Welcome back to the start of a new semester! - 01/23/19
Welcome back, Colleagues,
January — the start of a new year and a new semester!
I hope you enjoyed your time with friends and family over the holidays. For me,
carrying out some treasured traditions, experiencing a change in routine, and
seeing all of this through the eyes of my six-year-old granddaughter was pretty
wonderful. By the way, if you haven’t played the latest version of the card
game UNO — UNO Attack — I highly recommend it. It provides an exciting twist to
an old favorite!
New beginnings offer an opportunity for reflection as well as looking forward
to what’s ahead. Ending the year with winter commencement is a powerful
reminder of why what we do matters. This ceremony is deeply rooted in
traditions of the past, but it is all about the future — because our graduates
represent the promise of a brighter tomorrow.
As I present diplomas to our graduates, I see the seal of the University of
Colorado on each diploma cover. The seal contains the Greek words that
translated say, “Let Your Light Shine.” The degrees our students earn enable
them to shape and enhance their lives in ways that are both immediately obvious
and that will take time to be revealed.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a lamplighter? Our jobs, whether they
involve direct, regular interaction with our students or are behind-the-scenes,
help light the paths our students traverse. While our core mission at CU Denver
is to produce college graduates prepared to lead productive and purposeful
lives, the actual experiences we deliver along their academic journey are also
important. The interactions our students have with faculty, staff and
classmates influence how they feel about being here and whether they persist in
As we embark on this new year, I’d like us to proclaim 2019 the year of the “unparalleled student experience” at CU Denver. Over the last few months, the
Student Access and Achievement team has taken the lead in reimagining the way
we serve our students — from recruitment to graduation — and every human and
virtual touch point in between.
I know this challenge may sound daunting as it is an enormous undertaking to
reconceptualize the physical and virtual support we provide our students. It
will take a commitment from each one of us to make this happen. But the journey
of a thousand miles does, in fact, begin with a single step.
My most recent single step was to look in the eyes and shake the hands of our
graduates as they crossed the stage at winter commencement. I strive to make my
brief moment with each new graduate as meaningful as possible to reinforce how
uniquely personal this accomplishment is for every one of them. Doing so is
just a small way of contributing to their unparalleled student experience.
In late November, I had the opportunity to visit online retailer Zappos’
headquarters. Zappos is arguably one of the top role models when it comes to
outstanding customer service. I found there is much we can learn from a company
like this as we look to redefine the experience we provide to our students.
Zappos’ business is selling shoes, but the company believes its “secret sauce”
is making a personal emotional connection (what Zappos calls a
P.E.C.) with each customer served every day. The results speak for themselves —
both in the company’s financial success and in measures of customer
satisfaction and return sales. That too is our goal — to create a student
experience that replicates this kind of personalized attention and ensures
every student feels cared about and supported as they work toward their
At the State
of the Campus in October, I
introduced the CU
While our strategic
priorities remain the pillars
for achieving our goals, the flywheel components represent the major levers
that will lead CU Denver to long-term, sustainable impact and success. The
levers will be moved not by any one of us individually but by all of us, each
taking our own single step.
Likewise, it is the seemingly small interactions we have with our students that
will make a big difference. Imagine if each of us would do one thing each day
that is intended to help our students feel more welcome, valued and
For faculty, perhaps it’s sending an email to your class after the first test.
To those students who aced it, congratulate them. To those who did ok, provide
an encouraging word. To those who struggled, suggest a resource.
For staff who provide student support services, maybe it’s taking an extra
moment to make a transaction feel like a personal connection. Inquire as to how
the student is doing. End the conversation by asking, “Is there anything else I
can do for you?”.
For those of us who don’t have direct student responsibilities, notice if a
student seems lost. Ask if they need assistance. On the elevator or when
crossing campus, share a smile and extend a warm greeting.
It will take us working together to evolve our structure and processes to
deliver the unparalleled student experience. But ultimately, the flywheel turns
on single, simple gestures, applied consistently and compounded when reinforced
by each other’s actions. I encourage you to print out the CU Denver flywheel.
Pin it to your bulletin board or place it prominently in your workstation.
Review it often to consider ways your efforts contribute and gain traction as we
make it turn.
And, as we embark on a new year, remember this remarkable reality: when we help
others let their light shine, it rekindles our own flame. May 2019 be
illuminated with hope and the promise that what each of us does matters. Thank
you for all the little — and big! — things you do.
Here’s to a brilliant year!