“We’re so grateful for everything you’re doing for CU Denver. We want to make you proud,” said Chancellor Michelle Marks, addressing more than 100 CU Denver donors, members of university leadership, deans, faculty, and students. On Oct. 7, for the first time in nearly two years, many of CU Denver’s strongest supporters gathered together outdoors at the History Colorado Center for the 2021 CU Denver Donor Celebration.
At the center of the celebration were CU Denver students, whose talents and ambitions inspire so many donors to give to the university. Chris Hilton, president of the Student Government Association, served as emcee, introducing Chancellor Marks, CU President Todd Saliman, and two student speakers: Andrea Arias, a Master of Architecture student, and Ben Spacek, an undergraduate in computer science. Hilton also recognized the many students who attended to personally thank those who so generously support their education.
“When we’re doing magical things at CU,” President Saliman told the audience of donors, “it’s because of all of you.” His remarks set the stage for the student speakers who followed. Arias and Spacek brought his words to life, showing attendees the dramatic, personal impact that donor support makes on CU Denver students.
“Scholarships have been a saving grace in my life,” Arias shared. “Beyond that, they validate my hard work.” In addition to pursuing her master’s at CU Denver, Arias works full-time as an architectural designer. She is a recipient of the Anderson Mason Dale Scholarship and the Dwayne C. Nuzum Memorial Scholarship from the College of Architecture and Planning.
Spacek told the story of his first meeting as a newly admitted student with Dr. Salim Lakhani from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Spacek worried things might be harder as a “non-traditional” student returning to college after nearly a decade. Dr. Lakhani’s response? “Actually, you sound like a pretty typical student here.”
“This was the first of many interactions at CU Denver that taught me the phrase ‘non-traditional’ doesn’t really mean anything,” Spacek said. “When I am here, I am just a student.” Spacek has felt supported not only by faculty but also by CU Denver donors, as he is a recipient of the Chancellor Georgia E. Lesh-Laurie Scholarship.
Chancellor Marks emphasized the community-wide impact that donors make. She cited CU Denver’s recent rise in U.S. News & World Report’s social mobility rankings, jumping more than 50 spots. “You are responsible for this incredible movement,” she told attendees. CU Denver is now the top-ranked university in Colorado in terms of social mobility for students from low-income families.
The Chancellor closed the program by recognizing donors’ central role in achieving the goals outlined in CU Denver’s new strategic plan. She noted how their partnership and generosity will be essential on the path to becoming the nation’s first equity-serving institution and an even stronger resource for students like Arias, Hilton, and Spacek. “We want this entire community involved in our plan,” Chancellor Marks stressed.
“There is a lot of energy at CU Denver about where the campus is heading, especially among us students,” Hilton said about the vision laid out in the strategic plan. “We are feeling good—I’d say even great—about the future. And for so many of us, your support makes our futures possible,” he added, perfectly capturing the spirit of optimism and gratitude that defined the evening.