CU Denver Community Collaborative Research Center Empowers Communities 

CU Denver Community Collaborative Research Center Empowers Communities 

May 2, 2024

Within the Denver metropolitan area as well as other Colorado communities, the most vulnerable residents face mounting climate-related challenges such as toxic air quality, droughts, increased fire and flood risk, and extreme weather. The Community Collaborative Research Center (CCRC) at the University of Colorado Denver facilitates participatory research, collaborative planning, and short-term projects between university researchers and grassroots and civic partners to develop equitable solutions that address the impacts of climate change and other systemic inequalities. The CCRC is quickly becoming a valuable resource for our communities and expanding its reach through conferences and workshops.


In January 2024, the CCRC and the Department of Urban and Regional Planning co-hosted a summit with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which provided information about the federal government’s Build for the Future initiative and funding opportunities that empower local communities to undertake initiatives focused on climate resiliency, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and environmental justice. About 100 government and nonprofit leaders from throughout the state attended to learn from federal agency heads and staff located in Denver and Washington, D.C.   


The CCRC’s Carrie Makarewicz and the University of Denver’s Cara DiEnno, the Director of their Center for Community Engagement to Advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL) were invited to present at The Research Universities Civic Engagement Network (TRUCEN) 2024 annual meeting invited preceding the national Campus Compact conference in Denver. Campus Compact is the largest and most inclusive national conference focused on the role of higher education in building healthy communities and fostering a just and equal democracy through community-engaged teaching and research.  

Featured as the opening event of the TRUCEN conference, Makarewicz, DiEnno, and their community partners, Art, Evon, and Adriana Lopez, shared their work on The Valverde Movement Project, a collaboration of the Valverde Neighborhood Association (VNA), CCESL, CCRC, local government, and non-profit organizations.  Each presented their perspectives on the benefits and dynamics of community-university partnerships, and the Lopez family also highlighted several of their latest projects, including starting Valverde’s first food pantry, working with the Florence Crittendon High School for teen moms to start a food garden, and naming a long unnamed park after Elaine and Fred Ulibarri, Evon’s parents who were community leaders on Denver’s West side.

As a result of this work, Evon Lopez, a community activist, CCRC partner, and West Denver Community Advisory Board member, has been invited to collaborate with the Mountain West Climate Health Engagement Hub funded by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) to facilitate learning and build partnerships among community members, scientists, public health practitioners, and policy professionals to work towards climate justice. Katie Dickinson, associate professor from the Colorado School of Public Health at Anschutz and a CCRC faculty partner, co-leads the Hub.


Founded in 2022, the Community Collaborative Research Center (CCRC) is a drop-in center that provides free or low-cost research services; mapping and data analysis; evaluation and grant writing; community outreach and engagement support; and training for faculty, students, non-profits, and other organizations on community-engaged research methods. The CCRC leverages its position as an academic institution to provide resources to communities facing climate and other injustices.

The team is led by Carrie Makarewicz and Jeremy Németh from the Department of Urban and Regional Planning; Gregory Simon from Geography and Environmental Sciences; and Jean Scandlyn and Ronica Rooks from Health and Behavioral Sciences. Additionally, they collaborate with faculty across ten departments including Urban and Regional Planning, Landscape Architecture, Sociology, Civil Engineering, Public Affairs, and the Colorado School of Public Health at Anschutz. 

Since its advent, the CCRC has cultivated collaborative community partnerships, provided training and technical assistance, and consulted on projects exploring issues of air pollution, sustainable mobility, energy equity, and community impacts of major redevelopments. The work includes collaborations with GreenLatinos, Cultivando, Valverde Neighborhood Association, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Sustainable Mobility Division, groups in the Globeville-Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, the Regional Transportation District (RTD), and the Ball Arena Community Benefits Agreement Committee.

The CCRC is currently funded by a CU Denver Grand Challenges Team Award. Developing a sustainable funding model is critical to the CCRC’s future success. The CCRC faces the perpetual challenge of needing to demonstrate success to get financial support and also needing financial support to have success. They have submitted grant applications to NSF-DISES (with SPA’s Building Democratic Communities), NIH R01 with Cultivando (with the CSPH), the EPA EJ TCTAC, Gates Family Foundation, Boettcher Foundation, Health Effects Institute (with CSPH and CSU), Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), NASA, National Institute of Justice CERC (with SPA), the US Joint Office of Energy & Transportation (with NREL), Anschutz Medical Campus ASPIRE (with Dr. Katie Dickenson from CSPH), the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) (with Dr. Aditi Misra in Civil Engineering), and an NSF Early Career grant (with Dr. Ben Crawford from Geography and Environmental Sciences). They also established a relationship with the Colorado School of Mines to support their faculty with engaged research and hope to compete for funding from the NSF Colorado-Wyoming Climate Resilience Regional Innovation Engine.

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