University, business leaders honor faculty for urban research

University, business leaders honor faculty for urban research

January 17, 2020

Nearly one year ago, Chancellor Dorothy Horrell announced the first-ever TIAA Chancellor’s Urban Engaged Scholars. The seven faculty members—one from each school or college—are using research to address current urban issues while supporting student involvement and developing community partnerships. 

On Wednesday, Jan. 15, university and community leaders from throughout the region convened at CityCenter to formally honor these faculty members as leading exemplars of how CU Denver serves as an asset to the city. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock commemorated the inaugural cohort of scholars by placing a gold stole over the following faculty members for their outstanding work.

From left: Guerrero, Németh, Rens, Sullivan, Jefferson, and Varda
  • Andrew Guerrero, Instructor of Music & Entertainment Industry Studies in the College of Arts & Media, is creating amplified opportunities for youth through music. 
  • Jeremy Németh, PhD, Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning in the College of Architecture and Planning, is predicting gentrification to prevent it. 
  • Kevin Rens, PhD, Professor of Civil Engineering in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing, is ensuring the safety of bridges in the City and County of Denver. 
  • Esther Sullivan, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is increasing awareness of the unseen victims of urban growth. 
  • Antwan Jefferson, PhD, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Relations in the School of Education & Human Development, is activating a university network for community scholarships. 
  • Danielle Varda, PhD, Associate Professor of Public Affairs in the School of Public Affairs, is analyzing how social connectedness affects individual health. 
  • Francisco Conejo, PhD, Senior Instructor of Marketing in the Business School, is studying the economic impact of 16th Street Mall panhandlers.

Recognizing the value of partnerships

Two years ago, Mayor Hancock and Horrell sat down to discuss the university’s strategic plan and vision for the future, when Hancock had an epiphany: Many thriving cities have close ties with their local, public urban research universities. He challenged CU Denver to brainstorm a vehicle for partnership that would leverage the city and help solve urban issues, such as affordable housing, homelessness, and transportation. 

Soon after, CityCenter was born. Its appearance is symbolic of its purpose. Surrounded by nearly all glass, the office on Lawrence Street serves as a direct link between the university and the surrounding urban environment. “The very first thing we recognized,” CityCenter’s Director Nolbert Chavez said, “is that we needed to recognize and include our faculty.” 

Under the guidance of Horrell,  CityCenter and longtime partner TIAA helped launch the TIAA Chancellor’s Urban Engaged Scholars program to recognize the outstanding contributions of CU Denver faculty to the Denver metro region through community-engaged scholarship and creative activities. In early 2019, each CU Denver school and college was invited to submit a faculty member for consideration, and a search committee consisting of campus leadership made the final selection based on a set of criteria

Horrell hopes the program continues to spotlight the exceptional and relevant work spearheaded by CU Denver’s faculty. “With research focus areas ranging from gentrification to equity in education to affordable housing and beyond, these faculty are the epitome of engaged scholarship that improves the lives of those in our community while enriching the educational experience for our students,” Horrell said.

From left: Chavez, Horrell, CU President Mark Kennedy and his wife, Debbie Kennedy, and Hancock

“No on owns a great idea, but everyone benefits from one”

The Jan. 15 Chancellor’s Urban Engaged Scholars reception drew civic leaders, businesspeople, and CU Denver faculty and staff. Among the audience were CU President Mark Kennedy and his wife, Debbie; CU Regent Jack Kroll; CU Denver deans; Denver Mayor Michael Hancock; Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet; Denver councilman Christopher Herndon; Denver’s Director of Community Planning and Development, Laura Aldrete; Denver’s Executive Director of Children’s Affairs, Dionne Williams; and Denver’s Deputy Director of Community Outreach, Christian Jimenez.

CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell

Program speakers acknowledged CU Denver’s role as Colorado’s only public urban research university and its strong partnership with TIAA, and stressed why scholarship is invaluable to an urban environment.

“When we launched CityCenter, it was intended to be a message both internally and externally to say that CU Denver is an asset; that we want to bring our knowledge to the city in ways that make it much more accessible, and frankly much more relevant than it has been before,” Horrell said.

Mayor Hancock echoed the sentiment, acknowledging that a challenge in government is the notion that issues can be solved single-handedly. “Here’s what great cities do,” Hancock said. “They turn to the intellectual capital in their cities. They recognize that no on owns a great idea, but everyone benefits from one.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

That is especially true for CU Denver students, pointed out Linda Bowman, interim vice provost and senior vice chancellor for Student Access and Achievement. “One of the things that is a hallmark of our institution is that students become partners in these research projects,” she said at the reception. “Not only do they have the opportunity to learn and have mentoring relationships with their professors, but they also acquire these unbelievable skills to take forward, which when you look at this kind of research, have a huge impact on the community.” 

TIAA, a leading provider of financial services in the academic and research fields, has called Denver home for the past 30 years. Its values of giving back and improving the community align with the scholars’ efforts, said Charla Candy, TIAA’s director of social responsibility. “Thank you to the scholars—you guys are giving your time and effort, and going above and beyond, for things you didn’t have to do.”