Traveling across the country for 15 years doing admissions work for Colorado College and Colorado State University-Fort Collins, Carlos Jiménez has a unique view on the impacts of inequitable schooling in America.
Working in admissions at information sessions and college recruitment fairs, he realized he could only do so much if he was meeting students as late as their senior year in high school. And seeing the difference in opportunities between low- and high-income students was striking, instilling in him the motivation to help students create opportunities for themselves, starting at a younger age.
Jiménez was a first-generation college student himself, and he recalls that saying goodbye to admissions after so many rewarding years was difficult. But joining Peak Education as CEO was an easy choice — he couldn’t pass up the chance to “do real work in the community that’s going to lead to change that directly impacts students’ lives.”
“I thought I could go and bring my knowledge to the Springs and do some work right here and make it make a real difference,” he said.
Education and nonprofits have taken a hit thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Jiménez took on the CEO role at the start of April 2020 — just days after the nation shut down. But 10 months later, the organization is “stronger and more financially stable than it has ever been,” said Susan Pattee, who nominated him as a Rising Star.
Working with students in the greater Colorado Springs area, Peak Education helps students open doors that have been closed by an inequitable educational system. Peak Education’s programs include college and scholarship counseling, mentorship, service opportunities and family engagement.
Jiménez is proud of Peak Education’s ability to come into schools and create a space where students, no matter their grade level, can take charge of their futures. While other programs are looking for elite GPAs, Peak Education works with students at all levels.
“We’re starting early and then we’re engaged with that student all the way through college completion,” he said. “We’re working with a range. We’re not about just having the best and brightest; we want students where we can make a huge impact. Sometimes that’s actually the students who are at that seventh to eighth[grade]range — helping them get into college.”
Peak Education’s primary focus is on low-income or first-generation students, but they work with middle- and high-income students as well, through the Basecamp College Counseling program. Revenue from this program fund Peak’s other programs.
Jiménez emphasized Peak Education is not just about getting students into college. Through its service programs, Peak helps students realize their broader goals in life.
One student group is working with the Silver Key Thrift Store, helping recover some of the revenue it lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The students helped with “building a web presence, building a social media presence, [and] reaching out to new customers,” he said.
Students learn from those opportunities that they can make a difference in the world. Projects like the one with Silver Key combine COVID-19 relief with education, an intersectional approach that helps students create social impact in their communities.
Pattee calls Jiménez “an incredible visionary with drive, purpose, tenacity and dreams of big things in service of others.
“He is an ideal leader because he naturally and without pretense leads and others — all kinds of people — want to follow,” she said.
“It’s through Carlos’ and his team’s leadership and hard work that hundreds of kids, suddenly thrust online for their education, not only survived but thrived” during the pandemic, Pattee added. Watching Jiménez lead Peak Education staff to “mentor, inspire and encourage kids who might otherwise fall,” she said, “became a new and amazing thing.”