2020 Alumni Award Winners

June 19, 2020

CU Denver crossed a threshold this past year when it surpassed 100,000 alumni living in more than 100 countries across the globe. Some of these graduates lead, as elected officials, school superintendents, and CEOs. Some create, as musicians, designers, and writers. Some innovate, as engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Their accomplishments are many and varied, and they make the CU Denver Lynx community proud. 

At the 2020 Alumni Awards held on June 17, the CU Denver Alumni Board honored five alumni who have achieved a special level of distinction in their professions or communities as well as in their continued relationship with the university. Board President David Heisler ’17 served as host of the event, which took place over Zoom and attracted nearly 100 participants. Although virtual, this year’s Alumni Awards ceremony brought the university and alumni communities together in a welcome atmosphere of celebration and appreciation and served as a reminder that despite its size, CU Denver is at its heart a supportive and loving family.   

Each of the five award winners enjoyed the opportunity to speak about what receiving this honor meant to them, both during the event with live remarks and in prerecorded videos produced by students in the College of Arts and Media (CAM) for each recipient. 

“It’s always been my goal to make the biggest impact on the world I can, especially within my community in the name of sustainability, the environment, and climate justice,” said Chris Herr MPA ’17, recipient of the Alumni Partner Appreciation Award. “So, receiving this award is a pretty good indication that I’m headed down the right path, and I really appreciate everyone who played a role in that.” 

“I really am so honored. In fact, beyond honored — more overwhelmed,” remarked Susan Wood MURP ’98, recipient of the Alumni Award for Excellence. Referring to the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program in the College of Architecture and Planning, she continued, “There are so many good planners that have remained in the Denver metro area who have gone through the CU program that to be among those ranks and to be selected for this award is just amazing to me.”

The virtual celebration also included a performance by the student musical group Sister Neapolitan (composed of CAM students and alumni), a Zoom bomb by Milo the Lynx, and remarks from Chancellor Dorothy Horrell, who was recognized by the CU Denver Alumni Board as an Honorary Alumna. With this honor, Chancellor Horrell was formally named a Lynx for life and will be forever connected to the CU Denver Alumni community.

Over Zoom, Chancellor Horrell was virtually recognized as an Honorary Alumna.

The legacy of the CU Denver Alumni Awards stretches back to 1979, when the university bestowed the first Mack Easton Distinguished Alumni Award to Iona Wakefield. Since then, the university has recognized more than 150 people with Alumni Awards, including such notables as Mayor Michael Hancock MPA ’95, Ellie Caulkins ’77, and Grover Coors ’76. Anyone from the CU Denver community can submit nominations from which the Alumni Board selects each year’s recipients.

The 2020 Alumni Award Recipients 

Barb Weiske ’84, MPA ’92
The Mack Easton Distinguished Alumni Award

The Mack Easton Distinguished Alumni Award is the CU Denver Alumni Board’s highest honor. It is presented to an individual who has demonstrated a long-term commitment to serving CU Denver, its students, and alumni. The award was developed by the CU Denver Alumni community in memory of D. Mack Easton, the Dean of the “Denver Extension Center” in the early sixties. His vision paved the way for the extension to become our diverse and dynamic urban research university. 

Barb Weiske earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1984 and her Master of Public Administration degree in in 1992, both from CU Denver. She served the Auraria Campus for 40 years in a variety of roles, ranging from General Manager of the Tivoli Denver Shopping Mall to Division Director of the Student & Auxiliary Services Division, Vice President for Operations & Deputy Executive Vice President for Administration, and mostly recently Chief Executive Officer (CEO) from 2009 – 2018. Under Barb’s leadership, the Auraria Campus experienced unprecedented growth, due largely to her advocacy and execution of the “neighborhood concept.” In addition to significant renovations of existing facilities, the campus added almost 3.4 million built square feet since the opening of the original campus in 1976, with more than 40 percent of that growth occurring under Barb’s able leadership. 

Curtis Esquibel MPA ’16
Alumni Advocacy Award

The Alumni Advocacy Award is presented to an individual that has championed the causes of higher education across the state of Colorado. 

Curtis Esquibel has been an unwavering advocate for access to higher education for students across Colorado, especially those from underserved populations. He currently serves as the Director of Communications and Community Engagement for the Boettcher Foundation. As a School of Public Affairs alumnus, Curtis is highly regarded for his insight, his willingness to create meaningful partnerships and his advocacy of the Master of Public Administration program. Curtis led Denver’s collective impact effort to increase college success outcomes for graduates of Denver Public Schools (DPS). He also helped secure more than $5 million in annual revenue to support Denver Scholarship Foundation’s mission to increase the number of DPS graduates who enroll in and graduate from college.

Susan Wood MURP ’98
Alumni Award for Excellence

The Alumni Award for Excellenceis presented to an alum who has excelled in their career field and in service to the community in support of CU Denver. 

Susan Wood earned her Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree from CU Denver in 1998 after working as a geologist. In her 21-year planning career, Susan has excelled in her work and has admirably served the field through voluntary leadership roles at the local, state, and national levels, as well as for CU Denver. Currently, Susan serves as a Planning Project Manager in the FasTracks Environmental Resource Group at RTD and as the Planning Project Manager for the Southeast and Southwest Rail extensions. She has gained recognition for her work conducting environmental assessments of regional transit projects and is well respected throughout Colorado.

Susan is extremely generous with her time and passionate in her service to the field’s goals to promote equity, improve quality of life, and protect the environment. Susan is also engaged with the CU Denver’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning and the Colorado Center for Sustainable Urbanism. For three years she served on the Master of Urban and Regional Planning Alumni Association board. Susan also connects current students and alumni with career opportunities at RTD as an annual job-shadowing host and by organizing student tours of RTD’s operations.

Chris Herr MPA ’17
Alumni Partner Appreciation Award

The Alumni Partner Appreciation Award recognizes alumni who have demonstrated a commitment to CU Denver and its mission by working with their employer or other partner organization to develop opportunities for current students and alumni. This may include, but is not limited to, hiring pathways for CU Denver alumni or internships for current students. 

Chris Herr earned his Bachelor’s degree in 2011 at UCCS and his Master of Public Administration degree from CU Denver in 2017. He put his degree to immediate use in his role as a sustainability officer on the Auraria Campus, overseeing environmental sustainability programs and projects. In Fall 2019, he oversaw the installation of the solar array on the Auraria Library, the largest singular rooftop array in Downtown Denver. A passionate leader in the public sector, Chris has been an active and involved alumnus with the School of Public Affairs and is always one of the first to respond when there is a call for alumni participation. 

Gage Chapel MBA ’15
Recent Alumni Award

The Recent Alumni Award is presented to graduates of CU Denver who are within five years of graduation and affecting positive change for the university community. They also understand the importance of engaging with the university, fellow alumni, and/or current students and are giving back through their time, talent, and resources to support the future success of the university. 

Gage Chapel has continued to be engaged with the Business School since his graduation from the accelerated MBA program in 2015. He is a member of the Business Student Alumni Network and is an active participant in other groups on campus. He is an Army veteran and provides guidance and support to other military students/veterans. The son of a professor, Gage was not a first-generation student, himself, but he firmly believes in the impact of education and so last year worked with the Office of Gift Planning at CU to establish a named scholarship for first-generation students at CU Denver.