Three winners in this year's class of up-and-comers earned degrees at our university

March 24, 2014

This year’s group of “40 Under 40” business standouts featured three leaders who trace much of their success directly to their education at the University of Colorado Denver.

Up-and-comers in Colorado business are recognized each year by the Denver Business Journal. The luncheon, which filled a huge hotel ballroom, took place Friday at the Denver Sheraton.

Three winners are graduates of CU Denver—two representing the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and one from the Business School: Sabrina D’Agosta, master’s degree in political science, and current policy and communications unit director for the Colorado Department of Personnel & Administration; Kelli Kelly, bachelor’s in communications, and current diversity and outreach manager for Parsons Corp.; and Jennifer Leitsch, MBA and master’s in marketing, and current corporate responsibility manager at Prologis, Inc.

CU Denver was one of three Gold Sponsors of the event, which was hosted by DBJ President and Publisher Scott Bemis and Editor Neil Westergaard. Keynote speaker was Christopher Herndon, Denver councilman for District 11 and CU Denver alumnus (master’s in public administration from the School of Public Affairs).

“This is my favorite event of the year because it shows the kind of bench strength that the business community in Denver really has,” Westergaard said. “Leanna Clark (vice chancellor of University Communications) was a 40 Under 40 winner as was Jeremy Bloom, former Olympian and commentator at this year’s Olympics in Sochi.”

Clark joined other sponsors on the stage to present certificates to this year’s winners. Westergaard said the DBJ received nearly 270 nominees, with the 40 winners selected on the basis of community involvement, leadership, business recognition and overall accomplishments.

In making introductory remarks, Clark, a previous 40 Under 40 keynote speaker, said, “educating the leaders of tomorrow is our business at the University of Colorado Denver.” She noted that whether they are leaders in the health care professions at our Anschutz Medical Campus or leaders who were educated in one of the more than 90 degree programs offered at our Denver campus, “We train the workforce of tomorrow—graduates who will grow our economy and strengthen our community.”

Clark noted that this fall, the university will start offering classes in south Denver—at the Wildlife Experience in Parker—so residents there can access a quality CU close to home.

She told this year’s winners: “You’re being honored today for your leadership early in your career. How you choose to direct that leadership from here on out will help determine the collective success of our community.”

Leitsch, who produces reports on environmental sustainability for Prologis, the world’s largest industrial real estate company, said she discovered a new passion when she took “Managing for Sustainability” class at the CU Denver Business School. It is the first course in the four-course Managing for Sustainability program. “I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds pretty cool,'” she said. “The more I went to that class the more I thought this is what I should be doing with my career. Definitely, taking that class set me down this path. I owe it to CU Denver.”

Kelly, a manager at Parsons Corp., a consulting engineering firm that’s leading the work on the DIA transit redevelopment, said, “CU Denver was great. It was the right school for me at the right time—maybe even someday I’ll go back.” She said the Department of Communications gave her a great foundation in writing that has helped her to this day. “When I think about the academic part of it, I still retain information from those instructors.”

D’Agosta said she had “spiky green hair” when, while scouting for graduate programs, she visited Mike Cummings, Ph.D., former chair of the Department of Political Science at CU Denver. It may be no surprise then that her master’s thesis was on “The Politics of Punk, the Misunderstanding of an Activist Subculture.” Tony Robinson, Ph.D., and current department chair, was D’Agosta’s thesis chair. “The Political Science Department really inspired me to become civically involved in a way that I hadn’t thought of before,” she said. “I give Mike and Tony a lot of credit for just really inspiring me to look at how I could be more civically engaged.”

During his keynote address, Herndon delivered an inspiring account of how we grew up from humble beginnings in Iowa to being elected to the Denver City Council in 2011.

Herndon gave the 40 Under 40 winners five pieces of advice: tell their story, prepare for life’s occasional cliff, stay humble, use laughter, and learn to let go. To illustrate the last point, he explained how he had launched the Northeast Denver Leadership Week as a councilman. That experience taught him about letting go. “You have to realize you can’t do everything yourself,” he said. “Surround yourself with great people and just let go.”

“Congratulations on what you’ve accomplished,” he told this year’s 40 Under 40 class. “It’s well-deserved, and I want to challenge you to take it to that next level. I’m very excited to see what’s next for all of you.”