Apr 102019

Meet the Honorees of the 2019 Passport Dinner

The Denver Center for International Studies Foundation is pleased to honor these outstanding community members at our upcoming event, the 2019 Passport Dinner: Magic of Morocco, April 24, 2019 at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Gabriela Cornejo Figueroa, Native of Chile

Melanie Grant Global Ambassador Award: Gabriela Cornejo Figueroa, Native of Chile

Gabriela Cornejo Figueroa was born in Santiago, Chile.  At the age of 17, she immigrated to the United States escaping one of the most brutal and violent dictatorships in modern history under general Augusto Pinochet. It was difficult, starting over in a new country at the age of 17.  As a teenager she missed her mom who stayed behind in Chile. However Gabriela says, “My mom’s wisdom, guidance and inspiration were always present and I followed her advice to GET AN EDUCATION.”

She enrolled at the University of Colorado to study civil engineering in search of more opportunities. When she graduated from the University of Colorado, with a degree of Civil and environmental Engineering she became the first woman in her family to attend college and obtain a degree. S

he dedicated her career to public service, working 30 years for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). She is known statewide for her successful advocacy of safety for the traveling public and has recently received national recognition for her innovation on the creation of a new program used to detect and eliminate hazardous locations on all transportation corridors. Gabriela retired as the Chief Safety and Traffic Engineer for the state of Colorado.  During her tenure at CDOT, she received several achievement awards for promoting and establishing a diverse workplace.

In 2011 she became the first lady of Denver while married to Mayor Bill Vidal. As first lady she dedicated her efforts to help underserved high school students by hosting children from Denver Public Schools to the Mayor’s Mansion for cultural jams and pep talks.  She loves giving to low income students scholarships, showing them though Music and Art the beauty of diversity and encourages them to study and never give up.

“We are lucky to live in a country that offers so much opportunity, so take advantage of it,” she tells the kid. “don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget your teachers and the people who helped you get where you wanted to be and do not forget the people who have been dismissed and discounted by society.”

Community Ambassador Award: Amy Schwartz, BuildStrong Education

Amy Schwartz joined BuildStrong Education as Executive Director in 2008.  During her tenure, she has led many educational initiatives for the organization including the development of The Colorado Homebuilding Academy, Z Place and several new school projects.  

Before BuildStrong, she worked with First 5 LA School Readiness Programs for four years brining comprehensive early childhood programs to children and families across Los Angeles.  In total, Amy has more than twenty years of experience working with various educational programs at all grade levels.  Her work has centered on the goal of increasing student outcomes in low-resourced, low-performing school communities through collaboration, family support and public-private partnerships.

Ms. Schwartz currently serves on the boards of Steps to Success and Executives Partnering to Invest in Children.  She is also a founding board member of The STEAD School.  

She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History from Wittenberg University and her Masters of Arts in Social Research Methodology, from the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.  She is currently a doctoral student in the Education Leadership and Policy Studies Program at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.   

Student/Alumni Ambassador Award: Joanne Kron Schwartz, Civitas

Joanne is a Principal at Civitas Public Affairs Group and leads its Denver office. She has a strong background in campaign and organizational management, media relations, and message development, and specializes in building and executing targeted multi-state advocacy campaigns, as well as advising national organizations and funders on how to effectively engage in the states to build momentum on key issues and pass policies.

Prior to joining Civitas, Joanne served as the executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, the state’s largest progressive multi-issue advocacy organization. She oversaw its communications campaigns and voter education efforts during one of the most successful election cycles for progressives in the battleground state.

Previously, Joanne served as the managing director at Gill Action. She was a key member of the political team and worked to pass and protect relationship recognition and nondiscrimination legislation for LGBT people in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin. She managed communications, press relations, public education, as well as implementation of research-based messaging across the organization’s work that helped shift the narrative about marriage equality toward the winning frame of love and commitment. Joanne also worked at the Gill Foundation where she oversaw its public relations and messaging strategy, drove communications grantmaking, and recruited a diverse set of donors to the organization’s OutGiving (donor network) program.

Joanne graduated from DCIS in 1998 when it was located at Denver West High School. She attended the University of Denver on a Model United Nations competition scholarship that she earned while at DCIS. Since graduating from the program, Joanne has maintained close ties to DCIS. She served as member of the DCIS Foundation board of directors from 2004 to 2009, including two years as board president. She holds a master’s degree in international studies. A native Denverite, Joanne resides with her husband Jeff and sons Connor and Spencer.


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