When students question whether they really belong at Pikes Peak Community College, when they struggle with cultural or socioeconomic gaps, when they worry about their citizenship status or when they just need an empathetic ear, Ben Gallegos-Pardo is there.
And when he offers advice, they can count on it being good.
“It’s all about sharing your stories, you have to be genuine,” said Gallegos-Pardo, PPCC’s coordinator of multicultural student retention initiatives. “I’ll always be honest. I’ll always be straightforward.”
Apparently it works.
At just 33, Gallegos-Pardo has committed 11 years to educational outreach for some of the Springs’ most-diverse and economically fluid student populations. After graduating from Colorado State University with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and minors in Spanish and history, he started his career as the English as a Second Language community liaison at Monroe Elementary School in the city’s Southeast.
From there, he served as the diversity outreach coordinator at Corpus Christi Catholic School; managed the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado Mentor 2.0 program and worked within the organization’s Sports Buddies program; and eventually was the first Spanish-speaking member of the PPCC admissions team. He also spent two years as the coordinator of Denver operations for the Colorado State University Alumni Association and, while working full time, found the energy to co-own and operate, alongside his wife of a decade, the now-shuttered Café Corto.
He’s on track to graduate from UCCS in December with a master’s degree in public administration.
And yet for all of his professional accomplishments, Gallegos-Pardo glows with the most pride when he speaks of his three children and his wife, Kat.
“I would like to be known first and foremost as a good dad, a good husband. After that — I guess a renaissance man. I don’t want to be pigeonholed.”
At PPCC, Gallegos-Pardo is responsible for making sure the college’s vibrant minority population doesn’t just enroll but remains part of the student body.
According to a 2017 study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, African American and Hispanic students who entered into postsecondary education had significantly lower completion rates than their white or Asian American peers. Only 45.9 percent of black students completed their degree or certificate within six years, according to the study, compared to 55 percent of Hispanic students, 67.2 percent of white and 71.7 percent of Asian American students. The cohort consisted of more than 2.8 million collegians. That hits close to home for Gallegos-Pardo, whose father immigrated to the U.S. from Bogotá, Colombia, and whose maternal side has called New Mexico and Colorado home for more than four centuries. He was raised without a father in the house, he said, and he understands the challenges many of his students face.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Why are you so passionate about this?’” he said. “In every single one of these students I see my family, my ancestors. … Everyone has a similar story in their background.”
So he stays razor focused on helping students of diverse cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds and family structures realize that college is a viable option and to keep their eyes on graduation.
“We are a community college. Community is the first word in that, so we’re reaching out to you,” he said. “There are open doors, come and use this resource. I love to be able to build programming to support [students] and their families.”