Elected in 2016 to represent Colorado’s 1st Congressional District, Jack Kroll ’11, MS ’20 is a proud Lynx alum who now serves as Chair of the CU Board of Regents. In the fall of 2006, however, he was still settling into classes alongside other first-year students on the CU Denver campus, deciding between creative writing and economics.
Through hard work and with inspiration from professors like Kyle Hurst (who still teaches economics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), Kroll has enjoyed a remarkable string of early successes. From president of the Student Government Association to president of the CU Denver Alumni Board, as well as a 10-year career in admissions at CU Boulder, there are few who have embraced black-and-gold thinking as thoroughly as Kroll has.
Kroll recently sat down for an interview on campus with CU Denver News to talk about his student experiences, CU Denver’s future, and this year’s priorities for the Board of Regents.
How did you find your way to CU Denver?
I sort of fell into CU Denver. When I was growing up, my mom went to CU Denver to do her prerequisites for pharmacy school. But I had my first introduction to the campus when I was really young, maybe first or second grade. I actually did summer camp over at the Early Learning Center.
When I graduated from high school, I didn’t have a plan for going to college. I knew I was going, but I didn’t have a plan. So, on my birthday in 2006, I came down to the Annex and filled out a paper application. A couple of weeks later, I got accepted. And then a couple of weeks after that I came back for orientation and never really left.
Before you were a Regent, you were president of CU Denver’s student government. How did you first get involved with campus politics?
Though I ended up double-majoring in English and economics, I had intended to study English and creative writing. That led me to join the on-campus newspaper during my first year, and I actually ended up covering student government—that was my little beat. The next fall I decided why not get involved? I showed up at six straight meetings until they appointed me to a vacant position.
How has the campus changed since you were a student?
It’s changed so much. Growing up, I can remember when the Tivoli was painted white and had a movie theater. During the 2008 recession, the Science Building was just a giant hole in the ground—they had started digging the hole for the building before the recession hit, and it sat unfilled for at least a year and a half while the funding was being settled. The Business School—specifically where the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship is now—that was actually a nightclub. But this is what we do as universities: we take things and we put them to higher and better social and economic use. It’s revitalization at work, and it’s so cool to see this campus and this city on the rise.
What intrigued you about becoming a regent?
I have been steeped in this place since 2006 when I filled out my paper application. When I graduated in 2011, I immediately got involved in the Alumni Association and served as board president for a couple of years. I’ve always stayed connected and I will always be engaged with this campus. I’m still going to be at some event when I’m 85—I just don’t know how not to show up.
In my day job, I serve as the Associate Director of Graduate Recruitment and Transfer Admissions for the University of Colorado Boulder, where I work with a lot of students who are coming out of the military, going back to school, or starting their four-year college education.
I was about three years into my professional career when I started to lay the groundwork to run for the Board of Regents, and I had to really build my grassroots network. I really wanted to bring that CU connection, being closer to my own undergraduate experience, then, and to bring the perspective of someone who could really appreciate and recognize the value of the CU Denver campus. This campus can reinvent people, and it’s the kind of place we absolutely need as a city if we’re going to take the workforce talent we have and push it to the next level.
What are some of this year’s biggest priorities for the Board of Regents?
The presidential search is, I think, the biggest issue. The day-to-day relationship between the board and the president has got to always be the board’s top priority. Of course, coming out of the pandemic is a huge priority for the university and for the board as well. We have to make sure that we continue to safely deliver high-quality education and a great experience for our students. And beyond that, as the chair of the board, I want the board to come together on the big issues. The more we are unified, the more we’re all going to be able to get done together.
What do you think of CU Denver’s 2030 Strategic Plan?
I have no doubt it will take us to the next level as a campus. It’s the first time I’ve seen a strategic document that really understands what the campus is now and what it can be—who the campus serves, and how that is our strength. We play a specific role, a very valuable role, particularly in the frame of being an emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution and an Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander-Serving Institution.
If we are going to succeed as an industry in higher education, we have to educate those students who have not traditionally passed through our halls. And that’s not any fault of theirs: it’s our own failing as a higher education ecosystem that we haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity that exists in all our students. Campuses like CU Denver add the most value in our higher education system because we work to provide access for so many students who might not otherwise get a college education.
During the search for CU Denver’s next chancellor in 2020, we really sought out candidates who understood how to fully support disenfranchised student populations. Coming from George Mason, a campus very much on the rise in the D.C. metro area, Michelle Marks had a keen appreciation for how to take an institution to the next level and lean into a campus of strength. She was primed from the get-go to come in and succeed at that. From where many of us on the board sit, we’ve been very impressed. She’s blown out already very high expectations.
That’s great to hear. Any parting thoughts?
In January 2020, I had the opportunity of coming into my most prominent title I’ve ever had and ever will have when I became a father. I’ve been so fortunate to have an opportunity to be a CU Regent. To be a chair of a $5 billion organization at the age of 33 is something that is so profoundly fortunate. I’ve certainly worked hard to get here, but I was helped by a lot of supportive people. And I got lucky, you know? You have to be lucky in life, as well.