Maria Guajardo, the daughter of illiterate Mexican immigrant parents, has committed herself to improving the lives of children and forged a career in advocacy for children locally, nationally, and internationally.
Guajardo received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Harvard, then master’s and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology from the University of Denver. Her doctoral dissertation examined the question of Latinas dropping out of school, which launched her career at the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), where she was the state’s dropout prevention coordinator. While at CDE, Guajardo received a Kellogg National Fellowship to examine the role children have in creating world peace. She traveled to 10 countries, participating in international dialogues to advance the living conditions for children in third-world countries.
In 1992, Guajardo became the executive director of the Latin American Research and Service Agency (LARASA), where she established a regional Latino public policy center that published research in Colorado and nationally on Latino issues related to education, health, and the labor force. She was appointed by President Clinton to the Minority Mental Health panel, which identified healthcare gaps and resources for the Latino community. Later, as executive director of assets for Colorado Youth, she positioned Colorado as a leader in the field of youth development, specifically targeting parent engagement and cultural competency.
In 2003, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper selected Guajardo as executive director of the Mayor’s Office for Education and Children. Guajardo advanced the Denver Preschool Bill, which created universal access to quality preschool options for four-year-olds. She implemented the 5 by 5 Project, making cultural venues accessible to poor families with young children, and the Lights On After School Partnership, funding more than 700 programs for more than 50,000 students.
Guajardo has worked with Soka Gakkai International to advance peace through culture and education. She is the first Latina member of the board of trustees of Soka University of America, whose mission is to develop global citizens for the 21st century. For 15 years she has served as a trustee for the University of Denver, the only Latina on the board. She was the first Latina to become board president for the Mental Health Center of Denver, and has also served on the boards of The Children’s Hospital, The Denver Foundation, and The Veterans of Hope Project.