Area of study: Elementary Education
One of the life-skills college teaches many students is time management. As a spring
2022 graduate from the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education,
Ryan Quintana of Aurora could probably write the book on it.
He finished his degree in Elementary Education while working full-time for Amazon,
helping his wife, Chelsea, with her daycare business and being dad to his six kids
ranging in age from four to 17.
Born and raised in Colorado, Quintana attended an all-boys military school in Kansas
for his high school years, then came back to Colorado and attended Arapahoe Community
College in Denver.
“I began my higher education journey in Manhattan, Kansas with the hopes of joining
the military,” he says. “Medical issues prevented me from pursuing that dream, so
I changed paths and began studying criminal justice. Life quickly took over and education
became a distant goal. My wife and I decided my education needed to be a priority
and whatever struggles we must go through to get there would one day pay off.”
While he knew he wanted to earn his degree, Quintana wasn’t sure what he wanted to
do. His wife and others had mentioned teaching as a possibility. It was while driving
through Denver one day that his choice became clear.
“We were driving downtown and saw some homeless people on the side of the street.
We were talking about what I wanted to do, and teaching was on the forefront of my
mind,” he says. “After seeing those homeless people, we started talking about the
different influences that they had and I kind of asked myself how an elementary teacher
could have helped them or influenced them. It was kind of in that moment that I said
I wanted to be a positive influence in someone's life and be someone they can lean
on through their struggles.”
Once he knew what he wanted to do, he was able to decide where he wanted to go to
“In Colorado, UNC was one of the highest ranked teaching programs. Then I noticed
they had the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the Lowry campus,” Quintana says.
UNC’s Lowry campus is about 30 minutes from Quintana’s home and offers a unique approach
to teacher education.
Established a little over 20 years ago by former Denver Public Schools Superintendent
Irv Moskowitz, CUE prepares students for teaching in urban schools, which often serve
students with diverse and complex backgrounds and needs.
The program is set up so that students work as paraprofessionals in Denver schools
for half of the day and attend classes toward their degrees for the other half of
the day. By the time Quintana graduates he will have spent more than 3,000 hours in
the classroom – far exceeding the state’s required 800 hours for an education degree.
CUE is well-designed for working students, but for Quintana, with multiple demands
on his time, one of the greatest challenges to getting his degree was making the schedule
“It took me several years to accomplish it. Being a dad and working full time, aside
from school, it was challenging.”
Quintana says the support he received from his professors helped.
“All the professors were very understanding and willing to support me with whatever
I needed – whether it was extended times (for assignments) or just being very understanding
of my situation,” he says.
Quintana also says that, as one of four Chevron Scholarship recipients at CUE, he
was able to work less and focus on school and family more.
“The struggles we have been through and continue to battle include mental, physical
and financial health,” he says in a recent letter thanking Chevron for their support.
“If it were not for assistance in many forms, my journey to becoming a teacher would
have at least been delayed and possibly not come to fruition.”
As Quintana finishes student teaching, he says that his fifth-grade students were
also his teachers.
“They taught me a lot about myself. Just being in the classroom learning how to manage
the classroom and best practices for teaching, I learned a lot. I'm more of a reserved
person and they really taught me to come out of that.”
Quintana has been admitted to UNC’s master’s program in Curriculum Studies and plans
to teach elementary school full-time while working on his master’s, with goals of
becoming a principal and eventually a superintendent.
Looking back on his first step in that journey, his advice to students reflects part
of what helped him earn a college degree.
“I think my biggest piece of advice is to persevere, no matter what happens throughout
your life and in school, perseverance will lead you to greatness.”
– written by Debbie Moors