What could the future hold for Denver and the city’s anchor public research university, CU Denver? With more than 20 years of experience in economic development and public affairs strategy, Anthony E. Graves—CU Denver’s first Managing Director of Partnerships and Innovation—is an excellent person to ask. Graves’ extensive résumé demonstrates that he is up to the challenge of envisioning a holistic partnership strategy to increase workforce development, equity, and quality of life for our community.
Prior to joining CU Denver, Graves served as the Director of External Affairs for Economic Development for the City and County of Denver and as the Director of Regional Affairs for the Mayor’s Office. He was involved in negotiating an expansion of Denver International Airport and developed a statewide coalition to advance funding for the National Western Center. Additionally, he supported Denver’s Race and Social Justice Initiative team that led diversity, equity, and inclusion planning for over 13,000 employees across all city agencies.
With the university’s recently announced Strategic Plan goals for 2030 in mind, we asked Graves a few questions about his role and the opportunities he sees to bring people together to achieve larger goals. Read his answers below.
How would you describe your first month at CU Denver?
One word: exciting. This last month has been filled with discovery meetings with the deans, the chancellor, staff, cabinet officials, and faculty leadership to better understand what assets are available at each school in the university. I’m also taking time to discuss with each member of the leadership team the framework that I would like to implement for a cohesive partnership and innovation strategy.
How does CU Denver fit into the city of Denver’s economic development strategy?
As a public urban research university in the core of Denver’s downtown environment, steps from the central business district, we are inextricably linked with the priorities and investment strategies of the City and County of Denver. Our responsibility is to assess how our needs align with the investment and policy priorities of Denver’s city government. Further, CU Denver’s vision to create an open innovation district in the heart of downtown will create a confluence of economic activity, cultural opportunities, and knowledge creation that will help grow Denver’s economy.
For anyone who might not understand the work you do, is there a simple way to explain it?
What I tell people is that I have a responsibility to do three things: assess, catalyze, and communicate the assets that we have on campus to the private sector and potential partners. Ultimately, my work is to structure public-private partnerships that will improve the quality of life for students, faculty, and staff at CU Denver, benefit the community, and elevate our city.
We need a diverse portfolio of partnerships. That portfolio will have a mix of national players, regional entities, and local stakeholders to enhance the future potential of this campus. I started taking meetings with prospective partners in my first week, listening intensely to the needs of the private sector and assessing its alignment to our strategic plan. In order to ensure that our workforce has the right skills and experiences to serve their future employers, we need to really be receptive to employer needs and listen intently to where their respective industries are going.
I am already working with our team to broker meaningful conversations with industry leaders in various sectors that tie to the disciplines that we offer. Every school on campus has something special to offer for public-private partnerships, and I will be very intentional about looking for wins for each school.
How will equity and inclusion be central to CU Denver’s partnership strategy?
We are looking for partners that are committed to equity and are reflective of the values that we wish to elevate as an equity serving institution. I’m also working closely with Antonio Farias, our Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. He will help to inform the way that we engage potential partners and frame the work of our partnership strategy.
How can businesses, alumni, or any other potential partners learn more or get involved?
We are looking for partnerships and investments that will elevate CU Denver in the national consciousness and create programming opportunities that do not currently exist on the national landscape for higher education. With the assets we have at our disposal as a public urban research university—our central location in a thriving city that’s on the rise, a diverse student body, and a faculty that’s focused on research—we are ready to catalyze these assets through bold partnerships.
I invite anyone who has ideas for how we can work together or resources they would like to invest to elevate CU Denver as a nationally recognized public urban research university to reach out to me. Send me your ideas, or schedule time for us to meet. Let’s brainstorm how we can create mutually beneficial relationships that will have social impact, grow our economy, and elevate equity.
Ready to innovate? So are we.
What is the most important perspective that has helped you to succeed in your career?
One word: collaboration. There is something beautiful about bringing people together to create something that can positively impact an environment and bring out the best in our community. If I have realized any success in my career, it’s because I have worked very hard to pull different perspectives together to create something new and find synergies that did not previously exist. Through listening and collaboration, I hope to continue to bring diverse interests together at CU Denver, as the Managing Director of Partnerships and Innovation for the university.