Jackie Chacon Duarte

Bachelor of Science Candidate ’23, Construction Engineering and Management

A family trade is inspiring this first-generation student to pursue an in-demand career in construction; she found community and on-the-job experience in the process

During Jackie Chacon Duarte’s first week at CU Denver, the campus felt huge. As a first-generation student, she didn’t have a family member who’d gone to college to guide her through registering for classes, finding her way, and taking advantage of resources such as the Writing Center and Career Center. She wondered if she’d make friends and what the next four years would be like. And while all those things would still take time to figure out, almost immediately there were people on campus to help support her. Those connections, Jackie said, helped with the transition.

She found her career path when CU Denver launched an undergraduate program in construction management. “My family has a background in construction,” Jackie said. “I just fell in love with the program.” The coursework gave her an opportunity to expand on a familiar topic and the small size of the emerging program—less than 60 students—gave her a chance to get to know her fellow students and faculty. “Everyone is so focused on making sure you are succeeding,” she said.

At CU Denver, there is a place for everybody.

Through a work-study program, she formed relationships. She also joined a society of women engineers and one for Hispanic engineers. She not only met people like herself, but she also received advice about how to navigate more challenging courses. Jackie, who has interned at engineering firm JLL and GH Phipps Construction Companies, was asked to serve on the student steering committee and participate in various visioning exercises for the open innovation district. “We help the university identify what matters to us,” Jackie said.

When she comes to campus now, it’s a familiar place. She goes to classes, helps as a teacher assistant, works as a student assistant for the CEDC, and meets friends downtown to explore the city. One of her favorite things about the university is its diversity and seeing people who look like her, who are also first-generation students. “At CU Denver, there’s a place for everybody,” she said.

All of which makes her want to support other students and be a role model for women in the construction field. “As a first-generation student, my degree means that all of my parents’ efforts were not in vain and I was able to overcome every single barrier that I may have thought I had,” Jackie said. “I’m encouraging all of my siblings to do the same and go to college. And I can be the one to support them through those experiences. I can support them and help guide that path. So, yeah, my degree means a lot to my family.”