Ranchland before and after

Office of Research Services praises 2018 grant recipients at spring celebration

May 1, 2019

CU Denver faculty received nearly $19 million in sponsored research awards in 2018. To celebrate the achievements of nearly 100 faculty who received external funding, the Office of Research Services held a celebratory luncheon on April 12.

Honoring scholarly and creative excellence across almost every school and department, the event also featured headlining presentations from two of CU Denver’s best and brightest faculty members: Geeta Verma and Kat Vlahos.

Following a warm welcome by Bob Damrauer, associate vice chancellor for research and creative activities, and Provost Roderick Nairn, Chancellor Dorothy Horrell recognized the faculty members in attendance, thanking them for the many ways in which their work enriches our students’ educations and, ultimately, their lives.

Horrell spoke about University of Pennsylvania fellow Annie McKee’s keynote address at the Higher Learning Commission conference a few weeks ago. McKee, a researcher who studies emotional intelligence and leadership, talked about the power of hope. Horrell says she saw McKee’s words reflected in the teaching, research and creative work of CU Denver faculty.

“Hope has a neurological impact on our nervous systems,” said Horrell. “It enhances our ability to learn when we see that the future can be better than the past, and we can see what gets us there.”

“You bring hope to our students by involving them in the work of learning and discovery in your classrooms, laboratories and scholarly activities,” said Horrell to the attending faculty. “You are touching and shaping the future.”

Child holding small lizard

A new way to teach STEM reignites science curiosity

Geeta Verma, PhD, associate professor of science education in the School of Education & Human Development (SEHD), spoke about disrupting the paradigm of teaching STEM K-12 classes through “learning and regurgitating” with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in her presentation, “Alternative and Inclusive Spaces of Science Learning: Research and Funding.”

Geeta Verma, PhD
Geeta Verma, PhD

“The challenge with No Child Left Behind is that most of the testing is math and language arts in elementary school – the time when children are really excited about science,” said Verma. “But because of the testing, kids only have science and social studies classes once a week.”

To reignite kids’ science curiosity, Verma points to NGSS’s three-dimensional model of learning. NGSS is a flexible teaching method that asks students to examine and understand the world around them like a scientist. Instead of memorizing facts, students explore science through small group work and hands-on activities that use science practices (like modeling and arguing with evidence) and interdisciplinary concepts.

“My work is focused on equity and access,” says Verma, who is also working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to create a science club for children this summer. “Kids from minority groups who don’t succeed in science and math won’t get careers in those professions. That initial success is often based on the limitations of formal education. When instructors are not bound by standards, they have more opportunities to make it interesting for students.”

Douglas County bunkhouse

Past homestead architecture serves as blueprint for emerging communities

As ranches and aging structures are torn down and replaced in rural communities across Colorado, Kat Vlahos, professor in the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) and director of the Center of Preservation Research, knew that homestead architecture needed to be documented and used as a blueprint for emerging communities. 

Kat Vlahos, PhD
Kat Vlahos, PhD

In her presentation, “Cultural Heritage: Evidence-Based Practice for Preservation, Resource Management, and Interpretation,” Vlahos outlined the concerns that initially drew her to the project.

“We all know the importance of preserving places that are incredibly valuable, but most places aren’t seen for their value until they start disappearing,” said Vlahos, who comes from a ranching family in northwestern Colorado.

“Douglas County is the fastest developing county in the nation, and its important historical sites are being developed. We looked at 300 properties in Routt County and found that ranchland was being liquidated. People came in, razed the landscape and then left.”

Documenting with LIDAR technology to influence future design

Vlahos knew that the intersection between landscapes, buildings and architecture needed to be documented to better inform community decision making. Following the preservation framework of the National Park Service, Vlahos and her team of graduate students worked with ranch families in Routt County, among others, to develop intensive surveys for each site, including vernacular architecture, historical context, land use, patterns of spatial organization, response to the natural environment and cultural traditions.

Since then, her team has surveyed over 100 sites around the state and 15 properties have Historic American Building Survey (HABS) documentation, which will create a record of the property in perpetuity. 

Vlahos also employed Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), a remote sensing method that examines the surface of the Earth. With it, her team was able to gather millions of points of information of each location and create a 3-D model with millimeter accuracy of the surveyed land and buildings.

