February 17, 2017

The CU South Denver gift that keeps on giving in Douglas County

Joe Rubino
The Denver Post

Convenience is a selling point for classes offered at CU South Denver in Douglas County.

And look at the expanding list of programs offered at the University of Colorado South Denver’s location at 10035 S. Peoria St. shows that it’s not content to just be convenient. Officials are striving to make it innovative and inclusive.

A little more than two years after the 151,000-square-foot museum and art gallery formerly known as the Wildlife Experience was donated to CU by Re/Max co-founder Dave Liniger and his wife Gail and began hosting college classes, the facility continues to branch out. The site has started debuting more programs, hosting more events and working directly with south metro area businesses in order to position itself as an educational resource to people of all ages, officials say.

“I came to an info session and I think I committed that night,” said Nathan Goodman, an engineer and student in the evening MBA program offered at CU South Denver through the university’s Leeds School of Business. “I like that it’s two-year. You don’t have to pick your classes; They set the schedule. They serve dinner every night. It’s very supportive to make sure you have what you need to succeed.”

Goodman, who has a young son and another child on the way, says it helps that his classrooms are a 30-minute drive from his Roxborough Park home. It would take him at least an hour to get to the Leeds School in Boulder.

“For me, it’s just really exciting because we have this great opportunity to build unique education delivery models in collaboration with our community partners,” said Luella Chavez-D’Angelo, vice chancellor for enterprise development. “There is no other location where you can get the best of all four CU campuses, no other location where you can incubate and innovate and no other location where you can work with all ages from kindergarten up through our senior volunteers.”

For example, last year, CU South Denver convened a workforce advisory board with representatives from Charles Schwab & Co., the city of Lone Tree and several other area companies and organizations to discuss south metro workforce and education needs, Chavez-D’Angelo said. The facility already hosts a certified financial planner program developed by CU for Schwab employees, she said. 

Beyond graduate business and political science programs, a nursing school and certificate programs in a handful of academic areas, the facility also offers “mini schools.” The not-for-credit, eight-week programs are open to anyone. They provide a surface level look at what it would be like to enroll in law school, med school or engineering school.

Facility spokeswoman Kyla White said the engineering mini school has been popular with high school students who want to explore whether the field is right for them. This spring, CU South Denver will introduce mini schools in cyber security, entrepreneurship and the creative arts, White said. This week, the facility debuted EduTalks, a daytime lecture series that also includes a gourmet lunch and time for networking.

Numbers indicate the public is responding to the facility’s evolution. CU South Denver welcomed 384 students in its fall 2016 session, up from 117 during its debut round of classes in fall 2014, according to facility officials. From July through December 2016, more than 20,500 people visited its museum, and more than 11,700 people watched a movie in its theater. The facility rented space for 139 events — including weddings and bar mitzvahs — in the second half of last year, on pace to outdo the 229 it hosted from July 2015 through June 2016. 

A big part of the day-to-day activity at the facility centers on kids. More than 5,600 K-12 education groups visited in the second half of 2016. Last week, 66 fifth-graders from Castle Rock’s Flagstone Elementary School visited the “Globeology” earth biome exhibit, watched a movie about South America and took part in a weather program.

“They have programs that match with our curriculum,” teacher Tamara Jaimes said. “This is the only museum in close proximity to us so it’s really a nice resource.”