Genia Herndon

Master of Arts ’15, Political Science; PhD ’22, Education

This lifelong learner contributes to CU Denver’s workforce—and supports the success of our students

Genia Herndon is a familiar face around campus. As the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student and Community Engagement, she spends a lot of time logging steps across campus for her day job. And as a CU Denver alum, she’s added to that distance while taking courses. “I’m a lifelong learner,” Genia said with a laugh. “We’re all evolving, and we need to adapt our skills, and our understanding, and our perspectives in order to be able to lean into our purposes.”

Her master’s degree focused on education policy and her doctorate looked at executive leadership with a lens on equity and organizational change. “I had a real curiosity and I wanted to dive into how do people improve our process around change management,” she said. Her studies also gave her insight into the student experience, whether that was registering for classes or defending her dissertation during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I had to change my data,” Genia said. “I had to go back and repropose and rework.” It was hard to balance that, a full-time job, and family life. Some mornings, she’d wake up at 4 a.m. to read or write (something she still does on occasion, out of habit).

Our students are learning how to navigate, how to network, how to identify leadership, and how they can make a difference.

Genia grew up around educators and innovators, but education wasn’t her first career. She initially worked in the hospitality business with a focus on contract management. A job with Aramark Corporation brought her back to Colorado—her home state—at Coors Field. After becoming a mom, she shifted her career and eventually joined CU Denver in 2009. And while she said that trajectory may not seem linear, in retrospect, she sees a clear through line. “It all connects back to: How are we creating experiences and how are we engaging people?” she said. “That has always been a theme within my career and within my education.”

At CU Denver, she joked that she’s worked in nearly every area of Student Affairs, which helps her have an even deeper understanding of the work and care that goes into each student’s experience. “I have overseen everything from financial aid scholarships to admissions, recruitment, enrollment, community partnerships, and K-12 work.” Her current focus is on wellness, advocacy, and student life. “I have a real appreciation for how all of this works together,” she said. “And also, how we bring in and engage community members.”

She said that one of the biggest opportunities right now is to help students grapple with the impact of the pandemic on their lives—from mental wellness to changed goals—and to plan for the future. She hopes that her experiences and her team can help give students a compass to navigate their educational path. It still echoes her early career, but with an important re-direction. “I’m so excited by the priorities that CU Denver has,” Genia said. “I think that provides a framework for us to map out [the future]. And it’s not just the incoming first-year classes. It is veterans who are coming off the battlefields. It’s adult learners who had to step out for whatever reason. We mean so many different things to so many different people.”