Achieving Our Goals Together This Semester

Dec. 16, 2021

Dear CU Denver Students, Faculty, and Staff:

This Saturday’s commencement marks an important moment of reflection on this past semester and year. We will honor more than 1,000 Lynx graduates—the largest number ever participating in our fall ceremony—who will walk in CU Denver’s first in-person commencement since 2019.  Despite the pandemic-related challenges that have made school, work, and life so hard, our community will come together to celebrate our students and affirm our conviction that education is the path to equity, to choice, and to social and economic well-being.

I am so proud of our graduates, and I want to acknowledge the hard work of all our students. Their success, even in the middle of a pandemic, speaks to the perseverance and resilience that defines our Lynx community. I also want to recognize our dedicated faculty and staff, who teach, support, advise, and care for our students and help them achieve their dreams.

We applaud our graduates for their grand accomplishments. And as a campus, we are on a course to realizing our own potential and catalyzing opportunity in a way that only a university like ours can. It was only six months ago that we launched our bold 2030 Strategic Plan. And it was only four months ago that we began our first full in-person semester since March 2020. Collectively, we have kept our campus safe while advancing the ways we educate, research, and engage and impact our communities. That work alone makes me incredibly proud. But like our students, CU Denver hasn’t just succeeded this semester. We have taken significant steps as we build a university that makes education work for all.

I’d like to share a few of those highlights.

Activating Our Commitment to Equity and Student Success 

At every step, our dedication to equity guides us and pushes us to act. In October 2021, CU Denver and CU Anschutz Medical Campus became the first research university in Colorado to be designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) for that year by the U.S. Department of Education. I’m grateful for the unified effort that led to this recognition, as it enables us to begin a journey of providing culturally responsive support that will directly impact our Hispanic student community and enhance services for all students. Not long after we received our HSI status, we made a tri-institutional announcement (alongside MSU and CCD) expanding the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship. All direct descendants of Aurarians who were displaced when the  Auraria Campus was built in the 1970s are now eligible.

We have also taken a number of other actions—inspired by our Equity Task Force and broader community—to build the necessary capacity for change and move equity to the forefront of our work. For example, we have implemented the NameCoach tool to assist with name pronunciation, and the evolving Search Advocate program will help ensure we  conduct more equitable candidate searches.

These efforts represent a strong step toward Goal 1 of our strategic plan, be the first equity-serving institution in the nation, and they underscore what we value most as an institution: diversity, justice, and inclusion as the foundation for learning and discovery.

Developing Diverse, Adaptable Talent for the Workforce of the Future

We also know that cultural competency and adaptability play a vital role in today’s rapidly evolving workforce, especially in our own backyard. Colorado and the nation are experiencing unprecedented job movement, and companies face a great need for diverse, skilled, workforce-ready employees. CU Denver remains a leading contributor to the state’s economy, historically being a major producer of Colorado talent (two-thirds of our alumni stay in Colorado), and we hold a distinctive role in developing critically needed K-12 educators and health and mental health professionals. But I also continue to hear from so many of you that our agility as a young, urban, research institution means we can do even more. And I agree.

That’s why we recently launched an Interdisciplinary Computing Task Force to prepare a diverse, job-ready talent pipeline with computing skills across all of our disciplines. And furthering our efforts to provide in-demand education when, where, and how people need it—to become known as a university for life—a Digital Strategy Task Force is creating a vision for how we meet the most pressing needs of our learners. Looking to the future, our new Engineering, Design, and Computing Building (nearing the design phase) will serve as the anchor for a next-generation technology workforce in Colorado and beyond.

Upping Our Game in Research

Since the very beginning of our strategic planning process, we’ve known our goals are bold—that’s clear. And while moving from ideation to implementation can be difficult sometimes, I’ve been overwhelmed by the willingness to make these goals a reality. Following two very successful research symposiums (one in October and one in November) with nearly 200 total faculty members attending, we're that much closer to identifying our research grand challenges. It’s been fascinating for me to witness the innovative and creative scholarship already happening in so many corners of our university. Building these nexus opportunities, with faculty at the core, is an essential part of the progress we’ll make and the direction we’ll take, together.

Between now and early March, we’ll be taking proposals from faculty, with the goal to identify our first two grand challenges in April. Along with our plans to build an open innovation district in downtown Denver, I truly believe CU Denver is positioned to solve some of the most complex problems facing our world and benefit society. And we’re not even 50 years old yet!

Investing in Our Campus and Our Community

Unlike every other fall return, this one was particularly special coming out of a virtual year—and worthy of multiple celebrations. In August, we held a grand opening ceremony to welcome 555 students into our new City Heights Residence Hall and Learning Commons, and I also got to experience my first ever CU Denver Block Party. What a treat!

Then in September, the bronze Lynx statue created by artist Dan Ostermiller got its new, permanent home in the courtyard between the Student Commons and the Wellness Center to provide a great focal point for our campus. I love showing him off on campus tours and seeing students take photos with him. That same month, we hosted our inaugural Future Fest, with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters convening in downtown Denver to celebrate (and plan) our future together for the first time in 18 months. Recognizing our community’s contributions and investing in your well-being is how we make CU Denver a people-centered best place to work. And those investments are ongoing. The Lecturer, Instructional, Research, and Clinical Faculty Task Force is working to strengthen non-tenure-track faculty success, and the third floor of the new Learning Commons is a dedicated space to support all faculty, particularly those without an official “landing zone” on campus.

From all that’s happening, it’s clear that our university is establishing itself as a regional and national leader. This pandemic has exposed real vulnerabilities, but our work continues to improve society and bring opportunity to those who have traditionally been left out or underserved. That’s real, transformative value produced by an institution on the move. But we’re only on the move because our people move us—and all of you have certainly moved me. I am so proud.

I am also incredibly grateful for your commitment to CU Denver, to our students, and to incorporating health and safety protocols into your daily work as we protect each other. I know that as a community, we must continue to commit to each other’s personal wellbeing. And we will as we write our next chapter in the spring.

I wish you a wonderful holiday, a restful break, and a happy and healthy new year.                                         

Michelle Marks

Chancellor’s Office

CU Denver

Lawrence Street Center

1380 Lawrence Street

Suite 1400

Denver, CO 80204


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