“How can this information influence design as it lives into the future?” asked Vlahos. “Our work has allowed us to analyze and understand the vernacular and cultural landscape, give documentation back to communities, and offer a resource management plan – not only in deciding what to preserve, but which of these sites need to be documented and then let go into earth over time.”

The full list of grant awardees:


Jeffrey Smith / Music And Entertainment Studies


Matthew Shea / Architecture

Christopher Koziol / Colorado Center For Community Development

Kat Vlahos / Colorado Center For Preservation Research

Andrew Rumbach / Planning And Design

Austin Troy / Planning And Design

Roxie Piro / Colorado Center For Sustainable Urbanism


Moatassem Abdallah / Civil Engineering

Nien Chang / Civil Engineering

Caroline Clevenger / Civil Engineering

Yail Jimmy Kim / Civil Engineering

Wesley Marshall / Civil Engineering

David Mays / Civil Engineering

Kevin Rens / Civil Engineering

Farnoush Banaei-kashani / Computer Sciences

Min-hyung Choi / Computer Sciences

Liang He / Computer Sciences

Daniel Connors / Electrical Engineering

Hamid Fardi / Electrical Engineering

Stephen Gedney / Electrical Engineering

Mark Golkowski/ Electrical Engineering

Vijay Harid / Electrical Engineering

Tim Lei / Electrical Engineering

Maryam Darbeheshti / Mechanical Engineering

Peter Jenkins / Mechanical Engineering

Ronald Rorrer / Mechanical Engineering

Christopher Yakacki / Mechanical Engineering

Marc Ingber / Mechanical Engineering


Jamie Hodgkins / Anthropology

Sarah Horton / Anthropology

Stephen Koester / Anthropology

David Ruppert / Anthropology

Tammy Stone / Anthropology

Brian Buma / Biology

Amanda Charlesworth / Biology

Carlos Infante / Biology

Alan Vajda / Biology

Michael Wunder / Biology

John Fisk / Chemistry

Jefferson Knight / Chemistry

Jungjae Lee / Chemistry

Hai Lin / Chemistry

Liliya Vugmeyster / Chemistry

Xiaotai Wang / Chemistry

Karen Houck / Dean’s Office

Kyle Crawford / English

Christy Briles / Geography

Rafael Moreno-sanchez / Geography

Deborah Thomas / Geography

Meng Li / Health And Behavioral Sciences

David Tracer / Health And Behavioral Sciences

Sara Yeatman / Health And Behavioral Sciences

Troy Butler / Mathematics

Varis Carey / Mathematics

Michael Ferrara / Mathematics

Joshua French / Mathematics

Vincent Herr / Mathematics

Michael Jacobson / Mathematics

Jan Mandel / Mathematics

Stephanie Santorico / Mathematics

Diana White / Mathematics

Martin Huber/ Physics

Richard Allen / Psychology

Benjamin Greenwood / Psychology

Amy Wachholtz / Psychology


Ritu Chopra / Center For Collaborative Leadership

Diana Schaack / Center For Collaborative Leadership

Phillip Strain / Center For Collaborative Leadership

Bryn Harris / Dean’s Office

Carlos Hipolito / Dean’s Office

Antwan Jefferson / Dean’s Office

Rebecca Kantor / Dean’s Office

Kristie Kauerz / Dean’s Office

Nancy Leech / Dean’s Office

Kent Seidel / Dean’s Office

Barbara Seidl / Dean’s Office

Elizabeth Steed / Dean’s Office

Ron Tzur / Dean’s Office

Geeta Verma / Dean’s Office

Bonnie Walters / Evaluation Center

Suzanne Arnold / Extended Studies


Barbara Paradiso / Center On Domestic Violence

Todd Ely / Dean’s Office

Tanya Heikkila / Dean’s Office

Lonnie Schaible / Dean’s Office

Paul Teske / Dean’s Office

Danielle Varda / Dean’s Office


Manuel Serapio / Institute For International Business

Evelinn Borrayo / Latino Research & Policy Center

Fernando Holguin / Latino Research & Policy Center

Brenda Allen / Office Of Diversity And Inclusion

Soyon Bueno / Center For Identity & Inclusion, Educational Opportunity Program

Brittany Bouffard / Student & Community Counseling Center

Megan Cullen / Phoenix Center At Auraria

Teresa Deherrera / Trio Student Support Services

Sara Berg / Office Of Student Life

Joseph Lasky / National Veterans Training Institute

Sommer Browning / Library