By Amy Vaerewyck
Deandra Walker is one of about 1,500 University of Colorado Denver students who graduated in Fall Commencement 2011 on Dec. 17 at the Colorado Convention Center.
But she’s the only one who can claim to be the first graduate ever from the University Honors and Leadership (UHL) program.
A native Coloradan, Walker enrolled in the prestigious UHL program during its first semester of existence in fall 2008. Through her experience with the program, she’s taken fascinating courses, gained a bunch of close friends, served her community and rubbed elbows with some powerful people.
“I’m very happy that I got accepted into the UHL program, because it’s competitive and it’s a great honor,” she said. “I’ve had many opportunities [with UHL] that have changed me both as an individual and as a student.”
Ever shaken hands with a U.S. president? She has.
The successor to the Chancellor’s Scholars & Leaders program, the UHL is designed to engage and challenge high-performing students to reach their full potential. In short, it provides exceptional students with exceptional opportunities.
“[As a UHL student,] I’ve gone to the chancellor’s house numerous times and was able to welcome new professors to the university,” Walker said. “I volunteered at President Obama’s visit to the university! I stood next to Governor Hickenlooper and was able to get very close to the president. To hear [the president] speak was very moving.”
Know why “Frankenstein” became a classic? She does.
On slightly less extraordinary days, Walker attended one of the multi-disciplinary UHL courses, which sometimes combined two or more unlikely subject areas. For instance, her “History and Literature of Science in the 19th Century” class blended science, literature and history, as students studied how classic novels—like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula”—related to the current events and scientific discoveries of their respective settings.
“I liked being able to dive deeper into something that a lot of people take for granted,” she said of the course. Maybe even more than poring over canonical literature, Walker liked getting out into the community to apply her growing knowledge and skills.
Through a UHL senior seminar, she did extensive research on reforestation. Then, she put her research to work by handing out informative fliers in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. She talked to community members there about the benefits of planting trees in their neighborhood and encouraged them to take advantage of a local free-tree program.
Transformed by your college experience? She is.
“It’s been a long road, [but] I’ve had nothing but support from everyone in the program,” Walker said.
Now, with her biology degree in hand, she’s shopping around the West Coast for PhD programs in cellular and molecular biology and other related fields. Even if she leaves the mountains for palm trees, she’ll remember all her UHL friends—from her classmates and professor in her “Neuroscience in Society” class to the patient and welcoming administrative staff at the cozy, historic UHL House on Ninth Street Park.
“Basically, the UHL has transformed my college career.”
Best of luck to Deandra, and congratulations to all graduates—we’re proud of you!