People pack the bleachers awaiting the chancellor

Highlighting the Front Range’s dynamic growth and the magnified disparities that it brings, Chancellor Dorothy Horrell set the stage for this fall’s State of the Campus address, connecting the metro-area’s changes to the university’s mission.

Chancellor Horrell speaks
Chancellor Dorothy Horrell shares CU Denver’s successes and challenges during the fall State of the Campus address, which attracted more than 400 faculty, staff and students.

Speaking before an audience of 400-plus students, faculty and staff packing the bleachers of the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center gymnasium, Horrell emphasized that the challenges and opportunities of the greater Denver region underscore the university’s role in contributing to its economic, social and cultural vitality.

“I would submit to you that there never has been a more important time for CU Denver,” said Horrell, calling the university pursuit both “a precious opportunity” and “a profound obligation.” The chancellor’s Nov. 15 address was recorded and streamed live on Facebook.

“I would submit to you that there never has been a more important time for CU Denver.”

Reflecting, enriching an urban community

A large crowd sits in bleachers
A large crowd turned out for the inaugural new-gymnasium speech, and a few ham it up a bit waiting for the chancellor. One man in the audience said: “This is the place to be.”

While Colorado’s unemployment rate ranks among the lowest in the nation, nearly three-quarters of the jobs being created demand education beyond high school, Horrell said. “But less than one-third of our city’s adults who were born in Colorado have a college degree, and that statistic is even lower for people of color,” she added.

Noting that the university’s demographics represent the region’s diversity, the chancellor set forth two imperatives: closing the attainment gap and developing the professional workforce of the future. “We must graduate students with the creativity, initiative and knowledge to be change agents and decision-makers in their jobs and in the community.”

Meeting those goals demands largely one thing: a continued dedication to our five strategic priorities, Horrell said. “These priorities are an expression of our values. Achieving these goals requires that all of us have an unrelenting focus on our students and their needs — and the courage to try new approaches,” she said.

Priority No. 1: Elevating student success

CU Denver welcomed a record 15,232 students this fall, with 57 percent of new, first-year Lynx representing students of color. “And 50 percent of our first-time undergraduates are first-generation,” the chancellor said, as a backdrop of projected slides outlined campus goals, successes and statistics.

“Our highest priority is to help every single one of our students succeed,” Horrell said, citing three specific aims:

  • A 75-percent goal for first- to second-year persistence (currently at 67 percent).
  • A 60-percent six-year graduation goal (currently at 45 percent).
  • A 75-percent three-year graduation goal for transfer students (currently at 55 percent).

Targeting academic, social achievement

This fall, a restructuring of Student Affairs functions – which enhance student guidance and support from first contact to graduation – was aimed at reaching those retention and graduation goals, Horrell said.

The Student Access and Achievement team is focused on redesigning the student experience for high-level academic success, she said. Two examples of the many changes in the works:

  1. Using predictive analytics for analyzing student needs and providing targeted interventions and proactive, strategic care.
  2. Strengthening graduation pathways by refining degree maps, clarifying what courses students need and when.

The Student Development team is focused on supporting students in their personal, social and leadership skills, Horrell said. Its first key initiatives are:

  • Bringing a first-year housing and dining facility – a Facilities Master Plan top priority – to fruition.
  • Developing a strategic plan for addressing mental wellness (see side box).

Priority No. 2: Advancing excellence and innovation

As an urban research university, CU Denver stands out for its “knowledge creators,” who teach, research and produce the creative work that distinguishes the learning experience for our students, Horrell said.

Horrell used the Center for Faculty Development, the Undergraduate Experiences Symposium and the faculty-created, nationally-recognized ThinqStudio as prime examples of CU Denver’s dedication to teaching and learning excellence.

Continued faculty education focused on innovative teaching practices – including research-based techniques, community-centered learning and digital pedagogy networks – keeps CU Denver at the forefront of academia, she said.

Embracing a digital world

Horrell also announced that development of a $15,000 online undergraduate degree is underway and said that increasing access through digital education and partnerships will remain a top priority.

Some examples she cited:

  • A partnership with CU South Denver and the Office of Digital Education to expand fully online and blended degree and certificate programs.
  • A partnership with CU Anschutz Medical Campus to create innovative, health-related programs that leverage expertise on both campuses.
  • Continued focus on expanding sponsored research and creative works by faculty.
  • A new Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture presented by CU Denver’s own faculty.

Priority No. 3: Serving as a vital community asset

Growing recognition of the CU in the City campaign and the opening of CityCenter at CU Denver as the university’s “front door” have served as powerful springboards for our aspiration to make CU Denver known as an urban hub of knowledge, discovery and partnership, Horrell said.

In a recent survey, the number of metro-area residents who say they would recommend CU Denver to family and friends doubled from four years ago, the chancellor said.

