarship which has helped me fund my education without having to take out loans. Throughout the years CO Challenge has given me the motivation and support to make it to the end. I remember being pushed to finish school in four years or less, and because of CO Challenge, that is a reality.”

I received a scholarship to attend Metropolitan State University of Denver. Although I was accepted to other universities, MSU Denver was the school in which my financial aid would go the furthest. While I was initially saddened because I could not afford to go to a “more prestigious” institution, reflecting on my decision, I can honestly say that MSU Denver was the best choice I have ever made. During my time at MSU Denver, I have not only gained knowledge, but have also gained confidence in my abilities, and a network of people that are rooting for my success. There are so many opportunities for students to grow as individuals, and you really need to take advantage of it.


Charline Nguyen is currently attending the Community College of Denver. She is majoring in Computer Information Systems and will receive her Associates degree Spring 2017. She is a DSF scholar and her Colorado Challenge Counselor is Isaac Garcia.

Charline shared the following regarding her background and participation in the Colorado Challenge program.

In my college career, I had a handful of help from many Denver Foundation Scholarship advisors. I remember back in 2014 when I was a senior at John F. Kennedy High School, I did not have much motivation to go to college, although, I was always in Sierra Zulema’s office doing homework or scholarship research. I was actually there so much I became her student assistant. During my time with her, she would always motivate me to apply to colleges and scholarships that were available, and helped me step-by-step on how to do my FASFA. Overall, Sierra Zulema guided me through my journey to attend college.

My first year of college, however, was not the best experience. I felt I was not mentally ready to be in college, and my original major Criminal Justice, was no longer something I wanted to pursue. Rather than taking a year off from school, I decided to look into majors that related to my hobby of computer building. Within all of my options, I fell in love with the Computer Information Systems major. I loved the aspect of information technology mixed with business and decided to continue my education with that. I found that the Community College of Denver had a transfer program to Metropolitan State University of Denver. I felt that it would be wonderful to start at a community college and make my way back to the university.

My advisor, Jenaya Zarrad, made me feel so welcome and when I transferred over from University of Colorado Denver. She helped me set my schedule and constantly made sure I was going to workshops and campus events and gave me information on possible scholarships like the SEED program. All of this put me in the mentality to get everything I needed to do in a timely manner. After Jenaya left CCD, my new advisor, Isaac Garcia, helped with my last year at CCD. I received contact information to MSUD such as, constant reminders of having FASFA done, reapplying for DSF, getting information on workshops and campus events, and having my graduation application done. Although at this point he would know I would everything done on my own, he still would check up on me. Overall, my experience with DSF and Colorado Challenge has been nothing but a positive impact in my life.

I don’t have an exact plan on what I want my career to be; I simply want to try to gain any experience I can get. I believe that learning isn’t just receiving an education, but to experience what is out there. I am in hopes of getting the experience in my field, with my Associate’s degree, all while finishing school at MSUD to receive my Bachelor’s degree.


Mercy Olaka is senior at the University of Colorado Denver. She is majoring in Public Health and is on her way to graduate in Fall 2017. She is a DSF scholar and her Colorado Challenge Counselor is Chevy Lowe.

Mercy shared the following regarding her background and participation in the Colorado Challenge program.

Mercy shared the following regarding her background and participation in the Colorado Challenge program.

Neil Armstrong landed on the moon July 16th, 1969. He said, “That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” This quote holds great importance to me because it represents my first step at the University of Colorado at Denver (UCD). The symbolic meaning in this quote states that our fear of the unknown can be defeated. I graduated from the Denver School of Science and Technology and became a freshman at the UCD in 2012. I heard college was all about self-discovery, but I didn’t know how to do that. Like many freshmen starting college, I was anxious, afraid, and unsure of who I was. I tried living on campus, joining clubs/organizations on campus, and attending bible studies in hopes to finding myself. Even after all of this, I still felt out of place. I’m still discovering that life is all about the choices we make, and becoming a Denver Scholarship Fund (DSF) scholar was one of the best decisions I’ve made thus far.

As I was getting to know myself, I met Chevy during my junior year in college. That was the beginning to new testimonies. Chevy has helped me not only with my academic endeavors, but has contributed greatly to helping me in all areas of my life. Chevy is not only a DSF staff member, but is like a big sister to me.

“Sometimes we need someone to simply be there. Not to fix anything, or to do anything in particular, but just to let us feel that we are cared for and supported.” -Mental and Body Care

This quote describes my relationship with Chevy. Chevy has supported me with getting involved in my community, planning out my semester, and dealing with challenges in life. I am very thankful to be a DSF scholar, to be the first person in my family to attend college, to be a full ride scholar, and to have met Chevy. With years to come, and the individuals I will encounter, I hope our relationship grows stronger as I continue to grow. Thank you DSF and the Colorado Challenge.


Jedeo Manirikumwenatwe is junior at Colorado State University. He is majoring in Criminology and Criminal Justice and is expected to graduate in Spring 2018. He is a DSF scholar and her Colorado Challenge Counselor is Tabitha Rocha.

Tabitha shared the following about Jedeo.

Jedeo was born in Burundi Africa. In 1995 a war broke out and Jedeo’s family was forced to leave. While fleeing, Jedeo and his mom were separated from his father but later reunited in Tanzania, where they lived for the next ten years. In 2004 Jedeo and his family came to America for the hope of a new life. Completely unfamiliar with the English language, dealing with a new culture and country, Jedeo and his family settled in Denver. Jedeo attended West High School and was very active in pre-collegiate programs. After getting accepted to colleges, Jedeo decided to attend CSU. Despite the significant setback he and his family experienced, he learned that through the support of friends and family he can accomplish anything. Knowing that his younger siblings are always looking up to him gives him hope to keep on trying. Growing up, he always thought that he would just end up working the farm like his mother did and never finish school. But now he knows he can achieve the dream of completing a college degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice. College has not been easy for Jedeo, as he still struggles with the language barrier but he goes above and beyond to get help from his professors, participates in the AAC and gets tutoring for lots of his classes. Jedeo’s GPA has improved throughout his time at CSU, and he is expected to graduate in the Spring of 2018 with a major in Criminology. I would like to note that Jedeo is very musically inclined. He taught himself how to play the guitar and the piano, and he writes songs and sings beautifully. It has been amazing to see Jedeo grow and working with him is such a joy.

Jedeo shared the following regarding Colorado Challenge.

Like many students, I have been through lots of struggles. I am not sure where I would be without the support from my Colorado Challenge Counselor, Tabitha Rocha. It is because of Tabitha that when I was feeling depressed due to school work, she would and still is there when I need someone to talk to and tell me that everything will be okay. She has always believed in me and every time I meet with her, she gives me hope to keep on trying. On top of this, she makes sure that I meet my scholarship requirements and helps me with FAFSA.