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Students win CU Anschutz Excellence Awards

The CU Anschutz Student Senate recently presented 10 awards to students and organizations, recognizing their outstanding contributions to the campus community.

Attendees at the “CU Anschutz Excellence Awards” on May 1 at the Shore Family Forum included Provost Roderick Nairn, PhD; Jan Gascoigne, PhD, assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs; and Carl Johnson, director of student engagement. Michael Clemens, president of the CU Anschutz Student Senate, alternated presenting the awards with Gascoigne.

This year, the Student Senate partnered with Student Affairs and the schools and colleges on campus to recognize five students who embody the “Spirit of Anschutz.”

Students were nominated for the awards by members of the CU Anschutz community.

Here are the winners:

Outstanding commitment to community service by a student: Daewoong Kim, who founded Knowledge Base, an organization that has had a positive impact on first-year medical education in the CU School of Medicine.

Outstanding commitment to community service by a student organization: Biostatistics Student Association, which maintained a mentoring relationship with two area middle schools, developing a biostatistics and public health curriculum for eighth-graders.

Outstanding leadership by a student: Lynn Doan, who has participated in many leadership roles in the CU School of Dental Medicine. She also joined a group that met with congressional members in Washington, D.C., to discuss legislative issues facing dentistry.

Outstanding leadership by a student organization: Knowledge Base, a student-driven organization that supports first-year medical students as they prepare for their pre-clinical exams.

Outstanding service to the university by a student: Johnny Layne, who has been involved in his medical class council and serves as a member of the IPED Curriculum Design team and the Disability Curriculum Design team.

Spirit of Anschutz: Dane Olsen, a College of Nursing student who has participated in numerous outreach and recruitment events both for both the college as well as CU Anschutz-affiliated organizations.

Spirit of Anschutz: Luke Patten, a student leader who has been active in the Colorado School of Public Health Student Council and has helped build awareness of public health and increase the visibility of co-curricular student engagement activities across campus.

Spirit of Anschutz: Sam Lynass, who has been treasurer of his class and the Health and Wellness chair of the American Student Dental Association. He has been involved with Project Smile, where his experiences led to a document that was featured in the Colorado Dental Association.

Spirit of Anschutz: Harris Butler, a public health student whose teaching background and expertise has been greatly valued in the Biostatistics Student Association. He helped develop lesson plans to teach eighth-graders about biostatistics and public health.

Spirit of Anschutz: Nicola Maude, a pharmacy student who has served as the vice president of her class and the executive vice president for the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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How do you run a pandemic simulation?

This spring, fourth-year School of Medicine students were once again on the front lines of a pandemic.

Whoa, nothing to worry about! You don’t need to check Twitter, these are fictional pandemics. It’s an annual tabletop exercise designed to teach students preparedness and effective communication in emergency situations. Originally developed by internal medicine doctors Linda Overholser, MD, and Nichole Zehnder, MD, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine Charles Little, DO, has run the exercise since 2012.

CU Anschutz Today sat down with Little to ask him about his perspective in organizing and running the event the past eight years.

Charles Little, DO, associate professor of emergency medicine

What is the purpose of this exercise?

Medical students don’t really get any exposure to disaster or emergency management throughout their medical school curriculum, unless they show a special interest in doing an elective in some of that type of work. But almost all physicians at some point in their career will be involved in some emergency incident, and we want them to have at least some basic understanding of what the process is.

The exercise does several things:

First, it outlines what happens in pandemic influenza, which historically occurs every 10 to 20 years.

Second, it gives them an overview of what the health emergency response system looks like. It’s not just hospitals; it’s the entire community including clinics:

  • Public health has a very big role in infectious disease outbreaks.
  • Emergency management has an important role in any big event like that.
  • And then, EMS (emergency medical services) and transportation also play key roles.

We want them to have an understanding about all the players, other than just physicians, hospitals and clinics.

