By Matt Watson
Lucero Portillo is driven to provide for her family. Portillo is not married, and she doesn’t have any children, but she has a younger sister named Estrella with a rare neurological condition that renders her unable to move by herself. Since Estrella does not receive any federal assistance, Portillo’s mother serves as caretaker while Portillo and her father work to pay Estrella’s expenses.
Financial security for her family was one of the biggest motivators for Portillo to go to college, and at MSU Denver’s December commencement, Portillo was one of 344 first-generation graduates, roughly one-third of the graduating class. She broke that educational barrier with a business management degree and has accepted a job as a business analyst at Travelport, the travel technology company where she interned as a student.
“When I start in January, I will start financially supporting my family by taking care of a significant portion of the bills,” Portillo said. “I don't live with my parents, but I will be the breadwinner.”
She’s not just working for the paycheck though. While she was an intern, Portillo pushed Travelport to improve its diversity when she questioned why there were only five women among the 33 interns in her office. She spoke with several Travelport leaders who were receptive to her ideas.
“I felt like that was not fair because women have a lot to contribute to the community, so I decided to speak up and do something about it," said Portillo, whose first name "Lucero” is a derivative of “luz,” the Spanish word for light.
She’s not just posturing either – Portillo is planning a partnership between her company and her high school, DSST Public Schools, a high-performing network of STEM-focused charter schools with 70 percent students of color. She hopes Travelport employees can guide students on how to pursue a career in business and/or technology.
“During her internship, Lucero took her tasks seriously and delivered on all expectations. She took the initiative and set up discussions with some of our executive leaders to gain their insights,” said Kathy Mallory, senior technology director of Global Infrastructure Services at Travelport. “Her new perspective challenges the way we think and go about our daily routines, which is very refreshing.”
Portillo already mentors high school girls at Girls Athletic Leadership School of Denver, sharing information about college admission, scholarships and the benefits of higher education.
“I was asking the girls, ‘Where are you going to go to college and what are you going to study?” and they would give me a puzzled look, because they had not considered this life-changing opportunity,” Portillo said. “I went back with a PowerPoint with facts and statistics about how it’s going to impact their lives, not just right now but in the long term. It’s going to help them succeed for the well-being of their families and pay it forward to future generations in our community."
Portillo tells students like her, whose families might depend on them one day, to set smart goals and not be afraid to ask for help.
“Develop a support system to include teachers, mentors, coaches, etc., to help you use your resources and find your own path to success,” she said. “Never ever wait for opportunities to come to you. There’s no time to wait. You have to live by design, not default, because you decide what you want to do with your life. The real question is not whether you want something, it’s how much do you want it?
“At the end of the day, you only fail when you give up.”
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