“Congratulations to all of our graduates, you did it. You’re here because of all your dedication and hard work,” said Mason Kolbe, MS ‘19, in his opening remarks for a celebration of the CU Denver Business School’s Fall 2023 graduates. College is a journey that often imposes challenges, both inside and outside the classroom. The business school prides itself on having students who rise to the occasion, using their dedication and hard work to overcome these challenges and become more empowered as a result. 

This fall, the business school is proud to announce the four graduates who received the title of “Outstanding Graduates” and one senior was honored for her excellence and hard work within the First Generation and Multicultural (FaM) program. 

Outstanding Graduate Awardees

Alexxis Cornelius, ‘23, BSBA, Accounting & Financial Management

As a first-generation student, Alexxis Cornelius faced challenges navigating college life. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened feelings of isolation, depression, and exclusion. However, with the help of her support network, she pushed through these difficult times to earn her associate’s degree and transfer to CU Denver. 

“One standout memory from my time at CU Denver’s Business School was the sense of community and purpose I found through my club involvement.” Cornelius served as treasurer for Women in Business and recorder for Beta Alpha Psi, where she empowered women in the business industry and helped connect students with professionals. She also organized workshops, which provided her with a sense of belonging and community. 

“The Business School not only provided me with the support I lacked but also allowed me to give back and support other students who might have been in the same boat.” 

Giving back to the communities that supported her serves as a driving force for Cornelius. In the future, she hopes to establish a non-profit that offers free financial lessons and tax assistance to marginalized communities. As someone who has experienced the struggles of navigating financial systems in new countries, she firmly believes that everyone deserves access to financial education and assistance. 

Cornelius double majored in Accounting and Financial Management and graduated Summa Cum Laude. “This degree not only opens up doors of opportunities but also reflects my gratitude for the support network at home and CU Denver that played an important role in my success. I believe this degree truly symbolizes the power of perseverance and support in overcoming challenges.”

Currently, Cornelius is pursuing a Master’s in Accounting and plans on taking her first CPA exam in December 2023. After she graduates, she will move to Missouri and begin working as a Deloitte auditor. 

“I am excited to enter the accounting and finance industry with a solid foundation, and I am grateful for the people who have supported me along the way. 

Kristina Lee, ‘23, BSBA, Marketing

Kristina Lee, B.SBA. in Marketing with a Minor in Communications ’23, spent most of her formative years attending an international school in China. With the geographical about-face, Lee felt pursuing a degree in the U.S. would be daunting. Acclimating to the stark cultural contrast required courage. “CU Denver was a leap of faith,” Lee said. 

After pursuing other fields like healthcare and journalism, she finally found her academic home in MarCom. Lee credited her advisors and professors with her selection. “[They] shared their stories, and I finally found something that clicked: strategic communication and business development,” Lee said. 

As a financially self-supported student who worked and attended school full-time, she states that her degree was one of her life’s most challenging albeit rewarding experiences. “I am so excited about what the future holds,” Lee said, “While finding a job is my top priority, I am thrilled to finally have the capacity to spend time with family, friends, and those who have been shoulders to lean on during the last few years.”

Karmin Canales, MS ‘23, Master’s of Science, Finance

At 16, Karmin Canales embarked on a transformative journey into community service, dedicating her summers as a junior counselor for inner-city youth at a nearby YMCA. “I wanted to give back all the memorable moments I had received as a child through the YMCA. At a very young age, I learned the value of random acts of kindness and how that can positively shape a person,” she reflects.

Transitioning to her professional career, Karmin’s proudest achievement resonates in her ability to elevate her previous employer’s lowest-grossing department into the highest-grossing department globally. She acknowledges the difficulties faced with dedication and hard work, saying, “I had to restructure the entire operations process for the department I managed by implementing more efficient ways of processing payments daily. This experience also taught me the value of teamwork and how essential it is to be able to accomplish such a huge endeavor.”

Delving into the memories of her time at CU Denver’s Business School, Karmin fondly recalls the caring and dedicated faculty as her favorite aspect. “I felt that the faculty were as genuinely invested in my learning and success, and I will forever be grateful for that!”

Post-graduation, Karmin sets her sights on a career in investing, specializing in commodities. She envisions leveraging her networks to establish a non-profit organization in ten years, centered on causes close to her heart and advocating for communities without a voice.

Meagan Tracey, MS ‘23, Master’s of Science, Management

When she was nine months old, Meagan Tracey was adopted from a Russian orphanage. Since then, her parents have given her a deep love of education and instilled in her the values of independence, diligence, and integrity. “It is because of them that I am a forward thinker, hard worker, and strive to give back to the country that gave me everything.” 

Tracey completed her undergraduate degree in 2020, and despite COVID-19 restrictions, her family huddled around her and found ways to give her accomplishment the deserved celebration. However, the reality of the pandemic soon set in, and Tracey experienced countless rejection letters while on a fruitless job hunt. 

However, Tracey decided to turn her ambitions away from employment and back towards academia. “I wanted an MS degree because I have always enjoyed school, challenging myself, and making my family proud.” Shortly after being accepted into the CU Denver Business School master’s program, Tracey received an email from Peterson Air Force Base informing her that she had been selected to become a United States Air Force contracting specialist. 

“I will always remember how, in just two days, my future finally came together, and I finally saw the light at the end of the dark tunnel called 2020.”

Balancing her work and education proved to have some challenges. After working for 12 hours, Tracey had to begin classwork, and the slow onset of burnout was incredibly draining. However, with the support of her family, friends, and peers, Tracey persevered. Using what she learned in class helped Tracey rise above her peers and become a leader within the workplace.

Her hard work earned her the 2023 Department of the Air Force Outstanding Operational Contracting Civilian in Training Award, one of the highest honors a civilian in contracting can receive. Tracey was recently picked up by an agency in Washington, D.C., and plans to continue her career in contracting for the Air Force. She also intends to pursue a PhD but believes a break is in order first. 

“I am so thankful to the University and my professors for supporting and challenging me. I’m also incredibly grateful to my family, who had rooted for me and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.” 

First-Generation & Multicultural (FaM) Excellence in Leadership Award

Rahwa Desta, ‘23, BSBA, Finance

Rahwa Desta’s journey at CU Denver Business School provided invaluable spaces, helping her navigate the business world while working toward her goals. As a finance major with minimal financial knowledge, Desta said she “frequently struggled with feelings of imposter syndrome and lacked a community on campus that understood that, especially in the business world.” The First Generation and Multicultural (FaM) Program and Empowering Women in Business (EWiB) course aided her with foundational knowledge, experience, mentorship, and resources needed to maneuver traditionally white and male/dominated industries. 

Desta and some of her FaM counterparts spearheaded the “First-Gen: Unfiltered” podcast, aiming to create a supportive and inclusive community by sharing the authentic stories of first-generation students. She also directly impacted other students, like CU Denver sophomore Ramisa Era. “As a first-generation student from a different culture, her unwavering support eased the challenges. Rahwa, not just a mentor but a beacon of inspiration, helped me discover my true potential and instilled in me the strength to own it,” Era said. 

Desta will attend Washington State University as part of the Financial Consultant Academy at Charles Schwab in June 2024. FaM Director Nimol Hen has the highest hopes for Desta’s future, “I can’t wait to see what she does down the line and will be cheering her on from my seat, always.”

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