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Luis Paredes, recipient of the MSU Denver President

Defying the odds by crunching the numbers

DACA recipient earns two accounting degrees while working full time and advocating for his peers

December 10, 2018

By Matt Watson

Luis Paredes is a man with a plan, which culminates with receiving both his bachelor’s degree in accounting and his master’s degree in professional accountancy this week.

It’s an impressive accomplishment even before you factor in the 45 hours a week he works in sales, or the fact that he saved up enough money to buy his parents a house as a junior in college, all while putting himself through college.

How did he manage two degrees and two housing payments while working full time you ask?

With a spreadsheet, of course. Paredes tracked his classes, schoolwork and Sunday-to-Friday work shifts in Microsoft Excel along with his free time, or lack thereof, and his finances.

“I was really having a hard time keeping up with rent, and I was helping my parents pay their rent, too. I couldn’t do it anymore. So, I came up with a plan to lower my monthly payments,” Paredes said. “With my Principles of Accounting class experience, I decided to build a spreadsheet. I tracked all my expenses and made a financial picture of what I should do and what it should look like.”

Not bad for a college student who used to be ashamed to be on campus.

Paredes considers himself a “Dreamer,” brought to the U.S. from Mexico by his parents and now covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Although he’s lived in the U.S. since he was eight years old, he wasn’t comfortable with his status until finding his way at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he became an active voice for others like him. His advocacy and work ethic, combined with his 3.77 GPA while completing two rigorous degrees, have earned him MSU Denver’s President's Award for fall 2018.

“The main reason I applied for the President’s Award is that I used to be very ashamed of my Dreamer status. I know there are students out there who may feel the way I did. I want to show them there’s no reason to,” Paredes said.

At MSU Denver, Paredes became a Puksta Scholar, a scholarship program that requires students to complete a civic engagement project in the community. Paredes’ project “Funding the Dream” was personal: He set out to find financial aid sources for DACA students, who aren’t eligible for federal aid.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that DACA recipients are almost as likely as other U.S. adults to enroll in college, but just 4 percent earn a bachelor’s degree (compared to 18 percent of other adults). Finances no doubt play a part.

“As a Puksta scholar, Luis applied for and participated in a rigorous program designed to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to become catalysts for lasting positive change in the community,” said Tim Meeks, Civic Engagement Program manager at MSU Denver.

Paredes got involved with MSU Denver’s DREAMer Network and began using his own experience to fundraise for scholarships in the community.

“Luis never hesitates to inform himself and others of resources and important college success strategies,” said Gregor Mieder, director of the Immigrant Services Program at MSU Denver. “His willingness to support other students and assist faculty and staff has earned him the respect of peers and professionals alike.”

His hard work has paid off. In January, he’ll start as a full-time tax associate at CliftonLarsonAllen, a CPA firm in Denver, and once he gets through tax season, he’s got a new goal in mind: his first vacation in four years.

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