Above: Colleen Langan outside the JPMorgan Chase & Co. office in Roseville, where she currently works. (Photo courtesy Colleen Langan)
When choosing a career path, helping others was at the top of Colleen Langan’s (Porter ’06, anthropology) priorities.
She worked for Wells Fargo in a technology team in Silicon Valley—booming with startups in the early 2000s. She and her team helped small companies establish themselves with banking and lending. Langan eventually decided she was interested in treasury, a field made up of more women that had a larger potential to help others directly.
In 2021, Langan became the vice president, treasury management officer at JPMorgan Chase & Co. In her position, she works more closely with higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and health-care providers.
However, before spearheading her career, Langan had to overcome personal hardships at an early age.
A week after graduating from high school, Langan found herself in a difficult situation.
Langan’s mother struggled with addiction, and after a series of poor choices, she was no longer in a position to care for Langan or her younger sister. With zero financial support, Langan was faced with the possibility of not being able to pursue a college degree. So she picked up the phone and called UC Santa Cruz’s Financial Aid Office.
“I was faced with a choice at that point in time,” Langan said. “I didn’t have any family or money to go to school, and I really wanted to go. I don’t know what possessed me to pick up the phone and call UCSC; I was only 18 and very shy.”
She attributes her desire for wanting to pursue higher education to her high school Spanish teacher, alumna Edith Salvatore (Oakes ’94, language studies).
A fateful phone call
The phone call led the Financial Aid Office to set Langan up with grants and loans to help her afford tuition and housing while at UCSC.
“It took so much for me to even want to go to school; nobody in my family had gone to college,” Langan said. “So I had to work my way up to wanting to do it, and then to have it almost be taken away was terrifying. I’m glad I picked up the phone.”
Langan quickly realized that although she could use the grants and loans to pay her tuition, housing, and dining hall meal plan, she had no extra cash for textbooks or other items. After another phone call with the Financial Aid Office, she was connected to the Smith Society.
The Smith Society, founded by Bill Dickinson (Cowell ’68, philosophy) in 1999, creates a cross-generational community that provides academic, personal, social, and financial support to UCSC students who lack the traditional family support afforded to most of their peers.
Langan attended a meeting, spoke with Dickinson, and soon made connections and received scholarships that supported her through her time at UCSC.
“I joined Smith and met other students who were like me and had adults in my life who were willing to support me with no strings attached,” Langan said. “They were there for me and helped guide me. It allowed me to feel more comfortable and do things slightly outside my comfort zone.”
Since graduating from UCSC, Langan has donated to the Smith Society. She says she wants to help students who are in a similar situation.
Smith Society leaders say that’s exactly the circle they hope to create.
“A college education, and the relationships and career preparation it offers, truly levels the playing field. For many of our alumni, the support of Smith has created avenues and opportunities to go on to a fulfilling career and meaningful life,” said Cheryl Jones, Smith Society volunteer and UCSC Financial Aid Office retiree. “Colleen and many other Smith alumni are living proof of that.”
Jones was the person to answer the phone the second time young Langan called the Financial Aid Office.
“I feel it was fate that we connected since the only reason I answered the phone that day was because I was filling in for someone who was sick,” Jones said. “I immediately invited her to join the Smith Society during that phone call, and the rest is history.”
As part of the Smith Society, Langan was active in outreach efforts to local foster youth, encouraging them to consider college in the future, and interned at a local news station in her final year at UCSC.
Langan says she is grateful for the many opportunities the Smith Society provided her, and is glad to give back.
“I knew how hard and how scary the prospect of going to school without financial support was,” Langan said. “And I’ve always been the kind of person where if someone helped me out, I want to pay it forward.”