Standing out as an achiever

Fennell honored to be among administrative assistants – a group that 'makes things happen'

December 5, 2017
Karen Fennell of CLAS at CU Denver
Karen Fennell, administrative assistant in CLAS, with her Admin Award.

Although she doesn’t teach in the classroom or develop curriculums, Karen Fennell knows that she plays a key “behind-the-scenes” role in enhancing the education of students at the University of Colorado Denver.

Her supervisors know it as well. Fennell won The Achiever Award at the Denver Metro Admin Awards, after being nominated by Pamela Jansma, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), and CLAS Associate Dean Sarah Fields. She was one of nine professionals presented colorful, handmade glass-blown awards at a recent downtown luncheon.

Fennell is the Executive Assistant in the Dean’s Office of CLAS – a position she’s held since October 2011. She’s worked in other fields, but Fennell especially loves higher education.

“It’s an opportunity to give back to a community,” she said. “What I do behind the scenes supports the educational process overall. And what greater gift is there than to educate the young people who are going to be the creative minds of the future?”

‘Pulling together for same goal’

Fennell has spent 17 years as an administrative assistant, mostly in higher education. Her time at CU Denver has been the most rewarding of all.

“This is really one of the best teams of people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” Fennell said. “That’s something I always tell people: It takes a team to get the job done, and if you’re not all pulling together for the same goal, it doesn’t work.”

And were it not for the know-how, organization and efficiency of administrative assistants, many offices would come unglued, if not fall apart. That’s why Fennell is pleased to see her peers, through the Admin Awards, receive special recognition of their own.

An ‘Avalanche’ of recognition

Being an awardee at the Denver Metro Admin Awards began a cascade of surprises for Karen Fennell. At the awards luncheon she won the grand-prize raffle – 20 tickets to a Colorado Avalanche game, plus a hockey stick signed by the team, a signed puck and an Avalanche swag bag. “The best part of the whole thing is I get to ride on the Zamboni,” Fennell said. “How many people in their life get to say they rode on a Zamboni? I’m super excited!”

“They are the invisible hard workers. They’re the ones with the connections within the organization who know how to get things done and make things happen,” she said. “They are vital people who are often not recognized.”

Fennell holds a Master’s degree in Biological Anthropology, a discipline that instills an understanding of human development in different environments and what is needed by people in those environments. Fennell said she uses her Anthropology training every day as an administrative assistant.

‘Calendar brain’

Her strong desire to serve extends to her volunteer position on the university’s Staff Council. Fennell is on the council’s Professional Development Committee, which offers learning opportunities for staff members at both CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Fennell, who notes that her husband calls her the “calendar brain,” never misses an opportunity to organize. She has also volunteered to serve on the steering committee of next year’s Denver Metro Admin Awards.

Being the person who organizes the calendars of executives to efficiently make time in their day, so “they can do the really difficult work of performing their jobs,” is an essential part of executive support, Fennell said. “I couldn’t do my job without the other administrative assistants on campus,” she said. “We do this together.”

If you want more information about next year’s Denver Metro Admin Awards, or want to learn how to nominate someone, contact Fennell at