The third thing is to give them an opportunity to work in small groups on a “novel event” they really haven’t thought about before, and then do decision-making and generate a plan with limited background and limited understanding of what’s actually going on. They have to work a little bit through the fog of events.

How are students grouped together for this exercise?

We generate the number of spots we’re going to have, which this year was based on the number of community experts we had who were available to come help.  

The one group that we let self-select is the ethics group, because we want people who actually have an interest in that who will participate in those discussions. Right before the exercise starts, we’ve got all the other groups assigned, and then we ask for a show of hands and pick approximately 10 people out of the audience to do ethics.

You break students into six different groups (public health agencies, cities, hospitals, clinics, ethics and the media). Do the students do better at specific “roles”?

I think it’s probably a little easier for them to grasp the clinics and the hospitals. They actually do very well in any of the groups, just because they’re overall pretty high performers, and they’ve worked in groups before. Things like the Office of Emergency Management are pretty far from their kind of previous training and understanding, so I think that and public health are a little harder. I think they all have some limited exposure to EMS, so I think they probably understand that a little better. But overall, they do well in all the groups.

Similarly, are there any roles students are challenged by more than others?

For all the groups, they actually really jump into it pretty well.

Even in things that [don’t] have anything to do with medicine, like the media group, they actually take to it pretty well. They’ll take out cell phones and they’ll start shooting videos of themselves as reporters. They figure out fairly early on in the process what the challenges are, and the goal of the media group is to get them to understand how the media can help you or hinder you, and you have to be forthcoming with reliable information, but not overshare things you’re speculating about.

What trends have you noticed year over year with this exercise? How has the simulation changed?

In terms of the exercise design, I refine it each year, and early on, what I did was I started to refine it to be more in the structure of the tabletop exercises that we do in the emergency management and disaster realm. And that helped to streamline it and make it somewhat easier to administer.

‘It’s a pretty huge undertaking … It’s pretty intense. I think the students understand a little bit about what it feels like to actually manage a real disaster.’ – Charles Little, DO, pandemic simulation organizer

This is actually, as these exercises go, a pretty huge undertaking. We’ve got 180 students, and we’ve usually got about 40 to 50 subject matter experts, and they all have to be coordinated. We’ve gotten better at that over the years.

From the student’s standpoint, it’s very interesting that different classes seem to have slightly different personalities, and some classes are a little more engaged, other classes are a little more reserved. But I think every year, they all get something out of it.

How would you describe the energy in the room during the simulation?

The students are actually very engaged in trying to work through problems, and it’s a pretty high-energy event. Usually they’re pretty tired by the end of two to three hours of doing this, because it’s a lot of decision-making, a lot of concentration, and a lot of active thinking, and responding to information they’re getting both by email from us, but also the requests they’re getting from other groups for support and information-sharing and things like that.

It’s pretty intense in that fashion. I think they understand a little bit about what it feels like to actually manage a real disaster.

What kind of feedback do you get from students afterward?

The vast majority of students find it very interesting and engaging. There are a couple people who clearly don’t like making decisions with no information that are high consequence, and that seems a little distressing to them. Overall, it’s generally a very engaging exercise with something they don’t do frequently. And they recognize that once they leave school, they may be involved in these type of events.

What do you hope the students take away from the simulation?

We want them to understand what any type of public health disaster kind of looks and feels like, and how you would go about managing it. And who your partners would be.

What is your favorite aspect of running the simulation?

It’s really fascinating to watch the students work through this with the subject matter experts. And that, I think, is the greatest thing.

And one other thing I’ll point out is we have about 45 subject matter experts who come year after year and help support this, and that goes from city emergency managers to county and state public health leadership, to people who do emergency management in clinics and hospitals. And I think they do it for a couple reasons.

One is they realize it’s important for the doctors who are generally leaders to have an appreciation of this, but they also have quite a bit of fun doing it. They’re willing to carve out an entire half-day once a year, year after year. That’s been tremendously helpful.

