Portrait of Ann Sherman

Finding Beauty in Connections, EVC Ann Sherman Brings New Perspectives to CU Denver

July 25, 2023

There’s a myth in higher education that summers are quiet times. That’s not the case at CU Denver’s downtown campus, which has been bustling with summer camps, staff members, and researchers who are helping solve societal issues around climate change, democracy, and more. And it certainly isn’t true for Ann Sherman, the university’s new executive vice chancellor for finance and administration.  

Since she joined the university in May, Sherman been busy meeting with her teams—she oversees roughly 10 groups in the areas of finance and budget, human resources, technology strategy and innovation, facilities planning and construction, emergency management, and organizational effectiveness—and getting accustomed to the inner workings of the campus.  

As a vital member of Cabinet, Sherman is responsible for overseeing the campus budget and ensuring the financial strength and operational effectiveness of the entire campus. She also works closely with CU Denver’s partners at the University of Colorado system, CU Anschutz Medical Campus, Auraria Higher Education Center, and the other institutions on the Auraria campus. Her strong experience in leading operational teams under her purview, identifying new revenue generation opportunities, supporting budgeting and financial management, and helping develop inclusive workplaces have prepared her for this role. 

She brings nearly 25 years of experience in private industry and public education, including 16 years in higher education. Prior to joining CU Denver, Sherman served as the vice president for business and finance at California State University, Chico (which is part of the 23-campus CSU system), and as the senior associate vice president for human resources and interim vice president of administration and finance and CFO at San Francisco State University. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology with double minors in finance and sociology from the University of Michigan, Dearborn, and she completed her PhD graduate coursework in industrial and organizational psychology at Wayne State University in Detroit. Ann’s post-graduate private sector work was in public utilities, a tier-one automotive supply chain, and medical device industry.  

CU Denver News sat down with Sherman to learn more about her background, leadership style, and hopes for CU Denver.  

What do you want our campus community to know about you? 

My parents are both teachers, and my background is Finnish, a culture which has a strong focus on literacy and education. I have always believed in education, not just as a career but for the sake of becoming a whole person. So, I’m strongly connected to our mission. 

I also bring a nontraditional blend of both private industry and institutional experience to this role. Higher education can be very insular—we use the same consultants, the same software systems. Sometimes, that can be good from a benchmarking standpoint, but sometimes it can be challenging because you can get stuck in the way higher education does things. Private industry, on the other hand, must adapt quickly to the market. My experience in both can be helpful here, and I hope to bring some nontraditional solutions to the challenges our campus is facing.

Why did the job as CU Denver’s Executive Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration interest you? 

The person, the location, and the work. First, Chancellor Michelle Marks is an industrial organizational psychologist, which is my graduate discipline. They are very rare, and I was very excited to have the opportunity to work with her. Second, Denver’s location. My partner’s brother lives here, and it’s a place both of us found appealing. Third, CU Denver’s mission. As an industrial psychologist, my career has been very focused on equity. In Detroit, I conducted validation studies to help increase both women and underrepresented persons in skilled trades jobs. At San Francisco State and Chico State, I ran a leadership development program that was specifically aimed at increasing underrepresented employees in leadership positions. So, CU Denver’s focus on equity, to me, is inherently aligned with my personal and professional values.

The work here also includes our relationships with the CU system, Anschutz Medical Campus, and AHEC. This seemed like a really good opportunity to leverage my networking skills. I see myself as a spider moving across the web, figuring out how to how to make something really beautiful happen.  

How has your previous experience prepared you for your new role? 

I’ve spent seven years in very similar roles in higher education. And prior to my switch to higher education, I had a similar scope during the seven years that I was in medical device manufacturing. My roles started in HR and expanded to include budget, financial accounting, customer support, and aftermarket care. Fundamentally, as I think about my experience, it’s always been about helping people understand the meaning of their work and the mission of the institution.  

I have a macro approach to handling finances at an institution. It’s more about how does the Cabinet determine what our priorities are, and how do we allocate for those priorities? Sometimes, I’ve seen that people in my position treat the institution’s budget as their money. That’s not my approach at all. It’s our money. It’s up to us to make sure that we’re allocating it to the best effect. And we collectively need to decide how it’s going to work. A big part of leadership is making those decisions. An important element is also making sure that everybody knows what’s going on, and providing the context for how those decisions are being made.

What makes you passionate about higher education? 

At the beginning of the summer, each member of Cabinet was asked to bring something that exemplified why we do the work we do. I brought in a white silk scarf that I received when I went to Bhutan in Asia. I had been wanting to go to Bhutan for almost 20 years—ever since I did research on employee happiness. Bhutan has a Gross National Happiness Index that looks at whether their citizens are happy, and I just thought, Oh, I’d like to go to a country where they’re deliberately valuing happiness. At the time, it was this place very far away. I always told myself it was just “too”—too far away, too much money. Then I went there, and I felt like I had come home to a place I never knew I was missing.

This scarf is a reminder to me that our students don’t know yet. Things might be too much for them—too expensive, too much time, how education works is too mysterious. It’s a reminder that when somebody helps you get there, your life will be forever changed in ways you never imagined. 

What do you like to do for fun? 

I love to be outdoors and spend time with family. I’m a big kayaker, and I love to go hiking. For my birthday, everybody gave me books about Denver or Colorado—like the best hikes within the Denver area, the best hot springs. So, we’re going to do all that. I have two kids, Forrest and Hunter. They both live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  

I’m a Buddhist, and I tend to take Buddhist approach to life generally. In particular, I think about the notions of right livelihood and right speech, and I ask myself, am I contributing in a positive way through my work and speech?  

What’s stood out to you so far about the university and Denver? 

For one, the people at CU Denver are really smart and very committed to this campus. For the city, I love the fact that there’s a very small tax that pays for artistic and cultural events. My friends gave us a season pass to the Denver Art Museum as a going away gift. It seems like every time I turn around, there’s another museum. That is just amazing, and I love that it generates such a vibrant arts and cultural scene.