Trailblazers from Colorado’s Political Scene Visit Center for Urban Education Classes

Former Colorado state senator Polly Baca, top, and former Colorado governor Bill Ritter talk to students at UNC's Center for Urban Education.

Students in classes offered at UNC's Center for Urban Education in Denver recently benefited from the insights of two trailblazers from the state's political scene: former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and former state legislator Polly Baca.

During discussions with students enrolled in the center's Mexican American Students in Education class and its Multiculturalism in the United States class, Ritter and Baca shared their perspectives on how they supported Mexican American students and families and the Mexican American community while they were in office by identifying the assets of Mexican American leaders. They also discussed how they worked to remove barriers that impeded Mexican American access to a more inclusive and participatory role in Colorado.

"I have had this passion for human rights and civil rights since I was a little girl," said Baca, who grew up in Greeley before embarking on a political career that would include serving in both the Colorado House of Representatives (1975-78) and the Colorado Senate (1979-1986), making her the first Latina in the United States to serve in both chambers of her state legislature.

Her many other roles during her long career included serving as vice chair of the National Democratic Party (1981-1989) and co-chairing two National Democratic Conventions (1980 and 1984). She's currently the president and CEO of a consulting firm.

Before serving as Colorado's governor from 2007-2011, Ritter held a position in the United States Attorney's office and was Denver's district attorney from 1993-2005. As DA, he created one of the nation's first drug courts and worked extensively on the prosecution of sexual abuse and domestic violence cases.

He currently is director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University.

"I have always asked that we invest in protective factors for people rather than supporting the attitude of getting tough about risk factors," Ritter told the students. "I encourage people to be critical thinkers and consider the bigger picture."

The Center for Urban Education, located in the UNC Denver Center at Lowry, offers a bachelor's degree program that prepares students to be elementary, special education or early childhood teachers in contemporary schools and provides the opportunity for students to immediately apply what they learn in their college courses. Throughout the four-year program, students spend weekday mornings in K-12 classrooms as part of apprenticeships that are supervised by veteran teachers.