One of the biggest challenges first year students face when coming to a school like Colorado State University is finding community and having a support system. Luckily, Fabiola Escobar, a first-year student in the Department of Art and Art History, had the opportunity to meet other students in the Blake Leadership Scholar peer mentorship program. Hannah Hurst, a third-year student, one was one of those students.

The Blake Leadership Scholars in the College of Liberal Arts rewards outstanding academic achievement for high school students that demonstrate leadership qualities and community engagement. Founded by CSU System chancellor emeritus Joe Blake in 2018, Blake believed very strongly in the value of a liberal arts education to broaden perspectives and create phenomenal citizens.

Hurst and Escobar are both students in the Department of Art and Art History studying graphic design and both were chosen while still in high school. Their applications demonstrated exceptional academic achievement, a strong sense of character as well as leadership qualities and community engagement.

Mark Dineen, associate professor, has been one of the three CLA faculty members to participate in the selection process. Dineen frames his decision making in terms of the dinner party theory, where you invite a wide range of people who will have interesting conversations. While each person on the selection committee brings a different perspective about Blake’s mission, Dineen wanted to balance levels of performance against each participants’ unique qualities and experiences and considers how they fit into the broader community.

“The Blake Scholarship is so much more than a monetary award. It’s an opportunity for a group of students to work, learn, and grow together as a cohort during their time at CSU and beyond,” says Dineen, “It’s important that that we consider who the individual behind the application really is with the hope that when they all come together they will support and challenge each other in unique ways.”

In addition to a generous scholarship over the course of 4 years, the program helps the participants feel connected to and supported by the CLA and CSU by providing access to leadership and service opportunities. It encourages excellence in academic and co-curricular experiences through faculty and peer mentorship. Students also take a variety of courses that challenge and empower them to consider how the liberal arts has the potential to remedy the problems facing 21st century humanity and how to solve those problems.

“’When I got the letter about the Blake Leadership Scholar program, I was really excited and felt like someone trusted me and will support me and see me for my values and skills”, says Escobar, “It helped with transition between high school and college and offered community and a base to meet new people.”

“For me, my favorite part of being part of the program is communication between other parts of the College of Liberal Arts,” says Hurst, “I wouldn’t have interacted with people in other majors because I’m living in my art bubble. I think the opportunity to take classes and have discussions to get different perspectives and viewpoints and seeing how it applies to art has been really nice.”

Exploration is a big part of both Escobar and Hurst’s experience both in the Blake Leadership Program, as well as in their classes. Hurst sights her time in a fibers class with expanding her thinking about how to utilize design in other mediums. Escobar points to utilizing recycled materials such as cardboard and old clothes to create art, something she hadn’t considered before coming to CSU.

While the question of what they’ll do after they graduate is an intimidating one to answer, Escobar and Hurst are both committed to a career working in the arts. Escobar wants to start her own creative business, while Hurst expressed interest in doing museum work.

“The idea about how these students will mature outside of the institution is really at the root of the program,” says Dinnen, “Joe Blake was a committed Coloradoan and he wanted to give our institution a tool to help attract and nurture future leaders. It was his vision that these leaders would stay in the state and contribute their best qualities to it.”