What have you learned personally by doing the simulation?

That’s a good question. I think I’m really impressed with how engaged the students will get with something when there’s a goal set in front of them that’s something they didn’t really consider was probably part of the responsibilities they would ever have, or something they would ever engage in.

I’m pretty impressed with how quickly they adapt, and move forward with that.

I’m also really impressed by the way the community has stepped forward to help support this exercise. I have to do some work to recruit people every year, but it’s been really rewarding to see how people come back and support this because they feel it’s a valuable event for the students.

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Collaborative effort creates campus food pantry

Jennifer Huynh noticed how a food pantry fills a vital need at the University of Colorado of Denver, so she wondered why, after becoming a student at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, a similar pantry wasn’t available here.

That changed earlier this month.

“We all worked together and I’m just really happy to see this,” Huynh said, standing outside the new pantry stocked with canned goods and other items. “My assumption was that there is a need here; it’s just an unspoken need. I often see classmates and other students being frugal with their lunches.”

When Huynh shared her observation with Jan Gascoigne, PhD, assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs at CU Anschutz, Gascoigne didn’t hesitate. She connected Huynh to Dora Safoh, case manager, Office of Case Management and the CARE Team, and the collaborative food pantry effort got rolling.

Safoh coordinated a needs survey that circulated among CU Anschutz students earlier this year, after the idea of a food pantry received strong support from students in a previous survey conducted through the Office of Student Health Promotion. The survey questions allowed students to provide input on what they would like to see in a food pantry on campus.

Food pantry inventory
Checking out the inventory of the new campus food pantry are, from left, Dora Safoh, Jennifer Huynh and Kara Garr.

“When asked if a food pantry would fill a need at CU Anschutz, students showed overwhelming support — with a little over 50 percent of respondents agreeing — so the need definitely exists,” Safoh said.

Huynh, a graduate student in the Colorado School of Public Health, said people often have a stigma about food insecurity. Even though they may have a genuine need for basic provisions, they tend to think otherwise out of an assumption that someone else needs them more. “But that’s not what it’s all about,” Huynh said. “We’re trying to encourage students to use this service and not be embarrassed by it.”

Birth of a food pantry

The CU Anschutz Food Pantry launched Oct. 1 and is housed inside the University Police headquarters, Building 407, 12454 E. 19th Place, on the northwest side of campus. So far, the pantry is stocked with nonperishable foods including canned vegetables, beans, fruits and some pasta. These initial items were collected through a food drive collaboration with UCHealth earlier this year.

Kara Garr, student services coordinator at CU Anschutz, helped with the pantry launch and is monitoring the inventory. She said she attempted to launch a food pantry effort at her previous employer, a community college, but the project bogged down in bureaucracy and budget wrangling.

Mission statement

The mission of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus food pantry is to eliminate food insecurity on the Anschutz Medical Campus by providing students with adequate nutritious food, promote the value of nutrition, and increase food distribution and support services to those in need. As servant leaders and partners for social change, we believe that access to wholesome food is a basic human right.

“Here, the process was easy and really refreshing. Everyone was so eager and there was amazing support,” Garr said. “And the willingness of the campus police to house it was awesome. The idea is to make the pantry easy to get to, controlled and confidential.”

Police Chief Randy Repola credited the Division of Student Affairs staff for handling most of the work, noting that his department is happy to provide additional pantry support. “This is something that people sometimes overlook,” he said. “We’re here to provide a safe and secure environment, and this pantry is helping to take care of a basic need for our students.”

The food pantry is specifically for CU Anschutz students, and they can access the free service at any time; only a student ID is needed. Outside normal police headquarters hours, students can still access the pantry by pushing the dispatch button outside the main door. If a student checks a “willing-to-be-contacted” box at sign-in, he or she will be reached for their thoughts about the service and what may be needed. “We’re really excited to get some data back,” Garr said.

