Westsider honored for turning life around

       Friends of Dionisia DeLaCerda used to tell her she'd achieved the “trifecta of losers” - she dropped out of high school and got married, had a child as a teenager (age 19) and was divorced at age 21.

Dionisia DeLaCerda
Westside Pioneer photo

       How things can change. Less than 15 years later, the lifelong Westside resident has a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a 2008 master's degree in public administration. Plus, after six years working for UCCS, she recently was promoted to the position of professional research associate.
       “My drive was my son,” DeLaCerda said in a recent interview, adding that she saw higher education as a route to employment that would allow her “to be home with him and have a semi-normal work schedule.” This was in contrast to her own upbringing, when her mother had to work three jobs to support her kids and they were even homeless for a while. “That was when I started doing bad things,” she recalled ruefully.
       DeLaCerda will be honored April 17 among seven 2009 graduating women scholars of the Karen Possehl Women's Endowment (KPWE) scholarship program of the University of Colorado Foundation. The presentation will be at the fifth annual Unstoppable Women Luncheon at the Doubletree Hotel near the World Arena. (For reservations or information, call 255-3637.)
       DeLaCerda expressed gratitude for the KPWE's monetary assistance, which started in 2004. During most of her 10 years in school, she had worked, obtained grants, taken out loans and qualified for Medicaid and food stamps. Even without the help, she said, she was determined to make it anyway. “I would have taken out more loans,” she said. “Quitting wasn't an option.”
       What KPWE's support especially gave her, through the mentoring component of its grant, was confidence in herself. “People thought I was together, but I don't think they always realized how much I struggled to redefine who I was,” she said, looking back on her many semesters at Pikes Peak Community College and then UCCS.
       She thinks that's the kind of mental block a lot of women deal with. She described the mentoring as the “neatest part of the scholarship. They pair you with a mentor, so you have someone you can connect with, but you also have a network of women who are strong members of the community.”
       Now she looks forward to a future over which she has more control. Her son just got accepted into the International Baccalaureate program at Palmer High School, and she wants to support him in that.
       “He's had to sacrifice for me being in school - a lot of nights where I was doing papers or reading,” she said. “The next four years are about him.”

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