Denise Callahan


Postsecondary Success

“It resonates a lot for me, what our students are going through.”

Resources for education weren’t easy to find when Denise Callahan was growing up in rural Northeastern Oregon, but she found a way. And she has spent her entire career finding ways for others to access and complete education beyond high school as well.

Denise brought her passion for students to The Ford Family Foundation in 2012 as the director of postsecondary success. She leads the programs and scholarships that make life-changing opportunities and support available to high-need students, including adults, who may experience barriers but have the passion and potential to continue their education.

“We are able to think beyond just the credential itself,” Denise says about her efforts to support stronger higher education systems and increase awareness of the barriers faced by students, particularly those in rural areas. Her focus on where the higher education system breaks down for underrepresented students of all ages paves the way for more inclusive and hopeful pathways.

A first-generation college student herself, Denise depended on three jobs and scholarships to pay for tuition at Willamette University. She earned undergraduate degrees in English and Spanish and a graduate degree in nonprofit management. After leaving for a few years following graduation, she returned to Willamette University where she spent 12 years building community with students, alumni and parents so that other young people could go to college.

Denise enjoys traveling and cooking with her husband, and exploring hiking trails and all the beautiful Pacific Northwest has to offer.
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