Danielle Shoots vividly recalls the life-changing moment when her future as a University of Colorado Denver student – and her meaningful career – began to unfold. At the time, she was a teenage mom struggling to get by and wondering if she would ever graduate from college.
Shoots was at a gas station in her native Colorado Springs when she got the call of her dreams: She had received the Colorado Governor’s Opportunity Scholarship, a full-ride scholarship to a college in Colorado. “I remember it like it was yesterday; I started bawling my eyes out. I couldn’t even drive home for a while. It changed everything.”
Shoots, who spent her freshman year at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS), found her stride at CU Denver. In three years here – she graduated with a marketing degree from the Business School in 2008 – she enjoyed peaceful reflection, new passions and strong connections to the city at CU Denver’s doorstep. The latter came unexpectedly because the thriving city initially intimidated her. Until, that is, Shoots quickly made lifelong friends (including her husband of 12 years), started exploring coffeehouses and lunch spots, and landed a work-study job at a downtown Denver nonprofit, Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives.
‘Big little city’
She started as a counselor, but then the after-school program received a large federal grant. Shoots’ boss asked if she’d like extra hours – after all, the office was just a few blocks from campus – and did she happen to know how to manage the federal compliance of a major grant? “I said, ‘No, but I can teach myself how to do it,’ and I did,” Shoots said. “So I managed the grant and ended up managing their whole budget for three years, while still counseling. That’s how I got into finance.”
Even though she found her career passion, Shoots never lost sight of what attracted her to Open Door: the opportunity to help kids. Even after graduating from CU Denver and starting a job as a financial grants analyst at Denver Health, Shoots remained active with Open Door by serving on its board of directors.
“That’s one of the best things about Denver: It’s all interconnected, it’s a big little city,” she said. “The Open Door experience was the start of me being on community boards that continues to this day.”
Shoots continued learning about finance at Denver Health, where she managed more than 100 grants – local, state and federal. She next moved to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment where within a year she became the youngest division chief fiscal officer in the department’s history.
Climbing the ladder
Wanting to experience the private sector, four years later Shoots accepted a manager of financial planning position at Comcast. The title was a small step back from her CFO position at the department of health, but Shoots quickly climbed the ladder and, just a day before receiving a “40 Under 40” award this spring, she was promoted to vice president of finance and business operations.
The mother of two children – Micai, 15, and Layla, 10 – is now only 31, and she always feels respected by the leadership at Comcast. “It’s an incredible company to work for – you never get treated like a kid at the table,” she said. “All that matters to them are ‘Do you know your stuff?’ and “Are you a great leader?’ I think my roots in this community are part of who I am. They see that and they’re proud of it, too.”
Besides her busy professional career, Shoots remains active in the community. She is vice president for the executive board of Mile High Ministries and executive director of Engage Denver.
‘Love the vibe of CU Denver’
Shoots’ service roots were planted during her years at CU Denver, a pivotal time that continues to play a major role in her success. “I don’t think if I’d gone anywhere else for college I’d be as connected as I am to this city,” she said. “I just love the whole vibe of it.”
She also loves the benefits of CU Denver’s non-traditional college life. She regularly met classmates who had been business professionals for many years and returned to college to enhance their careers. “I have lifelong friends from CU Denver,” Shoots said. “These were people who weren’t there because they felt they were supposed to go to college. They were there because they understood what an education meant for their lives. That made an impression on me.”
She also remains in touch with many of her professors. “CU Denver was such a big part of my life, and I’m so proud of it.”
Shoots, whose college career was fueled by the breakthrough scholarship, has never lost sight of the fact that she managed to beat the odds. Seventy-five percent of teenage mothers drop out of high school, and less than 1 percent graduate from college by age 30, she said.
Having a child when she was just 16 ended up fueling Shoots’ resolve. She said she became determined “to not let my mistake in that sense change his life and trajectory. I just wanted to give him the world.”
‘Helped me fall in love with city’
Shoots has done that and more. And she doesn’t let a day pass without feeling gratitude for the help she got along the way – from CU Denver, from scholarships, from her professors, and from the mentor at the nonprofit who literally gave her an Open Door.
“CU Denver was such a big part of my life – it helped me fall in love with this city,” she said. “I think my happiness and my success in life is the result of always being grateful. I mean, after all, I probably shouldn’t be here.”