After earning her bachelor’s in history from Regis University, Colorado Springs native Lauren Shakes had the opportunity to move to a town in Brazil and teach English. Then 22 years old, she jumped on the opportunity. But six months in, she was given a choice: The school needed a full-time teacher, and either she could take that on, or they would open the position to a general search.
“It really came to a crossroad of whether or not I wanted to make this my permanent stay,” said Shakes. “So I did a little bit of soul searching and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to commit several years of my life away from my family. I’m fortunate enough that I’m very close to my family, and my family does live here in Colorado Springs.”
Shakes described her time in Brazil as an eternal vacation, while acknowledging that it never quite felt like home. On returning to the Springs, she intended to get serious about a career. She has worked in advancement at UCCS for the last three years, currently acting as scholarship program manager. For her, it’s a career that came out of nowhere for her but brings her joy and satisfaction nonetheless, which she derives from the sense of service and community the work gives her.
“We really are a university for the community,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anyone, or hardly anyone, who doesn’t have some ties to UCCS. Either they know someone [who] has been there, [or] they’ve taken a class if not actually graduated from the university. We are so well meshed with UCCS that I think everyone has a little bit of a tie to [it].”
Tell us about how you got into working in higher education.
I like to say that I was in the right place at the right time, because this is not at all where I saw myself. I really didn’t even see myself working in higher education if we’re being completely honest. My undergraduate degree is in history — I don’t know where I thought that was gonna take me, but definitely not scholarship. But I was in the right place at the right time...
Out of college, I was working for a market research company, and I enjoyed my work, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do per se, so I started looking in different areas, different sectors. I’ve always been drawn to the public sector, the nonprofit sector, so I kind of knew where I wanted to end up. And I knew someone who knew someone at [UCCS] who said ‘It might be a shot in the dark, but throw your name in the hat. I think you would be great working in advancement.’
[I] have seen the university grow, [and I’ve] grown up with the university in [my] backyard. [So] I did, and three years later, I am working at the university. I love my job. I’m so fortunate for the job I have… It’s definitely a place I’m so happy to be.
Sometimes the best opportunity is the one you kind of fall into.
It really is. I often talk to my boss about this, especially when something new comes up or I’m taking on a new responsibility. ... Like I said, higher ed was never ever ever where I saw myself, but it seemed like a really interesting opportunity that allowed me to use some of the strengths that I have in program and project management, and it’s kind of where my career thus far has been [going], so I was comfortable in that area. But I knew absolutely nothing about working with our community members, our advisory board and definitely knew nothing about scholarship management. It was a leap of faith. So definitely a learning curve, but it’s been so exciting working with the university because we truly are driven by our mission and I think that’s what I love so much about the university. I have really fallen in love with the mission of the university and so I’m sure you might ask this, or maybe it makes more sense if I tell you that I am a Colorado Springs native, so UCCS has been in my backyard my whole life. I’ve seen it grow up from a commuter campus where your parents [and] your friends’ parents went for night classes to this beautiful vibrant university that now recruits students from out of state. [The] transition and growth is so incredible, and it’s so appealing to be a part of.
Have you lived anywhere besides the Springs?
I went to Regis for my undergraduate, so I lived in Denver for four years. And I’ve been super fortunate that I have had the chance to live abroad. I studied abroad in my undergraduate in Chile, and then I stayed on and lived with my host family for an extra four months to do an internship at an orphanage in the town that I was living in. And then right after graduation, I was a little bit of a wandering soul. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, and opportunities to be an English as a Second Language teacher in Brazil came across my lap, and as a 22-year-old, I absolutely jumped on it. There was no hesitation at all. About a month after I graduated from college, I moved to a little town in Brazil and taught English there for six months.
You left a teaching job in Brazil to move back in with your family in Colorado. Has family always been so important to you?
It has. My mom is actually a Colorado Springs native as well. Moved around a little bit, but she has deep roots here and so do her siblings, so not only is my [immediate] family here, but the majority of my cousins, aunts and uncles also live in the Springs or southern Colorado area. It’s for as long as I can remember, every big event, every holiday, we’ve always done with family, and that’s very much how I was raised.
Where does your social-mindedness come from?
I think it’s definitely been a result of family influence. My grandmother actually started and owns her own nursing home here in the Springs — one of the first women-owned businesses, actually. And my mom and her siblings grew up spending their weekends at the nursing home picking up shifts. ... [It’s] really just a sense of being in service of others. My dad was former military and now works as a judge here in the Springs. There’s always, in the jobs that my parents have, the values that they taught growing up. There’s always been an overarching value of using your gifts to serve others. That’s definitely the mentality that they reinforced [when I was] going to Catholic school [at St. Mary’s High School]. And it became even more prevalent in my own life at Regis. The motto is to be in service of others as a Jesuit university. And over the course of four years during my undergraduate degree, there were so many opportunities I found out myself that were ingrained in just a Jesuit education of being part of the community, having the university support the community that they’re in.
So what do you think makes you stand out as a professional?
I think what I bring to this is a real enthusiasm and a passion for what I do. I have been in places where you wake up and it’s just a job. And for me, this is not a job. I don’t want to say it’s a lifestyle, but it kind of is… When I meet people in the community. I’m thinking, how I can engage them and how I can have them introduced to my students and how to bring them on campus and share this resource.
I am a firm believer in our mission at the university. That’s part of the reason I love UCCS so much is our student demographic. I really do. I think it’s my enthusiasm and desire to continually better our students. I think this job, for someone else, could be very cyclical, like you do the same thing every year, you know, just repeat what’s been done before. And that is not what I want to be at all.
As a program manager, or in any position I might hold in my life, and as a person in general… I want to be doing something that lights the fire under me, that is really innovative, is as thoughtful as possible and has a purpose.