People walking through CU Denver's campus

Growing a People-Centered Campus

March 14, 2023

There’s been quite a bit of activity to lay the infrastructure needed to help CU Denver meet its strategic goal of becoming a people-centered best place to work.  Even as the university undergoes a strategic budget reduction and realignment process, work continues, making small and big changes to create a better work environment for all our employees.   

One of the HR team’s greatest priorities has been to fill vacancies and onboard new employees. From December 2023 through February 2024, 88 positions have been filled at CU Denver, most of which have been faculty, lecturers, or front-line employees. One assistant vice chancellor was hired during that same period to support graduate education following the dissolution of the dual-campus graduate school in July 2022. The team is also helping to actively recruit for open positions, and they onboarded 43 new employees in February alone. That’s in addition to working with college HR specialists and individual employees answering questions about a host of topics ranging from family leave to training opportunities.  

“That’s what we do every day,” said teri engelke, assistant vice chancellor for Human Resources. “When I think back on the past year, it’s amazing how much we’ve accomplished, although I know much work remains to be done. We now have a dedicated team of professionals that are working hard to support our employees.”  

As Chancellor Michelle Marks continues to note, compensation is a critical issue for CU Denver. It’s important to not only ensure faculty and staff receive competitive, equitable pay, but to address that compensation issues can also help increase the recruitment and retention of top talent. In this spirit, a series of initiatives are underway from ones that focus on reviewing career development pathways and compensation to professional development opportunities for employees. One major initiative that is in progress is the Comprehensive Compensation Collaborative project, which will create consistent, transparent job descriptions with career pathways, along with corresponding salary ranges.  

“It takes a lot of work to create a Human Resources infrastructure that can properly support all our employees,” engelke said. “We are making steady progress.”  

Here are snapshots of some of the many Human Resources-related projects underway and a preview of some things to come in the fall.  

The Comprehensive Compensation Collaborative (3C) Project

This project centers around creating clear and consistent job descriptions, as well as pathways to promotions with transparent salary ranges based on educational level and experience.  

The two-year project launched last year. Job descriptions, existing salaries, and career pathways were gathered, and the CU Denver Human Resources team analyzed the information. They created draft job description templates, which they presented to a cross section of 50 employees for feedback. The HR team is now using the feedback to refine the job templates and their related career progression pathways, along with salary structures. A firm with experience in higher education is being consulted to ensure we are using industry standards during the analysis. A steering committee comprised of a cross section of employees at CU Denver assembled in February 2023 to continue to guide the work. The consultant will also provide an analysis to identify cost implications of implementing the new salary structure.  

New salary guidelines and processes, along with salary ranges, will be shared with faculty and staff by late summer 2024. Salary reviews will be conducted and adjustments will be based on budget availability sometime after that, engelke said.   

To watch a video about the launch of the Comprehensive Compensation Collaborative, click here.   

Appreciation and Recognition

A committee of 20 employees from across campus, including faculty, staff, and students, as well as shared governance, worked to identify ways the university can recognize and show employees that they are appreciated. Regina Kilkenny, special assistant for campus culture in administration and strategy, and Betsy Metzger, Faculty Affairs senior coordinator, co-chaired the group beginning in late 2022.   

“This work is important in identifying ways to foster a sense of community and belonging at CU Denver from the ground up,” Metzger said. “The committee members know a lot about past and present campus efforts and offered some creative ideas for moving us closer to being a people-centered best place to work.”  

The group worked for several months to compile a list of awards opportunities across campus, conduct a survey, review data, and present recommendations, which it submitted to the Chancellor in late February 2023. The group found that most employees prefer to be awarded gift cards, free parking, and professional development funds in lieu of a trophy or plaque. The group also found that few awards are focused on staff and that most are geared toward faculty. The complete report is available here. Among the recommendations:  

  • Re-establish an event that celebrates staff’s milestone years of service awards for every five years (a Years of Service event was held for staff on March 13)  
  • Recognize employees who are advancing the university’s aspiration of being an equity-serving institution with two new awards: one for staff and one for faculty  
  • Create a best-practices toolkit as a reference guide for schools, colleges, and units to recognize and communicate their appreciation of employees in their units  
  • Use social media tools to recognize employees on campus  
  • Find ways to recognize employees during existing events   
  • Create a working group to develop an Awards Week in April 2024 that celebrates faculty and staff with awards in order to create a culture of recognition  

Holiday and Observances Calendar

Another committee is looking at CU Denver’s calendar to review the holidays and observances the university recognizes and determine if they reflect our DEI values, while also giving faculty staff and students appropriate time off.  

The 12-member committee includes members of the DEI community, HR, as well as shared governance representatives from faculty, students, and staff. The group expects to complete its work and make recommendations for next year’s calendar to the Chancellor before summer.  

Supporting Supervisors

The first class to take part in the Staff Supervisor Professional Development Program, now called the Staff Management Academy, is finishing their work in June. The two-year program aims to better equip new supervisors to lead in their units and across the university. Launched in 2022, the class of 21 met monthly to learn about various topics including change management, working through conflict, social responsibility, resilience and combating burnout, among others. The participants are expected to continue onto year two of the program starting in August. Year two is called the Staff Leadership Academy to reflect its focus on leadership skills.   

The popular two-year program will continue next year. Be on the lookout for more information about nomination forms, which will be available later this month.   

What’s Next

There are several other committees and working groups engaged in other projects. That includes a retention committee, which is looking at creating consistent practices for employee transfer, exit, and stay interviews to get consistent feedback about their experience at the university. Another group is looking at reimagining the onboarding process for new employees.  “We have a full team of professionals now, and we are doing our best to serve our community,” engelke said.  

Work continues to develop a new CU Denver-focused HR website, which is expected to launch later this month. The HR team is also organizing an Open House, tentatively scheduled for April 4, in its offices located in the Lawrence Street Center. More information about the event is forthcoming.