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Meet the 2021 and 2022 Regent Awards Recipients from CU Denver

Awardees will be honored at a May CU Denver Regent Awards Celebration

April 26, 2022

At a CU Denver Regent Awards Celebration ceremony in May, eight CU Denver faculty, donors, and alumni will be honored for their tremendous impacts to the university and the community. The award ceremony will honor recipients from 2021 and 2022.

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters  

Lauren Y. Casteel 

Daughter of renowned civil rights leader Whitney Moore Young Jr. and educator and author Margaret Buckner Young, Lauren Y. Casteel graduated from CU Denver in 1977 with a BA in speech and communications and a minor in English literature. She led three foundations—the Hunt Alternatives Fund; the Temple Hoyne Buelle Foundation; and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, where she currently serves as president and CEO. In her current role, she channels her life-long passion for all forms of social justice and equity into driving the foundation’s research agenda, community partnerships, and lobbying efforts toward improving access to high-quality childcare and contraception and eliminating barriers to pay equity. Casteel was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014 and named one of the 25 most powerful women in Colorado by the Women’s Chamber of Commerce in 2015.  

Don Johnson 

CU Denver benefactor Don Johnson received his BFA in interior architecture from CU Boulder in 1962 and in 1972, founded the major architecture firm Aegina Associates. He went on to design Erie Village, one of the most desirable real estate developments in Boulder County. In his current role as managing trustee of the Dr. C. W. Bixler Family Foundation, which supports educational, arts, and community initiatives, Johnson continues the legacy of his grandfather Dr. Clarence W. Bixler, a 1907 graduate of CU’s School of Medicine. Johnson’s philanthropic gifts to CU Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) have made him the largest donor in CU Denver’s history. His investments and thought leadership led to creation of the Bixler Global Initiatives, an exchange program between CAP and architecture schools in Finland, Japan, and Spain. He is also behind the creation of the Colorado Building Workshop, allowing students to apply architectural theory to constructing buildings for communities in need.  

Tenzing Rigdol 

Tenzing Rigdol is among CU Denver’s most celebrated visual artists. The son of Tibetan parents who were refugees in Nepal, he received a bachelor’s of fine arts in painting and a bachelor’s in art history from CU Denver, and has emerged as a leading contemporary artist addressing political and ideological issues arising from the Himalayan tradition. His artwork reflects the Tibetan diaspora. His installation “Our Land, Our People,” involved transporting 20 tons of soil from Tibet through Nepal to neighboring India, so that exiled Tibetans could walk on their homeland soil. Blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the installation was captured in the award-winning documentary “Bringing Tibet Home.” Since Rigdol’s first solo exhibition at CU Denver’s Emmanual Gallery, his work has appeared in museums worldwide. He was the first Tibetan artist whose work was acquired as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York’s permanent collection.  

University Medal 

Rick Gardner 

A pioneer in cognitive psychology, champion for students and faculty, and revered leader, Professor Emeritus Rick Gardner’s began his 50-year career at the University of Southern Colorado (now known as Colorado State University Pueblo). There, he served as professor of psychology for more than two decades before joining CU Denver’s Department of Psychology in 1991, where he served as chair for 11 years. Gardner published 67 articles, seven book chapters, and three books, secured significant NIH research funding, and became a leading expert in the study of body image and eating disorders. He and his late wife Betty Ann benefited from financial assistance as graduate students and paid it forward to the CU Denver community through student scholarships, departmental programing, and initiatives across the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). The couple established the Rick and Elizabeth Gardner Endowed Doctoral Fellowship for PhD students in CU Denver’s Clinical Health Psychology program, to which the couple designated a portion of their estate in perpetuity.  

Thomas Noel 

Known as “Dr. Colorado” for his obsession with our state, a title affectionately bestowed by the CU Denver communications department, Professor Emeritus Thomas Noel appeared for 15 years on the “Colorado and Company” show on Denver’s 9News. Noel joined CU Denver in 1977 where he established the Public History Program and the CU Denver Historical Studies Journal and where he taught for 50 years, serving as Department of History chair from 1992-1996 and vice chair from 2017-2020. Noel taught classes in public history, including the American West, historic preservation, and national park history. He co-authored 55 books on the subject, including the award-winning “Buildings of Colorado” and “Colorado: A Historical Atlas” and, most recently, “Boom and Bust Colorado: From the 1859 Gold Rush to the 2020 Pandemic,” published in September 2021. In 2018, Noel was appointed State Historian and received the Dana Crawford Award for outstanding contributions to Historic Preservation from Colorado Preservation.   

Lola and Rob Salazar 

Community leaders, philanthropists, and education advocates Lola and Rob Salazar attended Denver Public Schools and took turns finishing college. Lola received a bachelor’s in elementary education from Metropolitan State University Denver and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from CU Denver and went on to teach. Rob graduated from Adams State College, founded a CPA and consulting firm, and then co-founded a healthcare management company. The couple later launched two family ventures, the private investment firm Central Street Capital and the Salazar Family Foundation to encourage students to achieve their educational goals. Since its establishment in 1999, the Salazar Family Foundation has awarded over $20 million to educational organizations with an emphasis on Latino youth empowerment. In 2017, the foundation pledged its largest single donation to constructing the CU Denver Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center, a “home away from home” for students dedicated to promoting wellness and community through innovative design and programming.  

Distinguished Service Award 

Wayne Cascio

Over the course of his 40-year career at CU, Wayne Cascio has brought great distinction and visibility to the university through his outstanding activities in teaching, research, and service. He arrived as a tenured full professor in 1981 and currently is a Distinguished University Professor Emeritus and cofounder of the CU Denver Business School. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources, the Academy of Management, the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and the Australian Human Resources Institute. Cascio is an active researcher, writer and speaker. He has published more than 200 articles and book chapters, and 33 books, including “Applied Psychology in Talent Management”, which is considered to be the most authoritative scholarly treatment of topics in industrial-organizational psychology. Cascio has delivered more than 750 presentations to professional and business audiences on six continents.

Rebecca Kantor 

Beloved as a forward-thinking, passionate, tireless education advocate, the late Rebecca Kantor served as dean of CU Denver’s School of Education and Human Development (SEHD) for nearly a decade before her passing in 2021. She held a bachelor’s in developmental psychology and linguistics from the University of Rochester and a master’s in early childhood and deaf education, as well as a doctorate in language and cognitive development from Boston University. Her career spanned over four decades. Kantor became a national leader in early childhood education, generating over $20 million in grant funding. She led the transformation of SEHD into an innovative school offering responsive, flexible educator, counselor, and research preparation, building programs aimed at equity and diversity into hiring practices and curriculum. As a thought leader in early childhood education, Kantor was frequently interviewed by national media outlets. In 2018, she joined the Governor’s Education Vision Council and in 2021, was appointed by Gov. Jared Polis to Colorado’s Early Childhood Leadership Commission.