After Colorado created its newest congressional district — District 8 — the timing and opportunity to run for a seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents seemed perfect to Yolanda Ortega.
She had dedicated more than 30 years to working in higher education before going on to serve on various education-related boards in Colorado. So the role seemed like a natural fit when she found herself thinking “What’s next?”
“I want to continue to be active in higher education,” Ortega said. “Just being on the (Auraria Board of Directors) and also working throughout my whole life, I am just not ready to stop. I am living in the right place at the right time.”
Ortega is one of two Democratic candidates vying to be nominated during the upcoming primary election to earn a place on the November general election ballot for the CU Board of Regents’ 8th Congressional District.
Ortega moved to Denver in 1972 and started working at Metropolitan State University of Denver, formally Metropolitan State College of Denver, as a secretary, and 30 years later she retired from the role of vice president of student affairs.
“I absolutely loved my career in higher education, specifically on the Auraria Campus because it offered so much in terms of work experience,” she said.
Ortega said after she retired she was appointed by the governor to serve on the Auraria Board of Directors and has been on the board for six years. In addition to that, she is also involved with community organizations such as Firefly Autism and the Denver Latino Commission.
“I have always brought a sense of community (to the roles I’ve served in),” she said. “I want to bring that perspective (to the board), so that when there is a decision to be made regarding policy, we can include perspectives from grassroots organizations. They are the ones that have the connections with the communities.”
While working for Metropolitan State University, Ortega said she loved the day-to-day interactions she had with students. She enjoyed learning from them and hearing their stories.
If elected to the board, she said she would prioritize those same connections.
“I want to continue to hear from students,” Ortega said. “It’s such a diversity of thought, and it inspired me to be a better administrator.”
Prior to her candidacy, Ortega said she did not have the opportunity to work with many rural students or families. Over the past few months, she has learned a lot about the concerns rural families in District 8 have regarding higher education in Colorado. During those interactions, she has thought deeply about the question “Why CU?”
“You dig deep and you find that (rural students) really do want to have a degree that will help move that dream forward,” she said. “That’s our challenge — to look at ways in which we can meet the students where they are and give them these opportunities. Advanced degrees raise your economic potential. It’s a question of exploring their dream — their future.”