Two Important Initiatives

Oct. 15, 2020

Dear CU Denver Community,

I’m writing today to tell you about two important initiatives: the establishment of our equity task force and the naming of the inaugural seed grant winners in the Presidential Initiative on Urban Research.

Equity Task Force

When I became chancellor in July amid a national reckoning for social justice, I learned of a number of letters and petitions to CU Denver from faculty, staff, students, and alumni. These letters largely expressed frustration with a lack of action on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). It was clear that we needed a comprehensive and cohesive approach to address these concerns in a thoughtful, holistic and systematic way. So I spent my first 10 days on the job listening to our community specifically on matters of equity and racial justice, after which I committed to a number of actions. Our progress so far includes having appointed a Chancellor’s faculty fellow to advise the leadership team and campus on DEI issues, established an advisory board for campus police, and launched the search for our next Vice Chancellor for DEI, among other steps.

To address longer-term issues requiring significant analysis and further work, I’m very pleased to announce that this week we formed the Equity Task Force. Chaired by Antwan Jefferson, Associate Clinical Professor, School of Education and Human Development and John Ronquillo, Assistant Professor, School of Public Affairs, the task force will work over the next six months to delve into the core of our challenges, including structural barriers to hiring and promoting underrepresented faculty and staff. It will bring together faculty, staff and students to explore a host of issues—including how to close the achievement gap, what it means to be a Hispanic Serving Institution, how to create a culture of belonging, whether our policies are contributing to equity, and how we might diversify the curriculum—and recommend an ambitious action plan and investment priorities. The task force will also develop a plan to engage the campus community in their process, so watch for more to come from them directly.

We expect this work to be further boosted by the newly announced DEI Innovation Fund from CU President Mark Kennedy and the CU Foundation Board of Directors. Details on the process for determining which projects will receive funding will be forthcoming. 

I’m excited that the work of this task force will inform our overall strategic planning process next semester. With this group now established, I believe we’re on track to really walk our talk on issues of equity that reflect the values we espouse.

Presidential Initiative on Urban Research

The next exciting piece of news is that the winners of the first round of seed grants from the Presidential Initiative on urban research, an opportunity announced in July, have been selected.

The initiative, sponsored by the CU system to bolster each campus’s unique area of expertise, is intended to support CU Denver’s urban and place-based research and creative work. This is a terrific opportunity for us to further fulfill our role as an urban serving research university. Read more about the initiative on its new website.

The winners were selected by our seven deans, with assistance in proposal review from eight faculty, including the TIAA Chancellor’s Urban Engaged Scholars. The projects span the breadth of our schools and colleges, with topics ranging from Front Range air quality to a public art project in Five Points and philanthropy in Colorado’s urban areas.

  • Developing Descriptive and Predictive Causal Models to Study the Impacts of Highway Construction on Ambient Air Quality in the Front Range, Project Lead: Farnoush Banaei-Kashani, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
  • Using Artificial Intelligence and Sensors to Quantify Mobility in Real-time, Project Lead: Dan Connors, Department of Electrical Engineering
  • Understanding and Leveraging Philanthropic Foundations in Colorado’s Urban Areas, Project Lead: Todd Ely, School of Public Affairs
  • CAMunity: A Student-Led Pilot Project to Provide Local Musicians With the Opportunity to Learn and Thrive as Leaders Within Their Community,  Project Lead: Storm Gloor, Department of Music and Entertainment Industry Studies
  • Integrated Solar Energy for Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Communities, Project Lead: Serena Kim, School of Public Affairs
  • Establishing a mechanistic understanding of how microbial communities remediate groundwater pollution at an EPA superfund site in the Denver metropolitan area,  Project Lead: Chris Miller, Department of Integrative Biology
  • Learning from the Travel Experiences of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), Project Lead: Manish Shirgaokar, Department of Urban and Regional Planning
  • In support of child-friendly cities: Identifying and applying geospatial technologies to represent children’s sense of place,  Project Lead: Brian Wee, Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences
  • Five Points to Five Notes, Project Lead: Kristin Wood, College of Engineering, Design and Computing and Comcast Center

Taken together, these two developments will contribute greatly to our campus culture and the purposeful application of our urban-based mission. I’m grateful to everyone who has been or will be participating in both of them.


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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