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Posted: February 01, 2013

CU Denver’s downtown brand

Education corridor’ targets work-school synergies

Nora Caley

As the University of Colorado Denver expands its downtown campus, it is doing more than just constructing new buildings. The school, which has more than 14,000 students in downtown Denver, is building an education corridor.

"The symbolism is that a corridor connects," says Chancellor Don Elliman. "As an urban-based research university, we have the ability to connect to the community."

CU Denver connects to the community by making it easy for adults who work downtown to attend classes at the campus, and for students to get internships and jobs downtown. The university’s emphasis, Elliman says, is on a professionally targeted education. The average age of CU Denver undergraduate students is 24, which is older than traditional college students. It’s a group that is, among other things, focused.

"On a campus like ours, 80 to 90 percent of students have a good idea of what they are studying for, so they have some specificity to their courses," Elliman says. "We are thrilled with our location. It allows us to connect to a part of Denver that is pretty vibrant."

The anchor of the corridor is the CU Denver Business School Building, at 1475 Lawrence St. CU’s newest building, which opened in fall 2012, features floor-to-ceiling windows at the street level, an atrium, and a new location of Udi’s, the bakery café chain that was founded in Denver. The architectural details are intended to make the place look more like an office building than a typical academic building, to make the transition from school to work seamless.

The building design is also intended to encourage collaboration, as it is now much easier for students and faculty to get together for a chat about finance over a cup of coffee. Before, the various departments of the CU Denver Business School were in 15 different locations.

The new building houses the J.P. Morgan Center for Commodities, also new. The center focuses on agriculture, energy and minerals. Although the term "commodities" usually brings to mind the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and trading futures in gold, silver, oranges and pork bellies, there is more to the commodities business than traders. In fact, it makes perfect sense for Colorado to have a commodities center, says Sueann Ambron, dean of the CU Denver Business School.

"Commodities are what Colorado is built on," she says. "We are not just producing traders, but people who understand something about commodities." That means, for example, lawyers who deal with mining companies, accountants who work with energy companies, and people who have expertise in regulatory issues. In fact, the J.P. Morgan Center for Commodities will launch a new class in the spring. The class will include four field trips, including one to a gold mine.

The new center exemplifies the relationships CU Denver is building with the business community. The school has business advisory committees that offer suggestions on what is needed in the work force. For example, Ambron says, the energy company Encana noted it was having trouble finding accountants who knew the idiosyncrasies of energy accounting. CU Denver responded with new courses in energy accounting. Banks indicated they preferred finance majors to have accounting skills, and accounting majors to have finance knowledge, so the school added courses in those areas of expertise.

It helps that many of these employers are located downtown. "They need folks who can write well, think well on their feet, and understand how to deal with change," Ambron says. "The whole concept of having professional schools available to workers, and having workers and students available to companies, is what we are all about."

Also, Ambron says, the city is changing. Denver is transitioning from a car culture to one in which residents commute by light rail, not to mention bicycles and walking. People can walk to class after work, and they can network, in person, without the hassle of a long drive.

The next building in the education corridor is the CU Denver Building, which houses the College of Architecture and Planning. Beginning this fall, students can enroll at CU Denver for the Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture. (Transfer students were able to enroll in January.) Before, students could earn a master’s or doctoral degree at CU Denver but there was no undergraduate program at the downtown campus. Students at CU-Boulder could earn a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Design, and CU-Boulder will continue to offer that program.

CU Denver saw a need for architects, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2010 and 2020 there will be a 24 percent increase in demand for architects, an increase the BLS calls "faster than average." Also, architects will be needed for urban projects, another reason to make architecture part of CU Denver’s Education Corridor. "One advantage we have is we are located cheek by jowl in the business community, so we can prepare people for jobs in specific companies," Elliman says. "Our location sure helps."

Next on the corridor, heading south, is the Lawrence Street Center, across the street from the CU Denver Building. The Lawrence Street Center houses faculty offices and, Elliman says, "lots of mentoring." Then the corridor moves across Speer Boulevard to the North Classroom, which will soon have a neighbor. CU Denver planned a January 31 groundbreaking ceremony for its new academic building, which Elliman says is being referred to as Academic Building One. "It is sorely in need of a new name," he says, meaning a new donor. (J.P. Morgan, for which the Commodities Center is named, supported the CU Denver Business School with a $5.5 million gift.)

The new building, located on the southwest corner of Speer and Larimer, will serve three purposes. First, Elliman says, the new building will consolidate all student services, which are now spread across seven buildings. The new building will also have four large lecture halls. "We have none now," Elliman says. "The new spaces will solve a need both for teaching and for events."

Also, the new academic building will house the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the largest academic enterprise of CU Denver. The CLAS has more than 6,000 students, and students and faculty are currently spread over several locations. "Having CLAS in one building frees up space," Elliman says. "It’s a pretty big deal. Our enrollment is growing and we have been out of space for a long time."

The new building will be the first new building post-recession. (The Business Building was an existing building that was renovated.)

To communicate some of the changes at CU Denver, the school last October installed 13 new banners displaying the CU Denver logo in the city park behind the CU Denver building and along Speer Boulevard at the Larimer and Lawrence street crosswalks. The new street-level signs include banners with location arrows designating campus buildings.

"We are making a concerted effort to brand our CU Denver neighborhood both on and off campus as well as integrate the campus into our downtown community," says Leanna Clark, vice chancellor, university communications for CU Denver. "We also have new, large, lighted signage at the top of all of our buildings along Lawrence Street on the downtown side of Speer. The banners from campus cross over the bridge and into downtown, where the CU Denver look and feel is picked up by our buildings on the downtown side of Speer."

Also, the school kicked off a first-ever Block Party last summer. CU Denver closed Lawrence between 14th and 15th streets and welcomed students, faculty and staff and members of the downtown business community to celebrate as neighbors. The festivities included bubbles, treats and a zip line.

CU Denver plans to make the block party an annual event, and, more importantly, plans to continue to build these relationships. "The relationships between the professional schools and business community are strong now and can be stronger because of easy accessibility," Ambron says. "Our programs are aligned to the growth areas of Colorado."

Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics. She can be reached at noracaley@comcast.net.

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