Quote from chancellor chopp - 'This university serves as a vibrant crossroads where vital connections of all kinds can be made. DU is positioned to be a leader in a new engagement model for universities.'

Engagement Starts at Home and Spans the Globe

For University of Denver students and faculty, the world outside campus is a fascinating laboratory where theories are tested, ideas implemented and lives changed for the better. In fact, the desire to create positive change informs a lot of the research that faculty members and students pursue.

Much of DU’s hands-on work begins at the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL). In the past year, every degree-granting unit at DU — from the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics to the Daniels College of Business — boasted faculty who participated in some form of community-engaged teaching, research or creative work.

In Fiscal Year 2017, DU faculty members taught 189 classes with a community-involvement component. Some 2,947 students were enrolled in these classes. That’s up dramatically from Fiscal Year 2015, when 75 courses enrolling 1,101 students incorporated community involvement into the syllabus.

Meanwhile, at schools and colleges across campus, student expertise is put to work addressing community problems. At the Graduate School of Social Work, for example, students not only lend their expertise to hundreds of nonprofits, they complete more than 263,000 hours of unpaid field internships, a contribution of more than $4.6 million to Colorado human services. And at the Sturm College of Law, tomorrow’s lawyers take on cases for environmental groups in need of legal expertise. They also learn the importance of pro bono work by fulfilling a public-service requirement that calls for a minimum of 50 hours of supervised, uncompensated, law-related public service work.

Internationally, student, faculty and alumni expertise informs a vast array of problem-solving enterprises and efforts. To cite just one example, at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies’ Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures, researchers have produced forecasts for 186 countries to the year 2100. The model they use — the most sophisticated and comprehensive forecasting modeling system available to the public — was designed and built at the Korbel School.

One book, countless perspectives

The Class of 2020 arrived on campus with many different perspectives about Thomas King’s “The Truth About Stories,” the inaugural selection for One Book One DU, a common-reading initiative designed to engage first-year students in a shared intellectual experience.

Many universities offer such programs, calling upon students to read a book over the summer and then participate in group discussions once they arrive on campus. But One Book One DU goes beyond typical programming to ask students to respond — through writing, artwork, a performance or even a video — to a prompt about the title’s overarching theme. These responses were submitted to an online site ahead of students’ arrival on campus.

Once at DU, students drew on their submissions to discuss the power of King’s stories during their first-year seminars.

These discussions inspired a second volume: “Many Voices, One DU,” a collection of 12 nonfiction stories from five freshmen and other members of the DU community, compiled and published by the University Writing Program.

“When we began this project, our goal was to celebrate the vibrant voices that combine to form our community,” says the Writing Program’s Lauren Picard. “The collection also represents the collaborative spirit of DU.”

One book, countless perspectives

Graph of Community-involvement classes and Students enrolled

Paid externships help law students put their schooling to work

For the first time in its history, the Sturm College of Law has provided students funding for summer externships in the public sector. The added support is expected to help talented students nurture their passions for public interest law. With his stipend, student Joaquin Gallegos headed to Michigan State University’s Indian Law Clinic. Gallegos, who is from the Jicarilla Apache Nation/Pueblo of Santa Ana in New Mexico, sought to gain experience in federal Indian law. “I came to law school with a firm idea of what I wanted to accomplish,” Gallegos says. “The stipend and externship program allowed me to do that.”

Paid externships help law students put their schooling to work

Sing out, swing low

In September 2016, the Spirituals Project, a 30-voice multi-ethnic performance group with longstanding ties to the University, joined DU’s Lamont School of Music.

Founded in 1998 by longtime faculty member Art Jones, the Spirituals Project is dedicated to preserving and revitalizing the music and social justice teachings of African-American spirituals. The choir’s new director, M. Roger Holland II, plans to amplify that commitment: “I feel compelled to help people understand the foundation of the music we are doing,” Holland says. “I believe in singing not only with technique, but also with understanding.”

Sing out, swing low

The University’s commitment to community engagement also underpins faculty-student research efforts in disciplines as diverse as political science and education.

