Duy Tran attended a Feb. 16 Lunar New Year Celebration, hosted by CU Denver's Asian Students Association (ASA).

CU Denver’s New AANAPISI Program Director Uses Personal Experiences to Fuel His Focus on Student Outcomes

February 22, 2024

When CU Denver’s Duy Tran (’12; MA ’19) works with students to help them reach their academic goals, he brings his personal experience into play. Tran grew up in Saigon, Vietnam, with his grandmother, mother, brother, and sister, until he was six years old. Thanks to an uncle who already lived in the U.S., his family was able to emigrate. And he began the process of learning English and adjusting to a whole new way of life. 

“Looking back on my journey, I am grateful for the opportunities this country has given me,” said Tran. “I am proud to be a U.S. citizen, and I also take pride in my Vietnamese heritage and the rich culture that has shaped me into who I am today.” 

Tran is part of a team dedicated to helping support CU Denver’s Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI) designation, a recognition the university earned from the U.S. Department of Education in May 2023. CU Denver is the first university in Colorado, and the six-state Rocky Mountain region, to attain this designation, which also includes a $1.8 million grant from the federal government.   

CU Denver is using the grant money to support the program and Tran was hired as a director in October 2023. The program aims to help CU Denver’s diverse student population. Our Lynx community has learners from various backgrounds, including Vietnamese, Filipino, Chinese, Korean, Asian Indian, Hmong, Japanese, Indonesian, Thai, and Laotian. The goal is to create a positive and nurturing environment where all students, regardless of their background, can thrive and succeed. 

A Multi-Culture Experience 

Tran grew up in southwest Denver and attended Denver Public Schools before becoming a student at CU Denver (he graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s in communications and a minor in psychology), so he’s lived through some of the experiences our students encounter today. 

“Many AANAPISI students carry multiple identities, such as parents, caretakers, or breadwinners for their families, requiring much of their time and attention,” Tran said. “Through my experience, I have gained a deeper understanding of the demographics of our student body and what resources are necessary to support them holistically. By taking into account the unique experiences and narratives of our students, I see the program director of AANAPISI as an opportunity for me to help us make well-informed decisions that benefit the entire CU Denver community.” 

Aside from figuring out how the educational system works, some students are translators for their families and often caretakers. They learn to navigate complex systems through necessity and trial-and-error. Tran relates to their experiences because he has lived it: He grew up helping his mother take care of his grandmother and because he is fluent in Vietnamese, he helped his family communicate throughout his life. (And he finds fun ways to practice his language skills outside his home. “Singing karaoke in Vietnamese has helped me improve my reading skills,” he said with a laugh. “Although it’s definitely not helped my singing abilities.”) 

Tran’s deep personal understanding of the student journey is aided by his professional development. After graduating from CU Denver, he worked at several nonprofit organizations in different capacities, including as a youth educator, assistant grant manager, and program coordinator. These positions provided valuable experience in program management and education programs.  

In 2016, he returned to CU Denver as an admissions counselor. He assisted prospective students with the application process, reviewed applications, built partnerships with high schools, and participated in recruitment events. He then worked at Lynx Central, a campus resource that aims to provide resources to students in one place.  

He earned a Master of Arts in Leadership for Educational Organizations from CU Denver in 2019 and shortly after left for a job in the private sector. But he missed his work with students. 

AANAPISI Program Goals 

In 2023, he returned to the university to teach a dual enrollment ethnic studies course that focused on the nuances of Asian American and Pacific Islander Cultures through CU Succeed. He also helped lead the AAPI Men’s Conversation through the Asian American Student Services Office.  

When the opportunity to lead the new AAANAPIS program came up, he jumped at the chance. “My time at CU Denver has been a fulfilling journey, and I am grateful for the opportunities that I have here,” he said. “The experiences and skills that I have gained during my time at CU Denver have been invaluable and have helped shape me into the person I am today.” 

In his new role, he is focusing on: 

  • establishing a cohesive team and laying a solid foundation for AANAPISI;
  • building and nurturing strong relationships with our faculty and staff;
  • providing support to our students throughout their academic journey;
  • collaborating closely with colleagues and students to identify areas that need improvement;
  • implementing innovative solutions; and
  • preparing students to become civically engaged leaders and changemakers. 

“I want students to know our team cares about them and we are committed to creating a safe and supportive environment for all of our students,” he said. “We believe that by working together, we can help our students achieve their full potential and become tomorrow’s leaders and changemakers.”