Building and serving their communities - RED - Relevant. Essential. Denver.
Left to right: MSU Denver alums Leah Dozeman, Wheat Ridge City Council District 4; José Guardiola, Commerce City Council At-Large; and Jacob LaBure, Lakewood City Council Ward 2.

Building and serving their communities

Three recently elected city council representatives share stories that started with a run through campus.

January 11, 2018

By Cory Phare

From voting in record numbers to the MSU Denver Champions program, Roadrunners are civically and politically engaged. It should be no surprise, then, that they’re also winning elections to help make their communities better.

With the 2018 legislative session kicking off, we had the chance to catch up with three newly elected city council representatives about their call to serve, priorities in office and time at MSU Denver.

How did you get involved in public service?

Leah Dozeman, Wheat Ridge City Council District 4: I’ve lived in Wheat Ridge my entire life, so I have a strong connection to the community here, volunteering for events like the Wheat Ridge Carnation Festival and getting involved in debate club back in high school. I ran for city clerk in 2011 and specifically decided to run for city council now because Pennington Elementary was on the list of schools slated to be closed. The conversation around public education is so important to have; we’ve already experienced school closure here and it’s been devastating to the community.

José Guardiola, Commerce City Council At-Large: It was a very diverse community growing up in Commerce City in the 1990s. My parents are from Mexico, and instilled in us early on that education was the key to a better life. So after I finished my undergraduate degree in behavioral science with a minor in Chicana/o Studies (CHS) in 2008 and then my graduate degree from Adams State, I knew I wanted to give back to the community I was from. As a postsecondary specialist at Lester Arnold High School I’ve been able to do that – and running for office was the next step to help other voices have a seat at the table of creating real change.

Jacob LaBure, Lakewood City Council Ward 2: I’ve been community organizing since I was 16, after my father passed away from gun violence. The support we had from the community inspired me to volunteer for a women’s crisis center, collecting food to give back to those who’d helped us out in our time of need. Thanks to my early work in advocacy and activism, I knew I wanted to work in public service. That led me to seek out my degree in political science with a minor in public administration as a first-generation student.

What was your experience like as a Roadrunner?

JL: It was great. With local, state and federal government bodies, being in downtown Denver was important – and MSU Denver had the perfect proximity to access those. I was able to intern for a member of Congress, and serving on the Board of Trustees afforded me the opportunity to see through large initiatives like becoming a University. I’ve got a strong network of people I’ve stayed close with after graduating in 2014, too.

JG: I loved it – so much so that I stayed on in a full-time position with Student Activities working as the student organizations business manager for five years after graduating! I was also able to work with the committee to become a Hispanic Serving Institution as part of my graduate work and continue to give back as I can. MSU Denver is really at the center of the city’s different communities, and that education is so important – no one can ever take that away from you. It’ll always be home to me; I’m a Roadrunner through and through.

LD: It was such a fantastic experience, though I didn’t anticipate it at first! After high school, I enrolled on a whim to just complete my prerequisites … then I fell I love with it. The atmosphere was great – there was a true diversity of students in all senses of the word. I remember a 60-year old gentleman who was finishing up his undergraduate degree before heading to law school; I thought that was just incredible, how MSU Denver sets people up to achieve their goals.

Which classes did you enjoy the most and why?

JG: My CHS classes were fantastic – they really opened me up to what it means to give back to a community. I came to understand what it meant to be part of a movement and the sacrifices of those who came before, allowing me to be sitting there at MSU Denver. Faculty like Ramon del Castillo, Tony Garcia and the late Vincente C. de Baca were instrumental in that.

JL: The public policy classes were really helpful and have carried me throughout my career. In my time working with the city of Denver [initially with parking and now as a coordinator of information with the police department], the real-world analysis from that study was really valuable. I always sought out classes from Robert Preuhs, Robert Hazan and Sheila Rucki – they weren’t the easiest, but you always took so much away from them.

LD: My first class as a freshman was Fundamentals of Critical Thinking with Sheila Rucki. We focused on asking questions, researching both sides and using facts as evidence for arguments. I graduated in December 2013 with a major in political science and minor in entrepreneurial studies and so many of those classes helped with the skills I use today; they were very pragmatic and stressed critical thinking.

What are some of your priorities for the upcoming legislative session?

LD: For me, it’s about addressing equity in education. At Pennington, we’ve got a high population of low-income students we provide wraparound services for; 92 percent are on free or reduced lunch plans, so those support structures are critical to meet individuals where they’re at and find success in their own way. I loved my childhood here, and want help all children be able to say the same.

JL: Affordability is a big topic of conversation in Lakewood, so we’re committed to finding the right balance of zoning and growth. Environmental concerns are definitely front and center. I also ran on public safety, so we’re going to explore new ways to address rises in crime – we only have one chance to get that issue right.

JG: Commerce City is growing rapidly; we’ve got a lot of landmass that’s going to keep getting developed, so that’s important. I’m looking to build a bridge between the two parts of town; I grew up on the south side, which was historically less affluent than the north, where I live now. I’m confident we can tackle it – it’s not a huge gap, and I’m excited to help spread the word that Commerce City is a great place to grow and raise a family.

If you could go back to your first day on campus, what’s a piece of advice you’d give your former self?

JL: It was great to be out in the community meeting people, but I probably could’ve spent more time on campus, enjoying the experience. I guess it’d be “Take a step back, dig in and enjoy it all.”

JG: You know, it never was my goal to be in politics, but sometimes you need to look at the bigger picture. And that change might make people angry, but you’ve just got to stay true to what you believe in.

LD: I’d probably spend more time studying at the library than I did at the Tivoli – too much great people-watching there! Also, don’t leave 10-page papers until the night before they’re due, because you will spend the entire night writing.