For Aaron Franz, a CU Denver student and veteran, the future is always on his mind. That’s why he decided to meet with CU Denver’s February Alumni Resident: Denver City Council Member Chris Herndon MPA ’13. As an International Studies major hoping to pursue a career in public administration, Franz had the opportunity to talk with Herndon about transitioning to being a civilian after serving, higher education later in life, and future career goals.
This scenario—connecting alumni and students—will play out each semester because of an Alumni-in-Residence program offered through CU Denver’s Office of Advancement. Each semester, the Office of Advancement team works to find several alumni who hold office hours, attend events, and network with current students.
Herndon, who earned a master’s degree in public administration from CU Denver in 2013, was excited to serve as this month’s alum and to have the opportunity to talk with the next generation of leaders. In 2011, Herndon was elected to Denver’s City Council. He represents District 8 in northeast Denver, where he lives with his wife, Genia (an alum and CU Denver’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Student and Community Engagement), and family. His work with the Denver community and CU Denver influenced him to start the Northeast Leadership Week, which helps high school students learn about the importance of higher education and what a college degree can do for them.
As a public servant, who’d returned to higher education, and a veteran (Herndon graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served in the military for seven years), Herndon had plenty to share with Franz and other students. We sat down with Herndon after his first day of one-on-one sessions to discuss his journey, relationship to CU Denver, and how he is impacting the Denver community.
How did you end up in a master’s program at CU Denver?
I had just been elected to Denver City Council and it was right after the post 9/11 bill was passed, so if you served in the military during 9/11, you had the opportunity to go back and get some higher education. I started thinking what degree would make sense for me and wanted to be in the city of Denver since I would be serving the community there.
Why did you want to start the Northeast Leadership Week?
I wanted to create, in my mind, something that would help high school students see what Denver has to offer. I moved here and fell in love with Denver, but I thought a lot of the students that I represented didn’t see what Denver had to offer. That was the idea behind Northeast Denver Leadership Week. We would take students for a week and show them around organizations in Denver….We put business leaders in front of them who have their backgrounds, so they can see it and believe it.
And CU Denver is part of that experience, right?
At the end of the week…we bring them to CU Denver to participate in a tour. They pick a major and learn more about how higher education can help achieve [their] goals. Students also get to see this beautiful campus. I’ve partnered with CU Denver for years, bringing the students here so they can see what is possible.
Can you talk about the relationship between CU Denver and the city of Denver?
What I appreciate about CU Denver is that it is a part of the city, it is in the heart of the downtown. When you think about Denver and the success of downtown Denver, we can’t think about that without thinking about CU Denver. So, it’s got to have a great partnership and synergies between the higher ed institution, city, and county of Denver. There are so many things we can partner on to start to solve some of the many challenges that we’re having.
What was your biggest takeaway from the group of students you met with today?
I’m just energized by the students, especially their excitement to make a difference and excitement to do good in the community. I even said to each one of them how great it is they’re putting themself out there. They decided they were going to sit down with an elected official who they’ve never met before to ask questions, learn, and have curiosity.
What advice would you give students who couldn’t make it here today?
Don’t be afraid to ask because I always say, “If you don’t ask, the answer’s no.” And so, if you do ask, there’s a chance the answer might be, “yes.” So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there because you never know what positivity can come from just one interaction, asking that one question.
Join the Conversation: Herndon will be back on campus for office hours on Feb. 27. Students can sign up here. Next month, Kathy Le, a first-generation CU Denver alumna, will be on campus.