Hygiene and another food drive

The consensus so far, at least among the organizers, is that the pantry inventory should expand in some areas. So, a hygiene drive will be held next month in conjunction with peer mentors in the College of Nursing, followed by a supplemental food drive. “All our drives from here on out will be based on our inventory rather than just general food drives,” Garr said. “I really hope to keep our inventory relevant to students’ needs — things they can actually use.”

Safoh said Gascoigne was instrumental in responding quickly to Huynh’s suggestion and helping find a path forward, through collaborations with various campus partners, for the food pantry. Pantry organizers are also pleased that CU Anschutz launched the pantry — and will continue its operations — through donations; it gets no support from student fees.

“I think it’s really neat that we’re able to launch a food pantry with all donations and continue to run it through the generosity of our campus,” Garr said.

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Group provides eye-opening introduction to forensics

Scattered newspapers, a dusty shoe print and a suspicious half-eaten peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich greeted fifth-graders at Crawford Elementary School on May 10, but the mess wasn’t due to a lazy janitor. CU Anschutz Medical Campus students, postdocs and faculty planted the classic whodunit-like clues as part of a lesson plan aimed at engaging the youth in forensics science.

The event was organized by Young Hands in Science, a CU Anschutz-sponsored club dedicated to bringing science to Aurora community youth. Developed by postdocs a few years ago, the lesson plans range from health and chemistry to forensics and meteorology with the goal of attracting more students into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions.

“This is a great way to show students science is much more than a textbook,” said Sarah Farabi, PhD, RN, a postdoc in the Department of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes, who helped organize the event. “We want them to get interested at a young age, and really keep that passion.”

Hands-on science

For the Crawford fifth-graders, the case was split into three sections: examining a crime scene and practicing finger printing; preparing a wet slide with cheek cells; and looking under the microscope and extracting DNA from potential culprits.

“I can’t believe we get to extract our DNA,” one student said. “I thought we needed to use needles and draw blood.”

At the DNA extraction station, students followed a strict protocol to eliminate themselves as suspects. Using common household ingredients, including Dawn soap and Gatorade, the students extracted DNA from their cheek cells and placed them in tubes to bring home.

Students giggled, grimaced and expressed their disgust for their floating squiggles of DNA. Nevertheless, they seemed to have a lot of fun while learning foundational scientific principles.

“Wow,” said a student, as she squinted to examine her creation. “This is pretty cool.”

Young Hands in Science

The Young Hands in Science program immerses the university in the community, provides teaching experience for postdocs and graduate students, and offers an engaging learning experience for area youth.

“The idea was to help kids learn about science, but also to have the postdocs develop valuable communication skills,” said Farabi of her interest in the group. “I have always wanted to help get kids interested in science and make them realize it’s fun. I also believe that engagement with the community benefits everyone.”

“Working with children is amazing,” said Farabi. “They are so full of energy, and their enthusiasm is off the charts. I love how interested they are in learning. After each event, I leave with a renewed inspiration.”

Teachers interested in having Young Hands in Science come to their classrooms can email

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Opioid Awareness

Every nine hours and 36 minutes, a Coloradan dies from a drug overdose. This disturbing statistic underlines the rampant opioid abuse in the United States. Poor prescribing habits compounded by the spreading of misinformation has stalled any real progression toward ending this epidemic, experts say.

Inspired by the Dreamland Symposium held on campus last January, the CU Anschutz open chapter of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) sponsored a seminar on April 25 to help clear common misconceptions regarding opioids. Students, faculty and staff from across campus, including the Graduate School, the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the College of Nursing, attended the event in the Education 2 building.

“We really wanted to educate our peers about the signs of opioid overdose,” Rikki Hanifin said of her involvement in the CU Anschutz chapter of IHI. “It’s so critically important that everyone is familiar with Naloxone, which can literally reverse overdoses,” said Hannifin, a second-year pharmacy student.

