CU Student Agency builds pipeline for jobs

Innovative program gives CU Denver students real-world experience -- and some cash

September 18, 2017
CU Denver students tour Denver company
CU Student Agency members enjoy a tour of Four Winds Interactive, a Denver company founded by CU Boulder alumnus David Levin.

In today’s digital world, the needs for creative media – websites, videos, photos and logos – are exploding.

Enter an innovative program that gives University of Colorado Denver students real-world experience in addition to cash for their wallet. Angie Buckley, Scholar-in-Residence in the College of Arts & Media (CAM), launched the CU Student Agency within CAM less than a year ago.

Buckley, a professional photographer, has a keen eye for visual composition as well as the tech-savvy skills needed by creative professionals in today’s business world. As a faculty member she’s observed that students, post-graduation, sometimes work for free simply to develop a professional portfolio. She recognized they should be doing this while still in college – and getting paid for their work.

“I’ve often thought, ‘What is it a student needs to learn?’” Buckley said. “A big thing they need to learn is how to negotiate money. When you do work for free you’re not learning how to request nor receive money for your talents and skills. So, I set up an agency where students get mentored in these skills. They negotiate prices for their work on projects.”

Wide variety of work

The projects cover wide territory – websites, social media campaigns, videos, photography shoots – and currently some 30 CU Denver students are employed around Denver to bolster their all-important portfolios. Students have performed work for Four Winds Interactive, a Denver-based touch-screen technology company founded by David Levin, a CU Boulder alumnus.

Angie Buckley
Angie Buckley, Scholar-in-Residence in the College of Arts & Media.

The CU Student Agency recently lined up $15,000 worth of projects in just a one-week period. Buckley said students learn to be responsible freelancers or employees with an entrepreneurial mindset.

‘Learn-while-you-earn’ program

“We are a learn-while-you-earn program. We are truly ‘CU in the City,’” she said. “Our students are meeting clients in business offices, coffee shops and corporations across the city – all negotiating each gig.”

Many of the students work remotely, and earnings are based on a sliding, per-project scale. “The purpose of the program is to build a portfolio with real experience,” Buckley said. “The students are not shadowing; they’re semi-professionals.”

Students employed through this entrepreneurial agency are university employees, so they adhere to all the university-mandated risk management and human resource policies. The agency, which primarily employs CAM students but is branching out to students in the Business School, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and other colleges, works with the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and also Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), to place students in creative jobs. “It’s an exhilarating organization that’s awesome for networking,” Buckley said of YPO and EO.

She starts by learning what each student wants to accomplish. Are they seeking a full-time job? Do they want to freelance?

High demand for student workers

CU Denver students meet with YPO
CU Denver students meet with executives in the Young Presidents Organization. Angela Buckley Photography.

The demand for student workers from businesses and even other schools and colleges at CU Denver is too great to fill the many current openings, Buckley said. She hopes the program can expand to other schools and colleges, bringing on more designated supervisors to mentor students in entrepreneurial opportunities. She said she’s been contacted by Arizona State University and Fairleigh Dickinson University in Tenneck, N.J.

Buckley notes that the opportunities through the CU Student Agency are not internships nor are they for credit. These are temporary jobs and freelance gigs, often being offered by people who operate a small business or a nonprofit and can’t yet justify creating a full- or part-time position for certain tasks. “I emphasize to our clients that ‘You are working with students, but if you need to rely on a professional, we are happy to refer you to our CU Denver alumni.’”

While she hopes to see the CU Student Agency concept expand, Buckley is pleased that it’s creating work opportunities for students while also serving our thriving urban community – a true CU in the City synergy.

“This is a bootstrap effort at its finest,” she said. “It’s given our students hundreds and hundreds of hours of employment, and yet we have so much work we can’t keep up.”