Storytelling can take many forms. For spring 2023 CU Denver graduate Jaylen Dunbar, communicating through visuals and sounds is second nature. “I feel like I am a really empathetic person,” Dunbar said. “I have always wanted to use animation as a medium to tell meaningful and impactful stories.”
And he uses those skills to help lead social change through animated graphics and video by focusing on individual stories, shared experiences, and mutual understanding. Dunbar was also directly involved with the CU Denver brand refresh and helped create a teaser video for the project. Beyond his coursework within the College of Art and Media Digital Animation Center (DAC), he spent significant time doing community service and volunteer work at the Denver Rescue Mission, the Colorado Historical Society, and Colorado Christian Fellowship Church. These efforts helped earn him a place in the University Honors and Leadership Program (UHL) where he partnered with fellow students to conduct interdisciplinary undergraduate research on food justice.
He believes the UHL helped shape him into the leader he is today. “I feel like I have done a lot of things worth being proud of, but I also have a hard time sitting down and acknowledging my growth as an animator and my growth as a leader,” Dunbar said. “I am proud that I am seeing this through—graduating.”
Dunbar set his sights on CU Denver in high school after attending a college fair at Rangeview High School in Aurora. “I talked to the people at the table, I took a tour, and I liked the community,” Dunbar said. “It’s nice to be downtown. There is something about this place—it feels more connected. I only applied to two schools, but I always knew I was coming to CU Denver.”
But his path was not straightforward. When everything shifted to virtual learning during the pandemic, he found himself struggling to learn in that format and didn’t feel as engaged. So, he slowed down and shifted his academic focus to non-major courses until in-person instruction was available again. As a first-generation student, he knew that in order to succeed he would need to do things on his own terms and in a way that would work for him.
During that time, people like professors Jeremy Brown and Howard Cook, as well as Director of Strategic Plan Implementation, Mitch Morecraft, helped him pivot his passions to visual storytelling and stay engaged. This challenged Dunbar to find ways to feel like he was a part of something larger. And, he had to learn to give himself grace and acknowledge burnout. “College is about growth: intellectual, emotional, personal,” Dunbar said. “Whether you finish or not, you have learned something about yourself.”
This experience was part of the inspiration for his final group project, Dim, a video about burnout, abuse of power, and overcoming both. He, and the seven other students working on the project, found themselves being impacted personally by telling this story and that helped fuel them to finish. They hope the project will help those that feel stuck see that there are still ways to shine. “I want to say it was a challenge working on Dim, but it really wasn’t,” Dunbar said. “We went from co-workers, to team, to friends very quickly. We like being around each other and that helps you get through hard days.”