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On the Record with Raul

GETTING TO KNOW V.C. CARDENAS

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Raul Cardenas Jr.’s office is perched on the top floor of Lawrence Street Center, lending him a panoramic view of Auraria Campus and the city scape adjacent to it. He has an unobstructed view of the Student Wellness Center’s construction site, and, years ago, also watched the Student Commons Building turn from a plot of land to CU Denver’s central hub. Literally and figuratively, he has been looking over the university’s growth for the better part of a decade.

“When I started here seven years ago, people didn’t know who we were,” Cardenas said. “Not just when I went to conferences—even across the street, even downtown, people thought this was just Metro State’s campus.” He’s since observed University Communications implement two massive marketing campaigns complete with television commercials and DIA ad placement; he also strongly supported student-led efforts to launch both CU Denver’s mascot and brand, Milo the Lynx, and the newly planted seeds of non-traditional Greek life.

“We’ve done a great job of recruiting students and really selling what this campus is about,” Cardenas said. “It’s important for students who have graduated to come from a place that’s known. We’re not Boulder, and we’ve successfully carved out an identity that’s just our own.”

While writing “On the Record with Raul” for the Sentry last year, Cardenas often connected his experiences as a higher education administrator with his own son’s first year attending Arizona State University. This year, Cardenas is helping his son transfer to Colorado State University. “Going through that process made me a little more attuned to where students are [at CU Denver] and the importance of community,” Cardenas said. “Even though he lived on ASU’s campus, my son never felt like he was building a network. Because we’re mostly a commuter campus, it really reinforces the need for us to make sure our students are getting connected.”

Cardenas is able to make this turn with most stories he tells—no matter what is happening, he’s always looking for a way to learn from both his professional and personal experiences and use them to help CU Denver students thrive. In fact, he’s been thinking this way since the end of his undergraduate degree in 1988, and he recounts the moment he first figured out he wanted to transition from political science to higher education:

“We were driving to visit some family and stopped at a restaurant in El Paso,” Cardenas said. “A man came over to my dad and asked, ‘Are you Raul Cardenas [Sr.]?’ My dad says yes, and the man says, ‘I was one of your former students, and I have to tell you, you changed my life.’ And I’m sitting there watching (and I can see it to this day, how crystal clear this memory is), and I think, ‘Hold on. That’s my dad. He changed your life?’ It was so powerful to think of the influence one person could have on another that many years later. That was when it first hit me that this was the career where I could really help people the way I’d always wanted to.”

Cardenas will continue connecting students with Sentry readers this upcoming year with more traditional installments of  “On the Record with Raul.” In the meantime, he’d love to strike up a conversation with any and every student on campus. So be sure to say hello.

Taylor Kirby
Taylor Kirby

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