A Reflection and Looking Ahead

May 17, 2022

Dear Lynx community,

As we reach the end of the 2021-2022 academic year, I want to express my appreciation for our students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, community, and supporters for our collective efforts in bringing us to a successful finish.

Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic and then the Marshall Fire, everyone pulled together to support our students through their educational experience and to support each other while keeping our campus safe. We had the chance to celebrate these remarkable strides when more than 2,200 Lynx graduated this spring. For the first time since 2019, we were able to honor our graduates in grand style at Saturday’s Commencement ceremony, and it was incredible to see it on the Tivoli Quad. Days like that remind us why we do what we do—to see our students and their more than 10,000 loved ones celebrate this incredible accomplishment and to know the impact of education on their future.

Our spring 2022 graduates span generations, with more than 60 years between our youngest graduate and our oldest. They span life experiences, with more than 880 being the first in their family to complete a degree and our graduates representing 36 U.S. states and 21 countries in total. But all their stories and their families’ stories converge right here. I know I speak for each of our faculty and staff members when I say that it has been a privilege to be a partner on our graduates’ journeys.

The commitment and success that’s evident across our entire community, especially during such an unpredictable academic year, is both humbling and inspiring. Our university is growing into its full potential. And as we continue to take steps to realize our 2030 Strategic Plan and make education work for all, I want to share a few of the specific ways your efforts are moving CU Denver forward.

We Are Elevating Our Campus

We began the academic year opening the doors to our new 555-bed City Heights Residence Hall in the center of our campus, where first-year students were able to take advantage of affordable student housing in the heart of downtown Denver. Adjoining City Heights is the new Learning Commons. This innovative, multi-use building includes math and writing labs to support our students’ successful transition to college, a new faculty collaboration space on the 3rd floor, and other spaces to support camaraderie and engagement across our community.

Then, in September, we added a new, selfie-worthy spot to campus with the installation of our 8-foot-tall, 1,000-pound, bronze Lynx statue right across the street from City Heights—in the Benson Commons courtyard. This statue now sits proudly, with its head held high, as a prominent and permanent fixture of our Lynx community.

But the evolutions to our campus didn’t stop there. I’m sure many of you have seen (and maybe even photographed) the phenomenal murals on the Student Commons and Learning Commons buildings. This spring we partnered with internationally acclaimed artist, two-time CU Denver alumnus, and our Commencement speaker, Thomas Evans (AKA Detour), to paint the picture of our university’s future with this one-of-a-kind campus-wide project (check out the video below). These murals exemplify the diversity and reach of our alumni—all doing amazing things, each in their own way and for their own communities. But it also brings their diverse impact back to its beginning—here on our campus. We are so proud to tell their stories—and the stories of all our students and alumni—as we highlight the many ways a CU Denver education is a force for good around Colorado and the world.

As we continue to evolve our campus, we are so excited to break ground on a much-needed new College of Engineering, Design and Computing building in December. This facility will provide our faculty and staff with the state-of-the-art spaces they need to provide a cutting-edge engineering and computing education, expand research and partnership opportunities, and push us one step closer to our goal of creating an open innovation district right here in downtown Denver.

Our People Continue to Make Big Impacts

Strengthening our institution’s reach is something we have all been working hard for over the last year. Our faculty and staff in particular are tackling difficult issues and advancing society, with work that truly transforms our lives.

Take, for instance, the work of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Professors Katharine Kelsey and Brian Buma, who were awarded a 5-year, $3.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study aspects of climate change on Colorado’s Front Range. Or that of College of Arts and Media Professor Cecilia Wu whose audio-visual artwork, “Mandala,” is now part of the Denver Art Museum’s permanent collection. Or the scope of impact represented by our newly announced 2022-2023 TIAA Chancellor’s Urban Engaged Scholars—scholars from each of our schools and colleges whose research addresses current urban issues in the Denver area, while emphasizing community partnerships, local impact, and student involvement.

The reach of our faculty members continues to impress us in Denver and beyond. We had the opportunity to honor even more faculty two weeks ago at our Celebration of Faculty Excellence—with 40 award-winning faculty members and 10 faculty members recognized for 25 years of service to CU Denver. And—never understating the immense impact of our staff members—I am grateful that Staff Council is helping us recognize the instrumental work of our staff members across the university. Our staff are the backbone of this institution, working every day to serve our students, keep our community safe, keep us informed, and keep our lights on. New initiatives such as Let’s Brag About It! and the long-established Employee of the Month shine a light on our amazing staff even more.

Going forward, we are committed to investing more in our community as we create a professional environment that lives up to CU Denver’s strategic goal of becoming a best place to work. We also know that, as a University for Life, CU Denver itself plays an important role in our people’s growth. And steps such as launching a pilot program to give employees more flexibility with their tuition assistance benefit signify that charge.

I’m nearing the end of my second year here at CU Denver, and I am continuing to prioritize spending time listening to our students, faculty, and staff. During my visits to each of our Schools and Colleges this semester, it was clear to me that there’s a deep and invested interest from our faculty and staff on diving deeper into this work collectively. I plan to set up similar in-person conversations with all central staff units next fall to continue this pattern of listening and open conversation. When I look at what the next academic year brings, my highest priority is continuing to collaborate and co-create with all of you.

I also appreciate the time I spent with the Chancellor’s Student Advisory Council and meetings with other student groups and students such as those with the Center for Identity & Inclusion, the Office of Veteran & Military Student Services, Mu Delta Alpha, and our students conducting undergraduate research. These conversations have kept student perspectives front and center.

We have already seen the power that collective engagement yields, especially when it comes to benefiting the communities we serve. Last fall, when we expanded our Displaced Aurarian Scholarship alongside MSU Denver and CCD, I heard from so many that we can and must do more. And I completely agree. That’s why we are embarking on an initiative to preserve and renovate historic homes along Ninth Street, in partnership with AHEC and our community, to continue honoring the people and communities who came before us. Stay tuned to see how the state legislature and governor will support descendants of Displaced Aurarians.

At every turn, and with every step, I am always reminded of how proud I am to be part of this Lynx community. And I know my pride is felt by others across the university and community. I am proud of my leadership team, who have led major initiatives that are bringing our 2030 Strategic Plan to life. We have accomplished so much this past academic year—too many things to talk about in this letter, in fact! And I hope now that you can take those long-awaited summer vacations, or at the very least get some much-needed rest.

Another Transformative Year Is Ahead of Us

Looking ahead, I know our future can be even brighter. We will continue to guide every effort by leveraging the vast potential of our students, our diverse expertise, and our shared commitment to progress.

Thank you again for standing beside me and showing up every day to make a difference in our students’ lives and shape CU Denver into an institution that works for all.

Michelle Mark signature

Michelle Marks

Chancellor’s Office

CU Denver

Lawrence Street Center

1380 Lawrence Street

Suite 1400

Denver, CO 80204


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