KIPP Colorado Schools welcomed a new Director of KIPP Through College (KTC) this fall. Irma Venegas, a Denver native and graduate of the University of San Diego, will now lead our region’s work to support students on their path to college and journey through college and career.
We sat down with Irma to learn more about what brought her to KIPP Colorado and what she hopes to focus on as she takes the helm of KIPP Colorado’s KTC program.
KIPP Colorado Schools (KCS): Irma, where did you grow up?
Irma Venegas (IV): I grew up in Denver, Colorado, where I attended West High School.
KCS: What was your experience in high school like?
IV: I enjoyed high school and felt like I had learned a lot. I worked hard to get good grades, and was named as a Daniels Fund Scholar, which allowed me to apply and go to the University of San Diego (USD) in California.
KCS: San Diego sounds great! What was it like to go to school there?
IV: USD was very different from what I was used to growing up, but I found myself liking my classes and college experience. I chose to study Ethnic Studies and Spanish. That wasn’t the route that I thought I was going to take when I first got there, though. I originally thought I wanted to major in business, with the intent to go out and make a lot of money, which my family didn’t have when I was growing up. But when I took some ethnic studies classes, I realized it was the first time seeing myself and my culture in a positive light in history. It sparked a passion for me and I changed my major.
As a first-generation college student at a predominantly white institution, it was not without its challenges. I learned when I got there that my high school education had not prepared me for college as well as I had thought. I had to take remedial classes, which didn’t count for credit, and had to work extra hard to catch up and stay on track. It made me feel like I had been failed by my education leading up to it.
KCS: But you persisted through USD and even stayed for your master’s program.
IV: I did. I earned master’s degree in Higher Education Leadership there.
KCS: What did you do after school?
IV: After school I came back to Colorado and started work at Girls, Inc., where I helped facilitate workshops on life skills, preventing adolescent pregnancy, and making sure girls and women in underserved communities had access to the resources they needed.
KCS: How did you hear about KIPP?
IV: When I was in my master’s program, my classmate mentioned that KIPP San Diego had an opening for the director of their KIPP Through College program. She encouraged me to apply for it, and I started there after earning my master’s degree.
KCS: What brought you back to Colorado?
IV: My family is all still in Colorado, so when the KIPP Through College director position became available here, I jumped at the chance to come back to Colorado. Having a two-year-old son, it’s important to me that he has the opportunity to grow up close to family.
KCS: Do you miss San Diego at all? Were there things you were excited about to be back home?
IV: I definitely miss the weather in San Diego and how easy it was to go to the beach. And I already miss the staff, students and alumni that I had the opportunity to work with while I was there. That being said, I am excited to be in my hometown working with students and alumni in a growing region. I’m excited to engage with families and work alongside them throughout the college and career process. It’s a great feeling knowing that I’ll be working with students who are in the footsteps that I was once in, and knowing that I’ll be making a difference for my community.
KCS: We’re excited to have you here, too! What do you like doing outside of work?
IV: I really enjoy writing and the spoken word. Poetry, for me, is a great way to put words to my experience and share that with others. I also enjoy skiing, which I was lucky to get into through a program that provided lift tickets and equipment for students who had earned high grades. It’s an expensive sport, but I am grateful for that program for getting me started skiing at a young age.
KCS: Well you’re definitely in the right place for skiing. We’re excited to have you at KIPP Colorado Schools.
IV: I’m excited to be here.
KCS: Thanks, Irma.