Standing Up CU Denver’s HR Function

Update: Standing Up CU Denver’s HR Function

Dear faculty and staff,

I hope you’ve had a wonderful start to the fall semester. I’ve certainly enjoyed meeting so many faculty and staff since I started at CU Denver in February, and I have made a point of learning and listening from you as I stand up our CU Denver-centric human resources function. I am honored to serve as your Assistant Vice Chancellor of Human Resources, and I am committed to collaborating with you, your departments, and our leadership team as we work toward becoming a best place to work, as outlined in Goal 5 of our strategic plan.

I feel fortunate to join an organization that already solicited so much feedback from our faculty, staff, students, and partners during Chancellor Marks’ series of listening sessions and during last year’s strategic planning process. Many of the 7,000 ideas generated for the strategic plan from the CU Denver community centered on our workplace, and your comments have helped to inform the priorities and approaches that we have undertaken and will continue to pursue this year and going forward.

For example, you have told us that the complexity of our organization–particularly with our consolidated relationship with Anschutz and our intricate relationship with AHEC–has not always allowed a singular focus on CU Denver’s mission and specific needs. And you told us that we need to diversify our faculty and staff to better reflect the diversity of our student body. 

We have heard you, and we will continue to engage and partner with you as we enhance the positive changes we have already made and implement even more in the months ahead.

In that spirit, I am writing today to provide an overview of our operations, strategic priorities, current state, achievements to date, and work that we still need to address.

CU Denver’s HR Function & Priority Setting

To move forward as a people-centered best place to work, we need to set clear priorities and have CU Denver HR professionals in place to assist you with a variety of needs. With your input in mind, we have identified these as our highest priorities:

  • talent acquisition to help recruit high-quality, mission-driven, diverse talent and reduce vacancies;
  • compensation to ensure we are using best-in-class models for salary structures;
  • learning and development to help develop a career progression strategy and growth opportunities for our employees;
  • workplace engagement to create a culture of belonging and inclusion; and
  • employee relations programs to provide supportive services to those who need them. 

To that end, we now have several dedicated HR staff members, including me, to serve you: 

  • Tawnya Boulier, a talented HR business partner, has moved to Assistant Director of Strategic People Operations to oversee the Talent Acquisition Team;
  • Ryan Morgan and Paige Coakley are creating the Talent Acquisition Team;
  • Reba Yount has been hired as an Employee Relations Consultant;
  • Tyahna Orlowske has joined us as a Human Capital Management and Payroll Professional;
  • Megan Backstrom is CU Denver’s Learning & Development Consultant; and
  • Aly Nets is a Business and Operations Specialist

Our Current State

Before delving into the specific initiatives that we are undertaking as part of Goal 5, I wanted to share a snapshot of where we stand today. 

We’ve had 129 brand new faculty join us this fall, as well as more than 70 staff members this calendar year alone. We also continue to actively recruit and hire. We are currently recruiting for approximately 95 positions across all schools, colleges, and units within the university, and our employee retention rate remains steady over the last four years and competitive with the higher education industry at 86%. Our compensation is competitive with peers in the state and across the nation, and our benefits are the best among Colorado higher education. We are also investing in our own people’s professional development and growth.

Progress in Last Six Months

I wanted to share with you some of the progress we’ve made thus far and what’s ahead. Here are a few highlights:

  • Launched the two-year Comprehensive Compensation Collaborative that will help us develop a compensation framework that embraces our ESI values, including equity in pay, by clarifying our current compensation system and identifying where improvements are needed. Recruitment is underway for a steering committee and a second committee that will lead an initial review of job families and compensation benchmarks. Both committees are expected to launch in November.
  • Advanced the Search Advocates program to promote practices that prioritize equity, access and inclusion, and minimize bias and barriers. A total of 22 employees have been through the training including faculty and staff. Another 12 employees are completing the training this fall or in the spring.
  • Developed and launched the inaugural Staff Supervisor Professional Development Program. The year-long cohort program gives 21 staff supervisors a monthly opportunity to develop and strengthen supervisory skills.
  • Launched the Academic Leadership Accelerator program, a year-long experience for academic leaders (chairs/discipline directors, associate deans, and deans). This year 88 participants are learning about what it means to lead in an equity-serving institution.
  • Launched difficult conversations training to provide all employees the tools they need to engage challenging conversations in the workplace. This training can be accessed on the CU Denver portal using the Skillsoft option.
  • Transitioned New Employee Orientation, all searches, and employee relations issues to Denver HR teamactions taken as a result of the strategic planning vision teams’ recommendations.
  • Shoring up our overall HR infrastructure, including systems, data, processes, and practices.

What Lies Ahead

We continue to work with our Comprehensive Compensation Collaborative, which guides our plans for improving the employee experience at CU Denver. We are also working on dozens of projects in varying phases. The following projects are launching in the next six months:  

  • Examine how we appreciate and celebrate our staff and faculty; we welcome your input in the following survey. Please complete the survey by Monday, November 7.
  • Continue to improve our operations and data analytics, as well as reduce wait times for HR services including reposting and refilling vacant positions.
  • Update and share organizational charts so there is common understanding of roles and responsibilities across the institution.
  • Standardize the process for exit, transfer, and stay interviews to understand our employees’ perspectives and experiences to continuously improve our culture and practices.
  • In partnership with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, review the university holiday and observances calendar to better reflect our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Create a standardized method for our performance evaluation and development process and offer tools to enhance supervisor support and the employee experience and provide a framework for accountability.
  • Reimagine our onboarding process for a better faculty and staff experience.
  • Launch Lynx Lessons, a crowdsourcing program to identify resources and talents we have in our campus community. The program will give interested employees an opportunity to present or facilitate workshops or meetings on topics they are experts in. 
  • Launch a CU Denver Human Resources-specific website that is a one-stop-shop for all employee resources and information.

In Closing

As we move forward, be on the lookout for stories featuring new HR programs and opportunities available to you in CU Denver News. You’ll begin getting routine updates from me about how we are doing on our way to creating an HR department you can depend on, and which will help create the kind of environment that will make CU Denver a people-centered best place to work.

If you have ideas or questions about university-wide HR operations, please don’t hesitate to contact me or other members of my teamI’ve included additional resources below my signature. We are in this together, and CU Denver’s HR is here to serve you.


teri engelke

Assistant Vice Chancellor of Human Resources

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