Giving Back to a Working-Class Alma Mater - Diane Messamore
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.
Messamore actually did enroll at Boulder as a traditional student in 1968 but did not stay long. “Boulder was not the place to be if you were married and working,” she remembers. “Almost all the students were in fraternities or sororities. Many were from out of state, few worked, and many were protesting the war in Vietnam.” When she returned to higher education in 1970 it was to the Denver Center. “CU Denver was perfect when you were married and working,” she says. She helped analyze marketing data for Blue Cross Blue Shield during the day and attended math, engineering, and computer classes at night. The lack of extracurricular activities and student unrest suited her. “Everyone did their schoolwork and went home,” she recalls. “I don’t remember any politics. The biggest problem was finding free parking.”
After graduating with a math degree in 1973, she stayed at Blue Cross Blue Shield for four more years, briefly owned a restaurant, and then spent the rest of her career in actuarial consulting, earning a University of Denver law degree along the way. When Carol Heller, director of CU Denver’s Alumni Association, asked her to join in 1991, she jumped at the chance. “I was excited to have an alma mater,” she says. She served on the association’s board for three years and was president for one. “That was my year of being Miss America,” she jokes. “Going around with Chancellor Buechner, meeting important people like Ed Perlmutter, showing off Rashaan Salaam’s Heisman Trophy at events.” She remembers numerous university activities that began during that time as well as well, including Alumni Weekend (in place of Homecoming, since CU Denver has no football team), academic letter jackets for 4.0 students, and Alumni Association scholarships. “Carol was the Alumni director for more than 20 years and helped make alumni feel they were part of the campus purpose,” she says.
These days Messamore is making a difference as part of CLAS dean Dan Howard’s advisory board. Among her proudest achievements are a series of networking events that connected Auraria students with local business leaders, which she organized with CLAS marketing and communications manager Tracy Kohm and history professor Pamela Laird. “It’s been exciting to stay in touch and see CU Denver change into a standalone university with its own claims to fame,” she says, citing the university’s biology focus, links to the CU School of Medicine, and high-profile Business School. She credits CU Denver leaders from the 1980s and 1990s, particularly Chancellor Buechner, for laying the foundation of today’s university. “John Buechner did a lot to make CU Denver an independent campus with its own personality and successes,” she says. “All changes have been for the good.”
Messamore is currently working with Dean Howard to build support for liberal arts education in Colorado. “The liberal arts improve communication, leadership, and strategic thinking,” she says. “That’s what the business community needs. I hired a CU Denver math major two years ago, right out of school. I was blown away by his poise and leadership. I knew right away that he would be successful.”
Jarett Zuboy is a CU Denver graduate student in history and a freelance technical writer.