Four people walking together

Bidding adieu to a dedicated student ally

April 11, 2019

Humble. Devoted. Passionate.

These are just a few of many words students and staff use to describe Raul Cardenas, Jr., PhD, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, who has accepted a position as president and CEO of Mullen High School in Denver and will be leaving the university. From his profound commitment to building a community to his palpable advocacy for student initiatives, Cardenas has made a lasting footprint on the university community, touching the lives of innumerable campus constituents in his eight-year stride.

“We are grateful to Raul for his tireless efforts since 2011 to raise the level of service provided to both our current students and our prospective students,” Roderick Nairn, PhD, provost and executive vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, wrote in a letter to the university community. “Under his guidance, many student initiatives went from “what if” to reality …. He oversaw record enrollments over the last several years in terms of both numbers and diversity. His leadership and vision will have a lasting impact.”

Centered on community

Upon starting his position at CU Denver, Cardenas immediately noticed that something seemed to be missing on campus: an established, fortified community. He observed a disconnect between the students’ overarching pride for the university and their opportunities to express that pride.

His actions to remedy this? Establishing a university mascot, building a facility to promote health and wellness and bringing Club Sports, Greek life and “Spirit Thursdays” to campus.

“Spirit Thursdays and the idea that everyone would wear their black and gold CU Denver Lynx spirit gear weekly was a big deal for him, not only supporting his efforts to build a community for students, but also connecting students with staff and faculty,” said Marcia Neville, communications manager for Student Development.

Milo the Lynx came into existence in 2013 and has been a huge hit thus far. From his incorporation into campus swag to the 20-foot-tall blow-up “Mighty Milo,” the distinct lynx can be spotted across campus and is now a cornerstone when identifying CU Denver. It has brought a sense of connectedness and loyalty to students, staff and faculty alike.

“I am incredibly proud to have been a part of bringing Milo to the CU Denver community,” said Cardenas. “That’s a huge accomplishment of my time here.”

“I am incredibly proud to have been a part of bringing Milo to the CU Denver community,” said Cardenas.

Cardenas also gathered a strong team and developed a new direction and focus at the CU Anschutz Office of Campus Student Services, and he created CU Denver’s Office of Residential Education, Lynx Center, K-12 Outreach and Transfer Admissions.

Another major milestone seen under Cardenas’ leadership was the creation of the popular Student Affairs Conference in 2012, offering staff and colleagues across the university a day of professional development on campus to network and share their expertise with one another. This has proven to be a wildly successful event as attendance continues to skyrocket each year.

Driven by student success

Having spent the majority of his career focusing on equal access to higher education, Cardenas has always had a passion for improving the lives of students and ensuring they earn a degree. This is evidenced anecdotally by commencement being his favorite day of the year, and quantifiably with freshmen enrollment jumping 72.3% between fall 2012 and fall 2018.

“It’s not often you hear a university leader speak with such passion and personal conviction about student success,” said Catherine Wilson, director of Undergraduate Admissions, who chose to work for CU Denver after meeting with Cardenas. “His vision of 100% graduation made me believe that CU Denver was looking at student success and the path to a degree differently than other colleges and universities, and I wanted to be a part of that mission and values-driven work.”

Under the guidance of Raul Cardenas, Jr., PhD, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, many student initiatives went from “what if” to reality.

Cardenas worked closely with the Student Government Association (SGA) during his time here, in order to discover the wants and needs of students and make their wishes become a reality. He noted that SGA has been “an integral part” of his time here and that he “takes great pride in the work they accomplished.”

“I absolutely love the students here,” Cardenas said with a smile on his face, reiterating that they were, and still are, a favorite aspect of his job. “A large part of my new role will be working with students,” Cardenas said. “Still, it’s incredibly bittersweet to close this chapter of my life.”

The future looks bright

Cardenas begins his new role as president and CEO of Mullen High School on May 1, 2019. He will spearhead fundraising initiatives, growing the school’s financial state and overseeing all students and staff.

“CU Denver has the opportunity to change the lives of people forever,” Cardenas said. “Although I am moving on from this position, I will always keep an eye out on what is happening here.”