CityCenter, at the corner of 14th and Lawrence streets, stands ready to help the city and its suburban areas tackle critical issues and growth-generated disparities, such as those in healthcare, education and housing, she said.

Reaching a Mile High and beyond

Attendees at reception
Stellar views are common in the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center. Attendees chat at a reception following the chancellor’s speech.

“It is the place where we are connecting the expertise of our faculty and the ingenuity of our students to the region’s governmental, business and nonprofit sectors, helping to find new solutions to challenging urban issues,” Horrell said of CityCenter.

The center’s inaugural initiative, Imagine a Great Region, has garnered a grant from the Gates Family Foundation and other partnerships, including with the Denver Regional Council of Governments and Channel 7 News, she said.

A partnership with TIAA will involve selecting seven faculty members, one from each school and college, to serve as Chancellor’s Engaged Scholars, providing them stipends and highlighting their urban research, Horrell said. This news generated some signs of excitement within the audience.

Priority No. 4: Creating a cohesive, inclusive culture

“If we’ve learned anything from recent events in our country and around the world, it is that our commitment to creating and maintaining an environment that is welcoming, safe and inclusive for everyone is more important than ever,” Horrell said.

From debating diverse ideas with respect and civility to embracing freedom of expression and academic freedom, promoting and exemplifying fundamental rights remains a higher-education priority, the chancellor said.

“As President (Bruce) Benson often says: ‘Our job is not to teach students what to think, but rather how to think,’” Horrell said.

“Our highest priority is to help every single one of our students succeed.”

Taking care of CU Denver’s family

“These are matters that affect real people, including members of our CU Denver family. I believe the strength of CU Denver is rooted in our respect and compassion for one another.”

Examples include:

  • Maintenance of international student enrollment, buoyed by the #youarewelcomehere initiative and other efforts to welcome and support those from other countries and cultures.
  • Establishment of the Auraria Task Force on Gentrification and Urban Displacement comprised of students, faculty and staff to offer recommendations to be more proactive and responsive.
  • This fall’s launching of the Chancellor’s Diversity Showcase, coordinated by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which included 44 exhibits by a wide range of groups.
  • Service to over 1,000 military-connected students and CU Denver’s recent No. 8 ranking by Military Times for best university in the country for vets.

Priority No. 5: Achieving financial stability

“Of course, none of these priorities is achievable without financial stability,” Horrell said. CU Denver has implemented an incentive-based budget model that aligns investments with strategic priorities, she said, adding that the new model also increases transparency.

The process now provides budgetary incentives and authority to schools and colleges, focused on encouraging teamwork and propelling long-term success, she said.

Last year, CU Denver raised a record $20.8 million in private gifts, and since January 2017, faculty and staff contributed $1 million to the LYNX UP scholarship initiative. “It is true that philanthropy begins at home,” Horrell said, calling on and receiving a loud round of applause for the donors.

Moving forward with greater momentum

“We have accomplished a great deal, and much more is in the works,” Horrell said. “We are at a pivotal time in the life of CU Denver. In fact, I believe we are poised to move from good to great,” she said, displaying a “flywheel” concept created by business advisor Jim Collins to illustrate how the CU Denver community can come together to further power success.

By innovating strategically at each step along the way, employees can accelerate the university’s momentum, she said. “In my mind, this calls on the best in each of us and is work truly worth doing.”

Horrell said she envisions great potential. “Our aim is clear, and like our students, the trajectory is set high.” And, she said, she has faith the CU Denver community can reach these goals.

“None of what we have accomplished would be possible without you. Your commitment to our mission, your energy and dedication, are central to our achievements and hold the promise of an even brighter future for CU Denver.”

State of the Campus: coming from a healthy place

As spill-over audience members lined the walls and peered down on a bleacher-packed gymnasium from an overhang above, Chancellor Dorothy Horrell kicked off her State of the Campus address, calling the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center setting “especially meaningful.”

“We know that supporting healthy lifestyles and the emotional and social well-being of our students is essential to a high-quality educational experience,” Horrell said.

During her speech, Horrell announced the development of a new strategic plan for mental wellness, citing statistics from CU Denver’s Office of Case Management/CARE Team.

“Referrals are up 44 percent compared to this time last year, and they are up 241 percent compared to fall 2015,” Horrell said, noting that the numbers are reflective of college-campus surveys across the country.

“The strategic plan will incorporate best practices that emphasize prevention, support a sense of belonging, and enhance a culture of wellness,” she said.

Before sending her audience off to mingle with one another and enjoy snacks and hot chocolate, Horrell noted a “surprise” in their parting “Year in Review” publication: a complementary one-day guest pass to the wellness center. “We all need to be paying attention to our health and wellness,” she said. “We can’t do this work if we don’t come from a healthy place ourselves.”

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