Debunking opioid myths

Opioids are a class of narcotics commonly prescribed to reduce pain. They are Schedule II drugs, indicating their accepted medical use with the moderate potential for abuse. However, the public erroneously uses this distinction to assume that opioids are more effective than unscheduled drugs, such as ibuprofen.

“The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) places drugs into schedules,” said Robert Valuck, PhD, during his opening remarks. “It doesn’t evaluate efficacy.”

Valuck went on to debunk several other myths, including the necessity of opioids in medicine. “Six percent of patients who use opioids exactly as they are prescribed will become addicted,” he said. “If there were any other disease that affected 6 percent of all patients, the hospitals would be shutting down to evaluate the problem. Addiction shouldn’t be treated any differently.”

Humanizing addiction

Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center, said harm-reduction practices are common and should be employed in the opioid-abuse battle. “We wear seat belts, we use designated drivers, and we use nicotine gum to stop smoking. We need to approach opioid abuse in a similar manner.”

Providing addicts access to clean syringes is a good step toward reducing harm, including the spread of other communicable diseases, Raville said of the controversial issue. “We want to help get people back on their feet,” said Raville of rehabilitating users. “If they are infected with HIV or hepatitis C, then they are at that much more of a disadvantage. At the very least, it’s more cost effective to provide clean needles than provide life-long care of disease.”

Naloxone training

The event concluded with a hands-on demonstration on how to administer and obtain Naloxone, a prescription drug that can reverse opioid overdoses.

In Colorado, Naloxone is available at pharmacies without a prescription. Most major insurance companies cover the cost of Naloxone. For more information visit

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Answering the call: Line9 partnership puts pharmacy school to action

As soon as Bayli Larson hung up the phone, it rang again. She closed her eyes. It rang again. On the third ring, Larson took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and picked up the receiver.

Larson, a fourth-year graduate student in the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, wasn’t facing a harassing caller. A firm believer in the benefits of volunteering, Larson was staffing the phones for Pharmacist Line9.

Although the 90-minute phone marathon can offer a crash course in stress control and mental cleansing, it provides CU, volunteers and Channel 9 viewers so much more, participants say.

“It gave me a sense of the needs of the community members, and it helped me learn how to think on the spot,” Larson said. “As a pharmacist, it’s really important to be able to communicate effectively and respond accurately in a way that the patients understand. It was great practice.”

Fulfilling a growing need

Because of the popularity of the service (no volunteer’s phone ever sits quiet) coupled with serious medical matters taxing the community, Channel 9 recently boosted the airings, making Pharmacist Line9 a monthly event, said Lynne Valencia, Channel 9 vice president of community relations.

Many of the questions I answered I felt really made a difference in their lives, whether it was preventing drugs from falling into the wrong hands or averting a serious health event. — Briana Williams

From an opioid-addiction crisis gripping the state to a severe flu season lingering on, critical issues have heightened the need for the partnership, said Valencia, an alumna of CU Denver. “CU students and faculty members supply the expertise that people are looking for, and we provide the platform. They offer our viewers sound advice and a great service.”

Volunteering ranks high on the priority list of CU’s pharmacy school, recently named the recipient of the 2017 Lawrence C. Weaver Transformative Community Service Award from the American Association of College of Pharmacy (AACP). While fulfilling unmet needs in the community, volunteer events move CU students’ education beyond the textbook.

“It really can help supplement what you are learning in class,” said third-year graduate student Briana Williams, an active volunteer, including with Line9, and an intern at University of Colorado Hospital. “You definitely get questions right off the bat that you are like: I have no idea how to answer this. But you have to think on your feet and use the resources that you are taught in pharmacy school.”

Briana Williams on 9Line desk
Briana Williams, left, takes a rare break to smile for the camera. Her colleagues, from left to right: Liza Wilson Claus, Emily Zadvorny and Peter Rice.

