On Saturday, Dec. 12, more than 1,200 students were awarded degrees by the University of Colorado Denver at the Colorado Convention Center.
For two of those graduates, the next step will take them to remarkable opportunities for which they have been uniquely well prepared by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Public Affairs.
The stories of Duy “Andy” Le and Sarah Moss prove that when both CU Denver undergraduate and graduate students learn with purpose, they succeed.
Duy “Andy” Le
Ace photographer, seasoned graphic designer, fashionista, budding psychologist—any of these could be used to describe Duy “Andy” Le, a first-generation student who will graduate with his Bachelor of Arts in psychology in December 2015.
A native of Denver, Le decided wanted to get away from the area after high school and enrolled at the University of Northern Colorado. His hope was to meet new people, grow and network. But after almost two years he came to an important conclusion. He didn’t like it there.
Wanting to continue his education is his hometown, Le chose to enroll at CU Denver, and found the transition smooth thanks to a supportive faculty and staff.
“Coming from UNC to CU Denver was definitely a big change,” Le said. “Being here with the kind of support from teachers and the people I work with definitely made my experience that much better. It made things so much easier.”
In the past two and a half years, Le has become a fixture on campus. He has worked part-time in the CU Denver Career Center, serving as a marketing assistant and graphic designer for many of the office’s promotional materials. In addition, he is a student photographer for the Auraria Higher Education Center, providing photography of many of the iconic images and events on campus.
“I fell in love with photography after taking Intro to Dark Room photography,” Le said. “My teacher, Angela Buckley, was a big key to that. She was really cool.”
Students and faculty have likely seen Le’s work, even if they don’t realize it. His pieces are on display in the Starbucks at the Tivoli Student Union as well as in the CU Denver Career Center. His work captures architecture as well as individuals, and he prefers to take authentic, unstaged shots over posed, staged ones.
Combining his passions
“I like to capture people in the moment in their surroundings,” Le said. “Everyone has their own personality, and you can see that through pictures. The way they dress, the way they carry themselves—all of that in someone’s actual environment. That’s what I try to capture.”
Despite his prowess with a camera, there was one photo op that evaded Le until recently—a shot of a snow-covered campus. Despite numerous outings to the top of campus parking garages, an ideal vantage point for the perfect winter pic, the weather had never fully cooperated.
“Living in Colorado we have our mountains and snow,” Le said. “I needed to get campus and all of that together in one photo. That encompasses everything for me.”
After graduating, Le hopes to find a job in photography or graphic design. While that seems like an unlikely plan for someone who majored in psychology, Le sees connections between the fields, noting that psychology in one form or another is always encased in his photography and graphic design work.
He is also hoping to launch the design label he founded with a friend—. The brand, which he started while studying at CU Denver, is inspired by iconic moments in film and pop culture.
Whether Le finds himself becoming a photographer, graphic designer, fashion designer or taps into his education in psychology, one thing is absolutely certain—he has options and could excel in any and all of them.
“I’m nervous about graduation, but I’ve always learned to adapt to new things, so I’m ready for it,” Le said. “I’ve had a lot of support. It comes from everyone that I’ve worked with—they’ve all helped me in some way, shape or form.”
Most people like to have some sense of what’s coming around the bend in life. Not Sarah Moss. She happily says, “I don’t know what comes next, although I know it will involve city building,” and plunges into her many interests.
Moss is a graduate student, policy wonk, social-media maven, message-based event producer, outdoors lover, yoga practitioner, bookworm and – most of all – a public servant who jumps into volunteer duties by the score. She is, by turns, an extrovert and introvert, a dreamer and doer, a sports junkie and political pundit.
Moss lives by the mantra, “Choose the road leading to the most forks.”
The only thing she’d change about the last 18 months as a full-time graduate student in CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs (SPA) and full-time City and County of Denver employee would be time to follow her beloved Broncos and Nuggets, as well as catch an occasional episode of the political drama “House of Cards” on TV. She views politics and professional sports as similar: They’re both about bringing in large crowds. “In politics, I’m rare in that I enjoy both the campaigns and the policy sides. Most people like to do one or the other, but not both.”
