One of two recipients of CU’s Excellence in Leadership Award is CU Denver’s very own Chief of Staff, Regina Kilkenny. The systemwide award honors a graduate of the Excellence in Leadership Program (ELP) who has demonstrated outstanding leadership at CU.
Since 2016, Kilkenny has worked in the Office of the Chancellor, supporting multiple initiatives to meet the campus’ strategic priorities and better the student experience. Those who have worked with Kilkenny commend her professionalism and remarkable character. “All of us who have the privilege of working with Regina in her current role as Chief of Staff know that she is an exceptional professional, whose considerable skills are matched with her winning attitude and indomitable spirit,” Chancellor Dorothy Horrell said in an email announcement.
Kilkenny’s strong ties to the university date back to her own undergraduate experience. She earned her bachelor’s from CU Boulder and master’s and doctorate degrees from CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs before beginning her career at CU 31 years ago at the CU System and the Denver and Anschutz campuses. Her previous positions include associate vice chancellor for Academic Resources and Services for CU Denver | Anschutz campuses, associate dean/chief of staff to the dean of the CU School of Medicine, secretary to the board of the University of Colorado Hospital, and CU Health Sciences Center lobbyist in the Office of the CU President.
The Nov. 22 Excellence in Leadership Lecture and Luncheon at Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel celebrated Kilkenny and recipient Kelly Fox, executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer at CU Boulder. The annual event brings together graduates of the program to promote collaboration, networking, and leadership development.
Read more about Kilkenny in the Q&A below.
Tell us about your background.
I’m a Denver native! I was born at St. Joseph’s hospital, and I’ve lived in Colorado most of my life, except for living in a small Illinois college town during my elementary school years.
I’m one of six children. My dad was a PR head for private colleges (DU, Knox College, Colorado College), and my mom is an artist and interior designer. My paternal grandfather arrived in the U.S. from Ireland at 17 years old with dollars to his name. He worked very hard and ultimately was chief of staff for U.S. Vice President Charles Dawes.
What inspired you to pursue a career in higher education?
I saw the value of education across my life and those of my colleagues. And at an early age, I wanted to pursue public service as a career. This field is where we catapult people’s hopes and dreams for a better life and more aware society.
What do you think makes an effective leader?
The following traits come to mind: integrity, the ability to inspire others toward a common vision that they’ve helped create, clarity of purpose, humility, bringing a growth mindset to the work, a sense of humor, commitment to transparency, listening more than talking, and being authentic — keeping it real!
What is it about your role as chief of staff that makes you want to get up and go to work each day?
It’s all about connection for me. Connecting with the mission, with the people who are committed to making CU Denver a respectful, safe, and welcoming place to discover, laugh, create, and share.
Looking back at your career in higher education, what makes you most proud?
I have been a trusted part of talented teams that worked for the good of the university and made a difference. For example, I’ve been proud to be a part of spinning off university hospital from state rules to make it more nimble, resurrecting the institutional review board after an FDA shutdown, helping shape the vision of the move to CU Anschutz, engaging collaborative, cross-campus teams to put CU Denver students at the center of the experience, and figuring out how to help our amazing students, faculty and staff navigate our systems more simply.
What do you like to do outside of work, for fun?
For over three decades, I’ve been an avid subscriber of our Denver Center Theatre Company (the regional theatre in town). The plays help me see the world through others’ eyes.
I adopted a baby from China as a single woman 19 years ago; being a mother to her is my favorite thing ever!
I love to bake traditional treats, from chocolate chip cookies, cheesecakes and lemon bars to pecan pies and frosted brownies. I also love to laugh with and support family and friends.
A few months ago, I took my first acting class to learn about the art and science of being in someone else’s shoes. I loved it so much that I’m starting another class next month.