Tony Smith thrives on helping students to reach their full potential. He also loves chatting with employers about their workforce needs.
So he jumped at the chance to lead the University of Colorado’s forward-thinking expansion into the south Denver region that’s teeming with ambitious students and professionals as well as growing industries in need of skilled employees. This new challenge, after all, is perfectly suited to Smith’s well-rounded talents—and high energy level.
“I’ve been doing this for 13 years and love it,” he said of his background in connecting students with employers. “I’m very passionate about it.”
Smith recently became executive director of CU’s new classroom space at The Wildlife Experience in Parker. Smith, who holds a master’s degree in student affairs leadership and is finishing his PhD in education, has been director of the CU Denver Experiential Learning Center since 2010.
Smith honed his leadership skills by directing ELC’s innovative programs and connecting students, faculty, businesses and community organizations. “You have to constantly switch gears to communicate with each of these constituents,” he said. “In south Denver I will visit a lot of businesses and community members to deliver talking points about CU’s certificate and degree programs and then listen to what their education needs are.”
CU identified the need for program offerings after conducting a market study of south Denver and interviewing leaders from the area’s major employers and professional organizations. Home to a variety of engineering, finance and health care-related companies, the region will greatly benefit from CU programs starting this fall in The Wildlife Experience’s 11,000 square feet of classroom and administrative space. CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus and Denver Campus are leading the way with program offerings.
‘This is a jumping-off point’
Class schedules and admissions information for various programs offered by CU Denver and CU Anschutz—in business, computer science, education, nursing and public health—will be announced in the coming weeks. Additional courses will be offered in subsequent semesters; visit cusouthdenver.org for more information.
“This is just a jumping-off point,” Smith said. “Businesses and community members will tell us what they need. Maybe they’ll say they need an aerospace program, for example. I’ll take that information and disseminate it to the faculty and deans—whoever needs to receive that message—across CU’s four campuses.
Smith will be the primary point of contact for all the schools and colleges offering programming at The Wildlife Experience. He expects that the spacious facility—itself an educational resource—will imbue the south Denver classrooms with a thriving learning environment. “I think the students are going to create their own culture,” he said. “Since we’re coming at this from a new direction—different than a traditional college setting—we have the potential to build on something that’s already great.”
A nationally certified life and career coach, Smith works with people across the spectrum—students and working professionals—to develop life, career and transition strategies.
Career advancement in students’ back yard
He’s excited that he and CU faculty members will get to work with people on career-advancement strategies in their own back yard. He sees enormous potential for developing a south Denver pipeline to other educational opportunities within the CU system.
“There is a huge population of people in south Denver who are ready for that next step and who want to dip their toe in the pool after maybe being away from school for a while,” Smith said. “Once a student is enrolled, our faculty can explain that this certificate program you’re taking, for instance, is just a taste of what you can do. What if you did an MBA, or what if you pursued a master’s in public health, for example? How does this (current course) fit in with the bigger picture of what you want to achieve?”
Smith is no stranger to multitasking and working toward lofty goals. While taking on the myriad details that come with his new position—he’s in charge of everything from collaborating with the schools and colleges to meeting with scores of community groups and businesses to helping oversee the facility’s interior renovation—he is also working toward his doctorate in education. His dissertation is an exploration of student identity development and political/religious rhetoric. He will defend his completed research this fall.
Only half-jokingly, Smith says he fuels himself on caffeine and sugar. The fact is he runs full throttle because he loves what he’s doing. Smith, a person who brims with enthusiasm and champions CU and higher education at every turn, fully expects the university’s south Denver academic offerings to take off.
“I love supporting people in their aspirations, and this is a perfect platform on which to offer busy students and working professionals the quality education CU is known for,” he added. “With this expansion, we now have an amazing presence in south Denver.”