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CityCenter connects campus to Denver business

CityCenter is attempting to become a bridge between CU Denver and downtown.
Photo: Genessa Gutzait· The Sentry

CU Denver establishes itself as Denver’s research institute

CU Denver’s CityCenter opened on Oct. 10 in an attempt to further establish the “CU in the City” vision by building connections with local governments, businesses, and non-profits. 

Before it opened as the front door to the University, community members didn’t have a main point of contact. By partnering with local business leaders, organizations, and governments, CityCenter hopes to allow students to pursue enriching experiences in their courses as well as allow the growing city to benefit from CU Denver’s research.

CityCenter is working to dismantle the stereotype of universities being “Ivory Towers” unwilling to share their research with the community. Instead of being a silo of information, CityCenter works to bridge that gap.

When Chancellor Dorothy Horrell began at CU Denver, she recognized the depth of information studied. As Denver continued to grow, she remembers thinking that the University could do something about the challenges a growing city faces.

“There are a lot of faculty members whose scholarly work, the research component of their jobs, deals with issues that face cities,” Horrell said. Issues with affordable housing, transportation alternatives, and education inequity are growing in Denver while CU Denver researchers are studying them.

“Part of what universities represent is a culture of inquiry,” Horrell said. “We have expertise here that could help to address some of these challenges.” 

The idea of CityCenter began two years ago in a conversation between Horrell, Mayor Michael Hancock, and current CityCenter Executive Director Nolbert Chavez. Hancock explained that growing cities tend to have connections with their research university. As Colorado’s only urban public research University, CU Denver was the perfect candidate.

“It’s a little space that represents a big idea. It truly is just the front door. Behind that are all of the resources that are represented by CU Denver,” Horrell said. “We ought to be more accessible. It’s for people to have much more top of mind that CU Denver is here and is a real asset to our city. All of us are better off because of what CU Denver brings to the table.”

CityCenter is also working to provide professional development, evaluation services, and to act as a convener in Denver’s issues. When an organization comes to CityCenter with a project, it can be matched with existing courses or faculty, which they hope will allow students to gain hands-on experience in their field of study. 

“The more connected we are to our local community, the more opportunities there are for students to work on real-world projects in their courses,” Jessi Zemetra, Program Manager for CityCenter, said. The hometown Colorado program matches city projects with pre-existing courses with current projects in Denver. 

“Instead of the faculty member coming up with a theoretical project, the students work on a real project,” Zemetra said.

The Civil Engineering Department at CU Denver has had connections with the Public Works Department at the city and county of Denver. Each summer, students have an opportunity to evaluate the health of Denver’s bridges. In the past, these projects have been difficult for students to become involved in. Now, real-world projects will be introduced into CU Denver’s courses.

Chavez and Zemetra have been doing outreach to local businesses, governments, and organizations to spread awareness for CityCenter’s mission. 

“We’ve met with almost all of the Denver Metro city managers,” said Zemetra. “We’ve been talking with our local business partners to see what we can help them with.” 

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