Remembering Engineering Dean Emeritus Paul E. Bartlett

The late founding dean of CU Denver’s College of Engineering, Design and Computing remembered as a gentle mentor and champion for students and faculty

January 13, 2022

Dean Emeritus Paul E. Bartlett, who served as dean of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing at CU Denver for 28 years and professor of civil engineering at both CU Denver and CU Boulder for 32 years, died on Jan. 1 at the age of 95.

Paul E. Bartlett

Bartlett was trusted for his honesty, guidance, wisdom, integrity, and humor. But he was also known for his commitment to people, the university, engineering, and doing things the right way: “the Bartlett way.”

“Paul was the catalyst without whom CU Denver’s College of Engineering, Design and Computing would not be here in its present form, or even be here at all,” said Tom Altman, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “As the first dean of the college, he worked tirelessly to build it ‘from scratch’ and establish solid foundations for its future. Even after stepping down as dean and retiring, he was continuously fundraising for the college and helped faculty establish and maintain industry connection. He was both students’ and faculty’s champion.”

Bartlett graduated from high school early in 1944 to enlist in the United States Navy to fight in World War II, where he served as a seaman first class V6 as an aviation electronics technician. When he was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1946, he set his sights on studying engineering.

He briefly attended the Colorado School of Mines, then transferred to the University of Colorado. He graduated with a bachelor’s in civil engineering, a bachelor’s in business, and a master’s in civil engineering. Paul stayed at the University of Colorado to begin a remarkable 52-year career.

He rose quickly at the university. He began as an instructor in applied mathematics. From there, he subsequently rose the ranks to professor of civil engineering, vice provost, assistant vice president, dean, and then dean emeritus of the then called College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and acting vice chancellor of academic affairs at CU Denver. Throughout his career, he was fondly remembered by his students and colleagues for his generosity.

“Paul Bartlett is my idol,” said Mary (Foote) Gearhart ’79 in an interview for the CU Denver 40th anniversary book, The Road to Independence and Beyond. “He accepted everybody for who they were, and he made sure you learned what you needed to be a good engineer and a good leader. Nobody had much money, but Paul showed us we could achieve anything if we worked for it. He taught us how to fundraise. He started the Dean’s Scholarships. If you didn’t have a nice jacket for an interview, he made sure you got one. I swear to God Paul knew the name of every student in the college. He knew how to do everything. He was just brilliant.”

“[Paul was a] major influence on me after arriving in Denver,” said Bob Damrauer, former associate vice chancellor for research, in a 2018 interview. “Somehow, I came under his wing: Every word I wrote, he carefully edited; every action I was considering, we discussed. He was a gentle mentor, but one whose standards and extraordinary work ethic spoke volumes to me.”

Bartlett was a pioneer in computer science education in the Denver metro area in the 1960s, helping to develop the computer-math-science knowledge of high school teachers so they could introduce computer-related education to their students. A strong proponent of distance learning, Bartlett initiated the first televised courses between CU’s Denver and Boulder campuses to help meet the lifelong learning needs of students and practicing engineers.

“[Bartlett] was a prince of a man who contributed deeply.”

Sam Welch, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering

“Dean Bartlett cast a long and positive shadow on our college,” said Martin Dunn, dean of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing and interim chief research officer. “He was a visionary engineering educator and practitioner, and a powerful advocate for both students and faculty. The impact of Dean Bartlett’s leadership on our college is timeless. His generosity and love for students is felt every year through his philanthropy that provides resources to students to engage in experiential learning opportunities and follow their passions with projects inside and outside the classroom.”

Bartlett was part of several societies and organizations over the course of his career and he received several accolades (list at right), but he was especially proud of the awards his students presented to him.

The highlight of his career took place in Washington, D.C. in 1996 at the National Convention of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Bartlett was elected to ASCE’s highest distinction—that of Honorary Member (now called Distinguished Member). “An Honorary Member shall be a person who shall have attained acknowledged eminence in some branch of engineering or in the arts and sciences related thereto, including the fields of engineering education and construction.”

Bartlett is survived by his wife, Mary “Polly” Corbly-Bartlett, his daughter, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, and his former wife Renee Bartlett. He and Corbly-Bartlett enjoyed 49 years together, as well as a life filled with trips to Beaver Creek and Kauai, ocean cruises, the many sports for which they had season tickets, and many great friends.