Alumni champion power of degrees to charge careers

More than 120 people attend CU Denver's second annual Friends, Family and Alumni Day

October 26, 2016
Milo the Lynx and a young member of the CU Denver family
Milo the Lynx and a young member of the CU Denver family

When Juan Lopez attended the University of Colorado Denver’s Family, Friends and Alumni Day Celebration on a recent Saturday morning, he couldn’t help but think about what CU Denver meant for his life and career.

“It has definitely opened doors for me,” Lopez said of the bachelor’s degree in sociology he received in 2012. Lopez described himself as a non-traditional military student, and he currently is a Technical Sergeant in the Air Force, where he works in space system operations at Buckley Air Force Base.

Sociology for satellite specialists might seem an unusual mix, but Lopez said he put the degree to work right away. “I’m able to use what I’ve learned to observe people and know what drives them,” he said.

Plus, Lopez has always had his eye on the future.

“I’m not always going to be in the military,” he said. His bachelor’s allowed him to move on to get a master’s of public administration, and he’s considering going into health care administration after he retires from the military in a few years.

Or, Lopez could stay in a field related to his military training, where he says he could get a $20,000 to $30,000 pay bump.

“That doesn’t happen without my degree at CU Denver,” Lopez says.

A testament to an institution

Lopez’s success story is a perfect example of what CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell said is one of the university’s most important missions during her opening remarks.

A CU Denver student and her family at the 2016 Friends, Family and Alumni Day
A CU Denver student and her family at the 2016 Friends, Family and Alumni Day

“What we are committed to doing with our current students is assuring that we are providing them the opportunity to have the kind of success that you’re experiencing,” Horrell said. “There’s nothing more important in terms of a testament of the quality of an institution than what its alums go on to do and contribute throughout society in so many different ways.”

Gloria and Phil Friedrich both said they are advocates for CU Denver, and one of their reasons for attending Family, Friends and Alumni Day was to help them explore more ways they could support it. They were among the more than 120 people who attended the networking brunch hosted by the Office of Alumni Relations and the parent and family program in the Student Commons Building.

“It gives us a nice connection. It’s great to give back to a school that meant so much to us,” she said.

Both spent their careers contributing to society as educators. Phil received his master’s in 1991 and used it to advance his career as a school principal around metro Denver, before spending some time in state government as a coordinator for career education.

Gloria earned her master’s in 2004 and used it to teach literacy to middle school students, some of whom were learning English as a second language.

“It was a good balance of professors and practitioners,” she said of her graduate program at CU Denver. “They were great courses, challenging and invigorating. I walked away with a really great experience.”

A CU Denver family takes a selfie at the 2016 Friends, Family and Alumni Day
A CU Denver student and her family take a selfie at the 2016 Friends, Family and Alumni Day

Ambassadors and champions

While at the brunch the Friedrichs couldn’t help but notice the dramatic growth happening on the campus, including CU Denver’s new Student Commons Building and the start of construction on its new Student Wellness Center, scheduled to be completed in early 2018.

Getting the word out about the flurry of new activity to the CU Denver family and alumni base is what staff had in mind when planning the event, said Dan Gould. Gould is the senior director of alumni relations, and he said telling that story is a large part of the university’s long-term strategy.

“We want to amp up the alumni relations program to represent all the growth and change that’s happened and have the alumni engage with that,” Gould said.

That will help current and future students as CU Denver works to create a pipeline to the business community in downtown Denver that will lead to jobs and internships, he said.

“The way to do that is through our alums. We want them to be ambassadors and champions.”

Events such as Friends, Family and Alumni Day could be an important part of that, Gould said.

“We’re definitely on the path to making it a bigger, better tradition,” Gould said.