Pubic Service and Education: Lisa McVicker’s Journey
Living in a political household for the first decade of her life, Lisa McVicker grew to quickly understand the concept of giving back, both through education and public service. As an 11-year-old, Lisa was already experiencing a “whirlwind of politics,” as her father, Roy McVicker, was a state senator and United States Congressman. Her family lived in Washington D.C., where she said the museums are unforgettable. Lisa’s mother was an educator with her own cooking show on television.
Her father succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease, and almost simultaneously, her mother lost her battle to brain cancer just months after. When Lisa was just 17-years-old, both of her parents were suddenly gone.
With both a teacher and a politician as her parents, Lisa developed values of community service, education, compassion for others and optimism in her everyday activities; these values are still present in both her career and social life today.
“I’m happier than I have ever been in my life. I love my job, I love my husband and my dog and Colorado. It is because I teach; I’m a teacher and I love teaching. I teach law and I . … My father was an attorney, my grandfather was an attorney, my great grandfather was an attorney and my uncle was an attorney. I ended up going to law school after an unsettled first four decades of my life.”
Although the political whirlwind of her early life died down after the passing of her father, Lisa made it her mission to obtain an education doing something she loved. This meant finding herself at a Texas university pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in French and Spanish language. In the realm of Latin America, her father may have already paved the path, as he served on a bicontinental committee to develop relationships between Latin American and the United States.
“I picked myself up by my bootstraps and finished college at the University of Texas with a Bachelor’s in French and Spanish,” she said. Not only was she a student, she also worked as a teacher’s assistant, following the educational path her mother had carved early on.
Lisa never stopped to look back from Texas during the 1970s, as “Austin was hip back then.” This was a time of sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll and civil rights. She wore black armbands to high school and college while protesting the war, supported gay rights, had visions of radical feminists and much more. After four years pursuing her degree, Lisa took her adventurous side to Mexico and Latin America, places that would eventually link her back to public service as she obtained a law degree later in life.
She had a Mexican boyfriend named Reynaldo Cisneros. They traveled to Mexico and Central America; this is where Lisa completely fell in love with the native people, the Mayans and their culture. She recalls the days when she could travel from Austin, Texas to Atitlán, Guatemala for $48. Speaking fluent Spanish, she got on a bus all by herself, crossed the border and traveled through Mexico with friends.
“It was time before any cartels, it was a time where someone like me, I was 17-years-old traveling alone, and I was not fearful.”
They went to Atitlán and rented a canoe, rowing around a lake for a week, just camping; they went down to La Libertad in El Salvador and hung out in the sun.
“It honed my understanding of the importance of multicultural diversity, of global diversity. My Spanish got really good. And, I feel so lucky that I was able to visit before this decade where things have gotten so dangerous.”
Lisa’s pursuit of higher education led her to the east coast where she obtained a Masters of Arts in the romance languages of Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian and Portuguese. From there, Lisa continued her educational journey into New York, completing a doctorate in Latin American Literature and Spanish Language from New York University.
I happened to have fallen in love with a young man from Colorado, so I left the glamour of New York City and came back to the Rocky Mountains to be with my true love.
So, there I was with a P.hD. in Spanish, and started teaching Spanish at the University of Colorado and DU, and it was fabulous. I taught for about 12 years all together, including my teaching fellowships on the east coast. But, low and behold, there’s this gal in one of my classes that says, ‘Have you ever thought of being a corporate trainer?’ and I’m like, ‘Corporate America? Are you kidding? I’m a good hippie girl, I’m not going to work for corporate America.'”
“I worked for HBO for 6 years, and was beginning to realize that the whole idea of collective responsibility and my moral compass and feeling like I needed to give back to the world was somehow lacking. So, I decided that maybe I should go to law school.”
Echoing the footsteps of a long line of men in her family, Lisa’s love for helping others inevitably led her to obtain a jurist doctorate from the University of Denver College of Law. Her father’s legacy as an attorney influenced her so much that she applied for the Chancellor’s Scholarship for the Public Interest at the University of Denver — She obtained a full ride to the College of Law.
“If you were dedicated to helping the poor in the indigent environment and you wanted to be a lawyer, not to make money, but to help people, this was the place for you. So, true to the cause, I threw myself into my law degree and graduated and joined the Colorado Bar.”
She practiced law for about five years, and then found an advertisement looking for a professor of law at the Metropolitan State University of Denver in the College of Business. She was offered an adjunct professor job, eventually getting a full-time job at MSU.
Lisa put both her knowledge of Latin America and Spanish, as well as her law degree, to use as an immigration lawyer. There is a Federal Court of Immigration in Colorado, so she signed up for a group called the Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network, that provides legal counsel to undocumented immigrants who have been detained. She did that for almost three years. “It was heartbreaking,” she said. “Our immigration laws are so flawed. But, sticking with them was what you had to do.”
She also does some elder law. “That’s another time where you have to realize the little tiny victories you have are important,” she said. She helps them stay in their houses for a few months, write wills and get social security.
Lisa practices water law in the State of Colorado as well. “Water runs uphill to money,” she says. She and her husband bought some land in Park County, Colorado almost 30 years ago at the headwaters of the South Platte River. As a little girl, she would fish with her dad and he instilled in her the importance of water as a natural resource.
In 1997, she obtained a judicial appointment to the Center of Colorado Water Conservancy District, representing Park County and has spent since then defending the water of that area. Lisa lives every day with the values of her parents in mind, whether it be in the classroom or in the courtroom.
“All of the sudden, everything that my life had meant, which means my joy of teaching, my love of giving back, the delight that I get in young people who are optimistic and idealistic and smarter than I could ever imagine being, has just been my dream come true.”