For example, drawing on a grant from CCESL, Elizabeth Sperber of the political science department put students in her political inquiry class to work on an issue-based research project about the challenges facing former felons.

The class collaborated with the Second Chance Center in nearby Aurora, helping the organization evaluate its efforts at preparing formerly incarcerated men and women to reintegrate into their communities. Students not only collected and analyzed data, they prepared a report that will shape how the center structures future services, trains it staff and advocates for public policy.

“I wanted to help my students become informed consumers of social science research and to help them build their own research skills, while contributing to the greater good,” Sperber says.

The greater good also shapes the work of researchers at the Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy in the Morgridge College of Education. For them, education equality merits full-time attention. That’s why they’re working to ensure that children everywhere, no matter their ZIP code, have the same access to high-quality resources and teaching.

In winter 2017, the institute, along with four other higher education partners, was named a Central Regional Educational Laboratory (REL), a designation that comes with a $181,000 award for a yearlong project supporting the development of best practices in education. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, the REL program operates throughout 10 regions. The seven-state central region includes Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming.

Led by Douglas Clements and Julie Sarama, national experts in the early childhood education field, the Marsico Institute will focus on providing innovative solutions to ensure that rural school districts are not left behind as the nation seeks to improve its education programs. With that in mind, Morgridge faculty are collaborating with these districts to improve student outcomes in everything from early learning to physical activity to college access.

“From our top-ranked educational leadership program to teacher preparation and piloting new approaches to distance learning, we are committed to working with rural partners across the region,” says Karen Riley, dean of the Morgridge College. “For the University, being awarded the Central REL shows our dedication to the community beyond [our] campus borders.”

Outside the classroom and research lab, the University’s emphasis on engagement drives efforts toward a more sustainable campus and world.

In June 2017, for example, the University signed an open letter — titled “We Are Still In” — pledging to continue its work addressing global climate change.

The open letter was signed by mayors, governors, higher education leaders, investors and businesses across the country. Chancellor Rebecca Chopp’s decision to sign this initiative aligns with DU’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, along with other efforts spearheaded by DU’s Center for Sustainability.

“The University of Denver is committed to addressing the threats of climate change so that future generations have access to the same opportunities as past generations,” Chopp says. “We believe in the years ahead, the nation’s economy will shift to greener energy solutions — and we want to prepare students for the industries and careers of the future. Through faculty research, student learning and our own actions here on campus, we can make a difference.”

Student finds essential climate data in “wise, ancient trees”

Farmers working with weather-sensitive crops like coffee benefit enormously from regional climate data, but in Guatemala, that data is often in short supply. That’s why PhD student Diego Pons of the Department of Geography and the Environment is using his tree-ring research to help his native country’s farmers predict the effects of climate change on local agriculture. Working with community leaders, he tracked down some of the region’s rarest old-growth pine and fir trees, known by indigenous Guatemalans as “the wise, ancient trees,” to see what they could reveal. By examining tree-ring samples, Pons and his team have reconstructed a climate and precipitation record dating back several centuries. As he continues his work, Pons says, “the goal is to bridge the gap between what we know and what we need to do to make communities more resilient to climate change.”

Student finds essential climate data in “wise, ancient trees”

At the Smithsonian, an alumna connects with an underserved community

As the new director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Center (APAC), Lisa Sasaki (MA ’00) expects to spend the next few years helping a team engage with a target audience scattered all over the country. For all their geographic diversity, they share one thing in common: curiosity about and pride in the history, culture and art that qualify as Asian Pacific American.

“We are a museum without a building,” Sasaki says, noting that APAC debuted 20 years ago “to help the Smithsonian tell more diverse stories.” To that end, APAC is developing plenty of online and site-specific programming, including pop-up culture labs that explore the insights of top thinkers and creatives.

With a master’s degree from the museum studies program affiliated with DU’s Department of Anthropology, Sasaki credits her professors with training her to engage audiences and develop effective programming. Long-term, she’s fixed on a mammoth goal: “Fast-forward 20 years,” she says, “our aspiration is for [APAC] to have a presence on the [National] Mall.”

At the Smithsonian, an alumna connects with an underserved community