Rachel Gross, PhD, an assistant professor of history and the co-director of the Public History Program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been appointed as the second Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow. Over the course of the 2022–23 academic year, she will serve as an advisor and thought partner to the chancellor and her senior leadership team on the implementation of the university’s 2030 Strategic Plan.
Gross received a BA in history and Spanish from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and a MA and PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From 2017–2019, Gross was a Teaching, Research, and Mentoring Postdoctoral Fellow at the Davidson Honors College at the University of Montana. Gross joined CU Denver in 2020 and teaches courses on capitalism, commodities, women and gender, and public history. Her research and teaching interests center on business, consumer culture, and gender.
Gross brings a deep passion for research, students, collaboration, and equity into her new role as the Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow. “Being able to teach U.S. history at the college level is my dream job,” she said. “As a professor, I spend a lot of time with my students and colleagues in the department, and this position means a chance to learn more about the work going on beyond my building.”
Below are five things to know about Rachel Gross, the new Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow.
1. The 2022–23 Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow will support 2030 Strategic Plan Initiatives (with a focus on Goal Four, to serve as the anchor institution for an open innovation district in downtown Denver).
The strategic planning process spanned six months and involved 3,000 participants and more than 7,000 ideas about CU Denver’s future. Ambitious and bold, the 2030 Strategic Plan implementation requires the help of the university’s people, including Gross.
As an advisor to the chancellor and leaders across the university, Gross will use her areas of expertise to help research, conceptualize, and implement ideas relating to goal four. She will work in close collaboration with Jennifer Sobanet, executive vice chancellor for administration and strategy; Dan Maxey, chief of staff for the Chancellor’s Office; and Anthony Graves, managing director of partnerships and innovation; as well as other members of the chancellor’s Cabinet.
2. Dr. Gross is an environmental, cultural, and public historian specializing in the history of the modern U.S.
Gross’ research makes her well-suited to focus on goal four. The public historian studies the history of business, with an emphasis on the outdoor apparel industry and innovation hubs formed in places because of community connections (think Boulder for outdoor retailers). Her first book, tentatively titled, Selling Nature: The Outdoor Industry in American History, will be published by Yale University Press in fall 2023. But her work making history accessible to the public beyond books is what motivates her for the Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow position. Public historians “have to learn how to work with stakeholders and local communities,” Gross explained.
3. Dr. Gross will prioritize collaborating with campus partners, building guiding principles, and putting a framework into action.
Gross’ immediate priority is meeting with partners on campus, including faculty, staff, and students, and in the community to learn more about their hopes and visions for the future of the university and the city of Denver, and how the two will work together. She will then collaborate with Sobanet, Maxey, and Graves to develop a set of principles that will guide the university’s work in the innovation district space over the next several years. Finally, she intends to deploy a strategy to highlight best practices in how higher education institutions around the country have helped shape urban environments and economies and share those practices across the institution. “I know many share my vision of taking a more equitable path in the future, and our best practices must incorporate a range of voices to see that happen,” Gross said.
4. Dr. Gross hopes that CU Denver inspires change for the national higher education landscape.
CU Denver’s strategic plan goals, recognition of its past, and emphasis on community make up a model that Gross hopes the rest of the country will follow. “I think our nation’s higher education enterprise is on shaky ground and we need to be looking at how we as Americans and taxpayers value education and who has access to it,” Gross said.
Gross also looks forward to seeing the university continue its work to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution, which includes acknowledging the university’s past through efforts such as the Ninth Street Revitalization Initiative and last week’s “Histories and Legacies of Displacement and Removal” symposium, which Gross co-organized.
5. In her free time, Dr. Gross likes playing ice hockey.
Gross, who is from Los Angeles, California, is an avid ice hockey player and plays on three teams in Denver. “I watched Mighty Ducks when I was a kid and loved it,” she said. “But living in California, I didn’t know anyone who played.” It took moving to a place with a real winter to realize that childhood dream.