Student, employee, director, groom and soon-to-be retiree.
What do all five have in common? They are all roles at UCCS that Anthony Cordova has taken on in the 26 years since he first stepped on campus.
Cordova graduated from UCCS in 1997 and received his master’s degree in 1999. He began working at the university and eventually took on the directorship of the Multicultural Office for Student Access, Inclusiveness and Community (MOSAIC). He even married his wife of 19 years, current chief of staff for Chancellor Venkat Reddy, Andrea Cordova, at the Housing Village Lodge.
Before starting at UCCS, Cordova worked as a heavy equipment operator for 21 years. He had a successful career as a heavy equipment operator, eventually becoming a supervisor, but a back injury caused him to retire.
According to Cordova, he found out at the age of 40 that if he could get a doctor to prove that he had a disability, he could take his union pension. An orthopedic surgeon told him he would not sign off on his disability pension until he agreed to go to school.
So, in July 1994, Cordova came to see what UCCS was all about. He filled out the paperwork, and in August, he started as a 40-year-old first-time college freshman, first generation student and single parent with four children.
Speaking on the impact this decision had on his life, Cordova said, “[Going to school] really changed a lot for me. It opened up a lot of avenues, awareness, things that I didn’t know. I learned a lot about myself. The cool thing was that I got to pass that on to my kids. Three of my four kids actually got their degrees at UCCS.”
Cordova said he fell in love with communication and psychology right away and knew he wanted to study them for his undergraduate degree. Cordova went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling.
In school, he participated in several student organizations, such as the Student Government Association (SGA), which was where he met his wife. He worked as a maintenance worker in the University Center, in addition to being a peer academic advisor, working with the UCCS Pre-Collegiate Program.
“Along the way, I started learning about mentoring and had people who were there to help me. I had never asked for help my whole life; I was pretty self-sufficient. [In the past,] I missed out on a lot of opportunities because I didn’t have people around me encouraging me or giving advice, and I never sought it,” he said.
Eventually, Cordova was asked to be a mentor with a program called AMIGOS, which was part of CU Opportunities, and would later become known as the MOSIAC Gateway Program.
“I was a first-generation student. I didn’t meet automatic admission criteria when I was admitted. I came in through what was called CU Opp [Opportunity]. CU Opportunity became what is now my MOSAIC Gateway Program,” Cordova said. “CU Opp was an equal opportunity program. It was something I was familiar with, first generation students, having been one. I was also well aware of what it was like to not be a good high school student.”
Cordova attributes his multitude of opportunities as an undergraduate student to his involvement on campus. “Because I was older and very much involved in everything, I got exposed to a lot of higher education. Working with students all fit together with my classes as I was going through. All those opportunities came to me because I was not one to stay home.
“One of the things I do now is really encourage students to be active. I try to encourage them from the perspective of if you’re involved in a club or organization, what happens is you will start struggling with chemistry class, for instance, and instead of keeping it to yourself like most freshmen do, you’ll start talking to your friends and let them that you’re struggling. What your friends will probably tell you [is] where you can go for help. You end up with a mentor system that works very effectively.”
After graduating, Cordova was employed full-time at UCCS, beginning a long career that he described as “extremely rewarding.” He was hired on as the assistant director of the pre-collegiate development program and as an academic advisor. He assumed the MOSAIC directorship in 2003.
In recognition of his own struggles and success, Cordova was instrumental in the creation of the MOSAIC Gateway Program, which supports students who face challenges but demonstrate the potential to succeed in school.
Now, MOSAIC and the Gateway Program support and advocate for students who have been underserved and underrepresented in higher education, such as students of color, LGBTQ+ community members, undocumented students and first-generation college students. The MOSAIC Office is currently undergoing expansion and rebranding.
“The construction on the [MOSAIC] expansion is about done, but there are still a lot of things that need to be put in place. I hired an LGBT coordinator, and I am in the process of hiring another coordinator to help out the student clubs. We’ve still got all the different things to plan for with getting the office up and running with new people, as well as trying to find a replacement for me,” Cordova said. “I feel like I’m leaving things in a better place than when I started.”
Sharing his parting advice with students, Cordova said, “I always emphasize this because we forget to use it: we don’t know what we don’t know. The only way we can fail is if we fail to ask for help. I feel that’s true from the first day I heard that as an incoming freshman and to today. I always emphasize the fact that people are there to help you, but none of them know you’re having problems unless you tell them. The best way is to get over that fear of not knowing something.”