Facing tough questions

Armed with Centers for Disease Control guidelines and other medical and prescription directives, Williams and Larson quickly fell into the groove of the call-ins, which generally include two students and two faculty members. Apprehensive her first time, when she was a second-year student, Larson said she remembered a lesson from school: It’s OK to say I don’t know.

Calls can run the gamut from the simple — Where can I get a flu shot? — to the moderate — How do I dispose of addictive medications? — to the complicated — What will I do if I can’t refill my pain-pill prescription?

With new regulations threatening opioid access, many calls relate to the crisis, including from fearful patients who rely on the drugs, Larson said. “I found those questions kind of challenging. A lot of these people have been living with chronic pain for years, and it’s the only thing that can get them out of bed in the morning.”

The anonymity factor can embolden callers to ask more complicated and sensitive questions, Williams said.  “Without having to actually go to a physician or pharmacist and see them face to face, they can ask these questions without thinking in the back of their minds that somebody is judging them,” she said.

Volunteers can confer with their colleagues on the Line9 desk, or, when a question falls outside of their expertise, refer the callers to their physicians, Williams said. “You have to know your boundaries and your scope of practice.”

Educating the pubic

Regardless of whether they can answer the question, the volunteers educate patients and urge them to use their physicians and pharmacists as resources. “I don’t know a pharmacist who wouldn’t provide any patient a phone consultation, but a lot of people don’t know that,” Larson said.

I think it really gets out to the public that pharmacists are not just pill-pushers; that we really have a lot of education that we go through to provide more services. And we are typically one of the more accessible health care professionals. — Briana Williams

Williams, who said she chose the CU Anschutz Medical Campus for graduate school partly because of the state’s progressiveness in the pharmaceutical field and the school’s emphasis on multidisciplinary teamwork, said taking part in events like Line9 also helps educate people about her profession.

“I think it really gets out to the public that pharmacists are not just pill-pushers; that we really have a lot of education that we go through to provide more services. And we are typically one of the more accessible health care professionals.”

‘A greater purpose’

A lot of people don’t know where to go for help, Williams said. “Many of the questions I answered I felt really made a difference in their lives, whether it was preventing drugs from falling into the wrong hands or averting a serious health event.”

In today’s competitive world, volunteering can also boost student’s chances at jobs and residency programs, said Williams and Larson, who both work in pharmacies and have their eyes on residencies post-graduation. Larson recently learned that she matched to a PGY1 residency with UCHealth Memorial in Colorado Springs.

Residencies are not required, but they can help set pharmacy students up for careers in hospitals and clinical settings after graduation. This year’s residency numbers for CU Pharmacy are on par with previous years, with 64 percent of those who applied matching, tying the national average.

“I just can’t stress it enough how important work and volunteering is,” Larson said.  It also helps students stay focused on what comes at the end of their heavy college load. “I remember going to work after an exam and being grateful to see there’s a lot to look forward to,” she said. “It’s all for a greater purpose.”

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Coordinator Fontana facilitates access and equity

Lauren Fontana used to spend her days living in code. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a BSE in computer science in engineering, she designed programs for the health care industry. But in 2004, she felt compelled to take a different path. “As I was sitting in a cubicle, writing code every day,” she tells me, “here was this huge movement of people in 16 states voting on whether I could get married. And I kind of thought, ‘What am I doing?’”

Since 2004, Fontana has done quite a lot: she obtained a law degree, moved to Colorado, worked for the State Supreme Court, became a legal advocate for incarcerated people and became a civil rights attorney. Building off her work in individual litigation, Fontana now hopes to “look broader,” tackling the “big issues” of accessibility and discrimination in higher education.

As an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Affirmative Action coordinator, Fontana uses her flexible expertise to work with employees, supervisors and hiring committees across both campuses in order to ensure our work lives are more equitable. Fontana sat down with Today to tell us what justice means to her, and to explain how the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus is working toward it. 

Could you describe what a day in the life of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Affirmative Action (AA) compliance coordinator looks like?