Moss is finishing her Executive Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) at SPA, following in the footsteps of two of her favorite public servants: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (class of 1995) and City Council President Christopher Herndon (Class of 2012) both earned MPA degrees from CU Denver. “I can’t say enough good things about the MPA program,” Moss says, as she enjoys a brief respite to sip herbal tea and talk about her education and amalgam of passions.
‘CU Denver is integrated in our community’
“Everything I’ve learned in the classroom has been immediately applicable to my professional and personal life,” Moss says. “The CU Denver campus is so integrated into our civic community. I blame Chris (Herndon) for the fact that I’m doing my MPA in just 1-1/2 years, while still working full time. He told me, ‘It will be painful but manageable, and you can do it.’”
Indeed, she has.
Moss has managed or helped coordinate political event logistics for several high-profile public servants, including President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, presidential candidate John Kerry and Mayor Hancock. Moss became well-trained in time management. “In campaigns, there is an adage that time is the most precious resource because you cannot create more of it. When I decided to work full time and go to school full time, I realized there weren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things I like to do,” she says. “So, I have not kept up with my favorite Denver sports teams. Also, I haven’t gotten as much sleep, I haven’t seen my family as much as I want, and I took a break from Krav Maga” (Israeli self-defense, in which she earned her yellow belt last year).
Since 2013, Moss has been Outreach Program Manager for the Denver Fire Department. Before that, she ran her own consulting company for government, nonprofits and businesses. Clients included the Downtown Denver Partnership and People for the American Way Foundation, and twice she has led Mayor Hancock’s inaugural committee.
‘I am a public servant’
On her graduate-school “statement of purpose,” Moss wrote, “I have done so many community leadership programs, one of the only things left is graduate school. … What I want to be when I grow up, 2014 version: What I am now, with the additional knowledge, skills and networking opportunities of a CU Denver Executive MPA. I am a public servant.”
In her current job at the Denver Fire Department, she is the City Council liaison and leads teams that improve the department’s customer service and efficiency in non-emergency services such as public safety education. Unlike the frenetic campaign days, Moss now also manages longer-term projects, such as outreach plans for fire stations not yet built.
“It’s a different skill set than working within the 24-hour news cycle or one-week political event cycle,” she says of the longer-term strategic projects. “When I graduated from high school, never in a million years did I imagine I’d be working for a presidential campaign, a White House Administration or a fire department. Some days I’m at a city council meeting, some days I’m touring a marijuana grow house with fire inspectors and some days I’m riding on a fire engine. Every day is different.”
One thing is certain about Moss’s varied resume: She squeezes all the growth and knowledge possible from each experience, and she always looks forward to the next challenge. “I describe myself as a civic dreamer and a city builder,” she says, “and I like thinking of unconventional ways to either do something we’re already doing or try something new.”
Her current challenge is formidable: For her MPA capstone client Building a Better Colorado, Moss is studying several previous Colorado ballot measures involved in the state’s Gordian knot of fiscal policy. “Gov. Hickenlooper calls it the ‘fiscal thicket,’” Moss says. “Every couple years we see a new TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) provision kick in where we didn’t know how it was going to work, and that’s a big challenge.”
‘I feel very lucky’
Moss believes it’s an exciting time to be in Denver with significant projects such as light rail, reimagining Boettcher Concert Hall and other urban developments taking place. “Meanwhile, intangible infrastructure things are happening, such as the finance policy that builds the tangible infrastructure,” she says. “It’s exciting to be a part of these things that are going to have long-term impacts.”
So, the question arises: What does this sky-high dreamer plan to do next in the Mile High City? “I feel like every time I try to make a plan, something better comes along,” Moss says. “I feel very lucky that way. So, honestly, I don’t know what comes next. I love living in the community where I grew up and serving this city, so whatever happens next will be in the civic realm for Denver.”
Once Moss has her MPA degree in hand, she’ll be busy as ever. She just hopes there’s a little more time for the things she loves – visiting family, hiking and skiing, and catching up on NBA games and a long list of – what else? – political movies and shows.
“You never know where life’s paths might go,” Moss says. “I feel very fortunate to have the opportunities and the experiences I’ve had.”
This story was written by Steven Barcus and Chris Casey, University Communications.