Megan Ray is a Lynx to the core. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at CU Denver and has dreams of strolling the halls of academia again. This time to teach.
Ray enjoyed living at Campus Village, where, in 2006, she was in the residence hall’s inaugural freshmen class. She reveled in the campus’s proximity to downtown Denver. She was excited to see CU Denver transform into a more traditional college environment, developing its own identity, including our mountain-feline mascot, and engaging students in fresh and exciting ways.
Mostly, she loved her professors, her academic program in the Psychology Department, and the way she became a critical thinker. “You’re learning how to learn and how to think about things,” she recalls of her CU Denver classes. “The way I was taught to think about things has had a positive impact on me.”
Much of it came as a pleasant surprise to Ray. Approaching graduation from Arapahoe High School in Littleton, she first looked at colleges in California. But her boyfriend was going to another local college, so Ray enrolled at CU Denver and started with a major in fine arts. She quickly realized that fine art wasn’t for her – she much preferred interior design – and neither was the boyfriend.
‘You’re immediately downtown’
But she discovered she loved being at an urban research university in the heart of Denver. The campus felt like an “oasis,” and by simply crossing Speer Boulevard, “you’re immediately downtown.”
Ray found a friendly home in the newly-christened Campus Village Apartments (now Campus Village), which balanced her needs for both privacy and social connections. “Everybody’s doors were open,” says Ray, as she sips a chai in Campus Village’s cyber cafe (new since her days here). “I felt like we could pop in on anyone at any time, so it was very different from an apartment experience in that regard. It definitely has a community feel.”
Connected Housing Community
Campus Village has changed a bit since its opening in 2006. It has increasingly become a student-focused environment with amenities including a cyber café, Learning Resource Center, Writing Center, classroom, and CU Denver’s first Living Learning Community. This year Campus Village welcomed 700 students and, as the residence hall is now overseen by CU Denver, the CU Denver presence is everywhere. “There have been a few physical changes like adding a cyber café, convenience store and a classroom, but becoming a connected housing community for learning, growing and success has made the biggest impact on our students,” said Quinston Daugherty, director of Housing and Dining.
As a sophomore, Ray found her path and academic stride. “That’s when I really started loving my educational experience here,” she says. “I had switched my majors and knew that my bachelor’s was a stepping stone to a graduate degree. I had some research experience as an undergrad, and my advisors and TAs really helped design my track. They were crucial in helping me figure out where I was going.”
Also critical was Professor Jim Grigsby, PhD, who hired Ray to work part time in his lab – his research interests include cognitive neuroscience – after she cold-called him about research opportunities. She expected to work voluntarily, but got a “nice surprise” upon discovering it was a paid position. “I loved the Psychology Department and I have really fond memories of being in North Classroom,” Ray says. “I just loved being around it, and working with Dr. Grigsby was very impactful.”
‘Early intervention is my passion’
Equally stimulating to Ray was her graduate program in Counseling Psychology in the School of Education & Human Development. As a graduate student, she continued to work in Grigsby’s lab.
Ray graduated with her master’s in 2013 and now works as a counselor for Jefferson Center for Mental Health. She started as a counselor for adult clients who suffer from severe mental illnesses. Congress recently decreed that every state have an early intervention program for the First Episode Psychosis, and Ray was asked to start the Jefferson Center’s early intervention program.
Her job takes her across the metro area, working with clients in the 15-25 age bracket – the range at which both males and females are most prone to suffer a first episode of psychosis – and meeting them where they are: schools, universities, doctor’s offices and hospitals. “We meet them everywhere, just reducing the barriers to care,” Ray says. “It’s mostly just stressful dealing with the systems things like managed care, but client care is my bread and butter. Early intervention is my passion.”
Her science training as an undergraduate complemented the deep dive into humanities as a graduate student, making for a “winning combination,” Ray says. “My experiences in the Psychology Department really had a huge impact on how I interact with clients and systems and how I think about diagnosing clients.”
‘Always drawn back’
Life continues to take Ray in exciting new directions. She and her boyfriend are hunting for their first house in the Denver area. She has learned, again thanks to her CU Denver experience, that she prefers the urban environment. So they won’t be buying a home too far on the fringes of the city.
When Ray reflects on her college days, she is proud of everything, including CU Denver’s new mascot. The student body was asked to vote on a mascot while Ray was in grad school. She chose the Lynx.
It’s likely that Ray will sport some Lynx garb if she comes back to teach in the Psychology Department; she’s got her eye on a part-time adjunct position down the road. “I’ve always been drawn back here,” she says, turning her gaze toward Auraria and the Mile High City. “I think doing something like teaching would be the next best step for me after this period of my life is complete.”