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Reisher Scholars Program Opens Doors to Success for FLC Students
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Reisher Scholars Program Opens Doors to Success for FLC Students

The program, which supports students who demonstrate academic and leadership potential as undergraduates, will double next fall.

DURANGO—  For Roseanne ‘Rosie’ Fool Head and Veko Mapenzi the path to higher education was anything but certain.

Roseanne ‘Rosie’ Fool HeadFool Head, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, left South Dakota at age 15, fleeing violence and extreme poverty at home to live with a friend’s family in Denver. She would spend three years navigating the challenges of the service industry before finding the support she needed to attend college. Veko, on the other hand, fled his home in Congo at the age of 12, spending his formative years in a refugee camp in Malawi before starting a new life in Denver. 

The Denver Foundation’s Reisher Scholars Program at Fort Lewis College helped them continue their education and attain a four-year college degree.   

The program supports students with financial need, who demonstrate academic and leadership potential as undergraduates. Students enter the program as rising sophomores attending one of the partner institutions or as transfer students from a community college entering the partner institution as juniors. 

This past year, FLC had 28 Reisher scholars, and next fall, an additional 30 students will enroll in the program, which offers scholarship funding and mentoring, a supportive community with dedicated staff, and professional development programming.

“Programs like the Reisher Scholars Program are critical for students who need additional support,” said Fave Johnston, assistant director of Scholarships and Special Programs at FLC. “Durango has a high cost of living, and scholarships like this one help students manage those costs while also building a strong community on campus.”

“All of these students have very different backgrounds, but Reisher has brought them together into one community,” she added. “That's special about this program.”

Last year, the Reisher Scholars Program included financial literacy and networking workshops. Additional cohort activities focused on supporting student mental health and well-being – including group dinners and volunteering.

Finding Community

Rosie Fool Head, a senior majoring in Business Administration, said her journey to FLC was far from straightforward. She grew up in extreme poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, sometimes without food or hot water.

After a close friend died by suicide, and hoping to flee an abusive situation at home, she left the reservation at 15 to live with a friend’s family in Denver. The family helped her get a scholarship at a private school where she learned much but always felt she didn’t belong.

“Violence and instability were all I knew growing up. Although I finished high school, I spent my early twenties being self-destructive, partying a lot, and hanging around the wrong crowd,” she recalled. After graduating from high school, she enrolled in community college but soon after, she dropped out.

“I actually wasn't planning on going to college in the first place. None of my family members really went to college,” Fool Head said. “I just wasn't ready mentally. I was living all by myself, had no family near me, had no real income.”

After spending three years working in the service industry as a barista and later as a manager at a donut company, she realized that her long-term career prospects were limited.

“I felt trapped for a long time,” she recalls. Encouraged by her partner, Michael Dillon, Fool Head decided to pursue higher education at FLC, taking advantage of the Native American Tuition Waiver.

While the NATW covers a student’s tuition at FLC, it does not provide for housing or other students’ fees. She discovered the Reisher Scholars Program through the College’s online portal, and it has been a game-changer.

“Being a part of Reisher helps lessen the financial burden for me and my partner,” she said, adding the scholarship also introduced her to a community of like-minded students and supportive advisors.

Fool Head is now an active American Indigenous Business Leaders (AIBL) club member and appointed Community Chair of Fundraising. At FLC, she appreciates the solid native presence that has helped her reconnect with her culture.

Her long-term goal is to return to Pine Ridge and create businesses to help lift her community out of poverty. She dreams of establishing a resort focused on sustainable tourism, leveraging her business skills to make a positive impact.

“I'm in the process of forgiving my family and working to better my reservation by creating sustainable tourism to stimulate the economy,” Fool Head said.

From Congo to College Success

Originally from Congo, Veko Mapenzi spent several years in a refugee camp in Malawi.

“It wasn't easy at all because it's a camp. People are struggling. You don't have anything. Since I didn't know how to speak their language, I was 12, but they put me in third grade.”

Mapenzi, whose first language is Swahili, moved to the United States as a refugee in 2017, settling in Denver with his six brothers. His early years in the U.S. were marked by significant challenges, including learning another language and adapting to a different educational system.

“It was hard to make friends because I didn't know any English. You can't make friends when you can’t talk to them. I was struggling the whole first year, but I feel like I learned English fast because I was around people who spoke English all the time, even though I didn't say anything or just sat listening,” he recalled.

Despite the hurdles, Mapenzi excelled academically, graduating from high school with a GPA of 3.4 before enrolling at Aurora Community College, where he earned an associate degree in Business. Seeking more opportunities, Mapenzi transferred to FLC last semester, drawn by the scholarship opportunities and the outdoor lifestyle Durango offers.

The Reisher Scholarship was pivotal in Mapenzi’s decision to attend FLC. The scholarship made his education financially feasible and provided a supportive community of fellow scholars.

“We learn about time management, how to keep conversations going, and how not to make people feel awkward,” says Mapenzi, adding these skills have been invaluable in helping him integrate into the FLC community and succeed academically. FLC was also a place where he could practice a newly found passion.

"I was introduced to skiing in 2019 and fell in love with it. So that's one of the reasons why I chose Fort Lewis—it’s close to skiing.”

Mapenzi is majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in International Business and a minor in Entrepreneurship and Small Businesses. He said at FLC, he’s formed friendships with students from diverse backgrounds, including Japan and France, enriching his college experience. “I’ve built a really big community here,” he said.

The broader impact of the Reisher Scholars Program

Established by the Reisher family in 2001, the program is named after Roger and Margaret Reisher, who came from modest means and were the first in their families to attend and graduate from college.

The program has provided $39.3 million in scholarships to help nearly 2,500 students complete college in Colorado.

“The stories of Rosie Fool Head and Veko Mapenzi highlight the transformative impact of the Reisher Scholars Program at Fort Lewis College,” said Melissa Mount, Vice President of Advancement and CEO of the FLC Foundation. “These scholarships not only ease the financial burden on students, helping them to aim for graduation with little to no debt, but the cohort framing also creates a nurturing environment that fosters academic and personal growth. We are thankful to have partners like The Denver Foundation that support our commitment to empowering students and shaping future leaders.”

To learn more about the FLC Foundation and the Reisher Scholars Program.

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