When University of Colorado Denver Chancellor Michelle Marks is asked what distinguishes the urban CU campus from other institutions, she gestures toward her office window overlooking the sprawling downtown Denver cityscape at 14th and Lawrence streets.
Transit, architecture, art, academia, entrepreneurship, technology, housing and feats of engineering are all within a bird’s eye view.
“Magic happens within cities,” Marks said. “Our location is incredible.”
Leveraging the urban location to become more of a destination and transforming the campus into a radically inclusive place where people from all backgrounds, ages, income levels and ZIP codes can learn and thrive are a few of the ambitious goals listed in CU Denver’s 2030 strategic plan.
As the Denver offshoot of the flagship CU Boulder campus turns 50 this January, here are a few ways the institution wants to disrupt higher education for the better.
By 2030, CU Denver vows to become the first equity-serving institution in the nation.
Achieving this goal would look like success outcome gaps across all demographics being reduced to zero, all faculty and staff finding purpose and belonging and opportunities to advance and other employers looking to emulate CU Denver’s model of inclusivity, according to the report.
Out of CU Denver’s 15,000 students, half of undergraduates are students of color and the first in their family to attend college.
But it is not enough to simply be diverse, according to CU Denver’s strategic plan.
“We aim to put our diversity in action by becoming an equity-serving institution — one that provides a racially and culturally enhancing educational and work environment and a sense of belonging for all.”
A few examples of transformations needed to achieve this goal, Marks said, include rethinking the way traditional services are offered to better suit the needs of diverse learners. For instance, Marks said, offering academic advising or financial aid consulting at times when working students with day jobs can access those services.
Additionally, Marks pointed to a program that teaches faculty how to create more inclusive classroom environments. Some departments, including introductory physics and integrative biology, have already participated in the program and found more students succeeding in what can be tricky “bottleneck courses” where students who struggle often drop the class or switch majors.
“Back 300 years ago, universities were elite institutions that educated the few to lead the masses,” Marks said. “Making education work for all means doing things differently.”
Marks envisions CU Denver as the anchor to an innovation hub that will serve the entire state by merging student research, entrepreneurship and employers.
The chancellor noted existing innovation hubs across the country such as one in Atlanta that CU Denver folks visited recently for inspiration.
“It’s the entrepreneurs plus research faculty and grad students plus the spaces and places and labs that the university provides plus it’s the speed and capital that employers who want to be on the leading edge of the future bring to the table,” Marks said. “It’s the services that investments in venture capital brings. It’s the spontaneous collisions that we are sewing together with the development of innovation district.”
The focal point of the innovation district is a new engineering building downtown expected to be completed by the end of 2024.
While Marks said it took about 20 years for the midtown Atlanta innovation hub to be built, she hopes CU Denver’s can be done more quickly.
“It’s exciting to be at a university that’s 50 years young because what we don’t have in steeped tradition, that allows us to be entrepreneurial, ourselves,” Marks said.
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