Every day is different. On the ADA side, sometimes I’m talking to supervisors about working with employees to come up with accommodations that work for the employee, who needs the accommodation, and for the work that needs to be done. Sometimes I’m talking to employees who are requesting accommodations in the first place, learning more about what their needs are, and learning what we can do in order to actually accommodate them so that they can do the job.

Lauren Fontana speaks with CU Denver Today

What do conversations about employee accommodations typically involve?

We have a form that the employee takes to their doctor that asks a standard series of questions, essentially determining if the employee has a disability that’s covered by the ADA. The employee works with their doctor to figure out what might be the best possible solution, and then they bring that either to me or to their supervisor, and we figure out if what they’ve proposed works in terms of their business unit functioning.

It’s sort of a puzzle between the employee, the doctor, the supervisor and me figuring out what’s going to enable the employee to do their job in a way that works for the department and works for them.

Are there things about the ADA that you wish people understood better?

A lot of people view accommodation as “cheating,” whether accommodation means giving a student more time to take an exam, or giving an employee an extra break because of a medical condition. There’s pushback around the idea that accommodation isn’t fair.

“Equality” is giving everyone the same thing, no matter what. “Equity” is giving everybody what they need to have a fair shot, to level the playing field. I wish we could get away from this idea that giving someone an accommodation is like giving someone an unfair advantage; it’s not – it’s enabling them to do the same thing that someone who doesn’t need an accommodation can already do.

I know that you have a background in law, but how did you get started in ADA and AA work?

Before I came to CU I was a civil rights lawyer in private practice. I also taught in the civil rights clinic at the University of Denver’s law school for a couple of years. I got to the point where I didn’t want to litigate anymore, but I still wanted to use my civil rights and legal background, so I ended up here in a civil rights investigator position. That was a perfect transition.

What inspired you to work in equity and civil rights?

I was an engineer before I became a lawyer. I was a software engineer, and in the 2004 election, 16 states had anti-same-sex marriage state constitutional amendments on the ballot, including my home state of Ohio, and Michigan, where I was living at the time. As I was sitting in a cubicle, writing code every day, here was this huge movement of people voting on whether I could get married. And I kind of thought, “What am I doing? Nobody cares about this code that I’m writing.” So I decided to apply to law school.

I wanted to do gay rights policy work, but then I realized that was too close to home. So I ended up shifting toward advocating for people with other marginalized identities that I don’t necessarily have. I was more productive as an advocate for other folks.

Lauren Fontana speaks with Callie Rennison, Director of Equity and Title IX Coordinator

Around your civil rights and equity work, do you have a particular philosophy? Is there a quote you point to and say, “That’s the kind of justice that I’m working toward?”

The specific quote is so important to me that it’s tattooed on my arm – is “Silence is betrayal,” which is from a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech about the Vietnam War.

The gist of it, to me, is that if you’re not speaking out for other folks, you’re really not doing anyone any justice. And that can look like different things. So, if someone else doesn’t feel safe, or doesn’t have the emotional capacity, or just doesn’t feel like they should have to advocate for themselves, then that’s the time to step in.

Justice also, more importantly, involves amplifying other people’s voices. Particular marginalized communities can say all they want without being heard. So, if I can use my position of privilege – and I have lots of positions of privilege, even if I have marginalized identities too – to say, “Hey, let’s listen to this marginalized community,” then that’s also eliminating the silence.

What are the most common misconceptions around affirmative action?

I think the most common misconception is that affirmative action is a “quota system” –  it’s just not.

In the context of employment, the whole idea is that if we’re not discriminating against people, then the pool from which we’re selecting employees should look pretty similar to the people we select. That’s just probabilities. The reasoning behind having an affirmative action plan is that, absent discrimination, we should have a representative number of all marginalized groups.

This idea is that, historically, employees and students have been predominantly, if not all, white. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, that’s what we’re going to get, leaving out vast quantities of people who deserve to be here.


If you have questions or concerns about accessibility, