School of Public Affairs/Alumni
BUILDING DIALOGUES: POLICY AND BUSINESS LEADERS, MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS, AND STUDENTS
Jamie Van Leeuwen’s trajectory from “financially ambitious” pre-med student to entry-level social worker occurred when Van Leeuwen was preparing to apply to medical school. His undergraduate mentor suggested that before looking into medicine, he explore his interest in international issues. The mentor advised Van Leeuwen to get a master’s degree in public health and then decide.
As part of the international MPH Van Leeuwen was pursuing at Tulane University, he traveled to Ghana’s Lagon University to work on DNA testing for malaria, where he got his first taste of how poverty and complex social problems intersect. Before completing his PhD in New Orleans, Van Leeuwen enrolled at the University of Colorado Boulder. Roxanne White, then-president of Urban Peak (currently Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff), recruited Van Leeuwen to spearhead the street outreach program for Urban Peak, a nonprofit for homeless youth.
His years at Urban Peak gave Van Leeuwen an enormous range of experience in managing and developing programs to combat homelessness, in fundraising, and in how to work with the media and serve on governmental task forces. Both White and Van Leeuwen were interested in using data-driven methods to help the poor. As his work with Urban Peak deepened, Van Leeuwen began conducting research on intravenous drug use and testing for sexually transmitted diseases in nonclinical outreach settings.
Their research piqued the interest of Dr. Franklin James, a University of Colorado Denver professor of public policy in the School of Public Affairs (SPA). As he and Van Leeuwen worked together and became friends, James convinced Van Leeuwen to transfer to CU Denver and work with him.
In 2006 Van Leeuwen was appointed executive director of Denver’s Road Home, Mayor Hickenlooper’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. The job drew on his belief in the power of well-implemented public policy and his passion for combating poverty.
Just over mid-way through the 10-year plan, Denver’s Road Home has made measureable strides: $50 million in new funds, 2,000 new units of affordable housing, 3,500 families saved from falling into homelessness and a reduction in chronic homelessness by 70 percent. The program was also recognized by HUD as one of the top six homeless programs in the country.
Hickenlooper tapped Van Leeuwen to become the policy czar for his gubernatorial campaign, a position that had Van Leeuwen learning rapidly on unfamiliar issues such as agriculture and energy.
“It was one of the most extraordinary learning experiences of my career,” he says of the campaign. “SPA taught me how to write good public policy.”
In January, Van Leeuwen became Gov. Hickenlooper’s new policy advisor and policy director for health, human services and education—another great opportunity.
One of the projects on the list is an exchange opportunity, called the Global Institute, through the grassroots nonprofit Come Let’s Dance (CLD) for students, business and policy leaders and medical professionals in Uganda. The idea is not to “fix Africa,” Van Leeuwen says, but to support CLD’s medical and business-empowerment initiatives while also inspiring research and ongoing interest in addressing poverty in Africa and the United States. “We’re excited about what public policy students can learn from Uganda,” he says, “and what Uganda can learn from them.”
“We’re excited about what public policy students can learn from Uganda and what Uganda can learn from them.”
- Jamie Van Leeuwen
PhD, School of Public Affairs/Alumni