Stories here are profiles of CLAS alumni, faculty and students of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
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Sheryl Bain started at the Denver Center in 1970 as an Admissions and Records clerk before becoming assistant to the CLAS dean. During almost 30 years in that position, she enjoyed the homey closeness of the Denver Center and early CU Denver, waded into the new challenges of Auraria, and played a part in the great changes that swept the university.
I came to CU Denver from Berkeley in fall 1969 with a PhD “all but dissertation” and as a veteran of the Free Speech and anti-war movements. Instant culture shock: no lovely campus, no political turmoil, no protesting students, no bell bottoms. Instead I found a one-building campus crowded with serious older students who fit one or two courses into their busy home and work schedules. Citizen students I called them. Eager, serious, and self-supporting, they changed the way I taught literature. Imagine when the class was discussing that major literary theme of children versus parents; like me, half of my students spoke as parents. My first few years at CU Denver were busy, preparing new classes, finishing my dissertation, busing from Boulder to Denver, and helping care for two young children.
Dan Fallon became dean of CU Denver’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) at the birth of the Auraria campus—and had to navigate the college through a new environment nobody understood. “Just before Auraria opened, I remember [CU Denver chancellor] Harold Haak saying, ‘The great experiment begins tomorrow,’” says Fallon. During his eight-year tenure he strived to transform the entrenched image of the Denver campus as an extension center into an image of the University of Colorado at Denver.
Although she received her degree just as CU Denver gained independence in 1973, Diane Messamore makes it clear that she did not graduate from CU Boulder. “Our commencement was held in Boulder, and I didn’t even go,” she says. “The Denver campus where I went was strictly a mechanism for working people to get a degree. That was a great service.” When the CU Boulder Alumni Association tried to recruit her in 1991, she rediscovered her academic roots and joined CU Denver’s association instead. Since then she has given much back to the institution that launched her successful career.
Over a billion people live in the fifty-five recognized countries that comprise the African continent. Africa hosts 3,000 distinct ethnic groups, whose people collectively speak more than 2,000 languages. African students choosing to study at CU Denver represent the range of African diversity. The distinct backgrounds and viewpoints of these students have a truly diversifying effect on campus, and CLAS is proud to be empowering students from all over the globe with the lifelong learning skills that can enrich communities and make the world a better place.
Imagine the perfect vacation spot: low humidity, a nice lake for recreational use, just the perfect climate for relaxing. Marty Otañez, assistant professor in Anthropology, found this exact paradise in the Republic of Malawi, a landlocked country in southeast Africa. However, Otañez wasn't there for rest-and-relaxation but as a PhD candidate from the University of California Irvine, doing dissertation research in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was studying cultural anthropology as a vehicle to promote social justice and found interesting labor movement activity to investigate in Malawi.
More specifically, he was intrigued by how trade unions in Malawi were trying to facilitate the process of democratization, and he was subsequently introduced to issues arising from the tobacco trade in Africa. During his first visit to Malawi, Otañez spent a great deal of time interviewing local tobacco farmers, with most of the discussion about how the practices of major multinational tobacco companies that export from Malawi influence local communities. These conversations piqued Otañez's interest in discovering how people overcome the obstacles they face in asserting their rights against powerful, profitable corporations.
As a University of Colorado Denver graduate student, Karen Sugar first conceived of a project that has now improved the lives of women halfway around the world. In 2008, Sugar graduated from CU Denver with a Master’s Degree in Political Science and launched the Women’s Global Empowerment Fund (WGEF) in post-conflict, northern Uganda. Her organization has helped hundreds of women realize their potential, feed their families, start businesses, and put behind them the cruelty of sexual violence and civil unrest.
With a small investment of her own and tireless fundraising efforts, Sugar was able to start a microfinance loan program for entrepreneurial women in northern Uganda. Microfinance is a way to promote economic development, employment, and growth through the support of individual entrepreneurs and small businesses. Sugar’s microfinance program works by lending money to groups of women. Within each group, the women have to elect leadership immediately and decide who will be treasurer, chairperson, and secretary. Once leadership has been elected, they decide how to disperse money throughout the group. To date, all loans have been repaid to the WGEF, and no loans have gone into default. From these roots, the WGEF expanded and began providing education in literacy and leadership, support for women to get involved in local government, and much more.
CLAS and CU Denver are working in a variety of ways to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education on campus and to encourage students to consider teaching science and math as a career path after graduation. The Business-Higher Education Forum reported in 2010, "There are simply not enough highly skilled mathematics and science teachers entering the profession or committing to long-term careers. The United States will need more than 280,000 new mathematics and science teachers by 2015."
Training the teachers of tomorrow is assisted financially at CU Denver by several programs celebrating the legacy of Dr. Robert N. Noyce, co-founder of Intel and inventor of the integrated circuit, a critical component in the development of personal computers. In collaboration with the School of Education and Human Development (SEHD), CLAS faculty members have secured over $2.1 million in Noyce related funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the last three years. The Noyce programs focus on two areas—mathematics and science—and provide scholarships, mentoring, internships, and other opportunities for students considering a career in education. These programs recruit undergraduate or post-baccalaureate students with talent and financial need and prepare them to pursue a secondary (grades 7-12) teaching careers in high-needs local Denver school districts.
In the course of her studies, Courtney Lee, alumna of the Health and Behavioral Sciences (HBSC) PhD program, observed a perplexing contradiction. "I came across this article about medical tourism [patients traveling abroad for health care] to Costa Rica, and it was this incredibly uncritical piece that took an attitude about how great it was that Costa Rica was promoting this industry. From my knowledge of global health, I knew Costa Rica had a really successful stand-out, socialized health care system, and so I got to thinking how strange it was that medical tourism—which is very Westernized and based on an American model of health care—was being promoted in Costa Rica. So I started reading more about it, and the more I read, the more it seemed to me to be one of those really baffling contradictions, and I wanted to know more about how it functioned."
Steve Eslary has a perspective on CU Denver that very few people have: he is an alumnus of both the bachelors and masters programs in Political Science, a former employee with almost a decade of service to the university, and now a substantial donor. He and his wife of 42 years, Lori, created the George and Mary Hermosillo Memorial Scholarship Fund in 2009 to honor Lori's parents and have since extended their generosity to support the CLAS Dean's Fund for Excellence.
Lori and Steve Eslary met in 1967, when Steve was still in the Air Force. They locked eyes at a USO dance at Lowry Air Force Base, and as Steve remembers it, "I was in the balcony, and I looked down and saw her standing there. I decided to go down and introduce myself, and when we caught sight of each other, at nineteen years of age, that was pretty much the beginning of a life-long relationship.... We have been a team all these years and have developed both political and social world views together, continually refining them up until this day."
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Look for your CLAS Note in the next issue of Pinnacle.
Pinnacle is a bimonthly newsletter from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver.
For this issue of Pinnacle
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Stacey Mcdole
PHOTO EDITOR: Dennis Mont'Ros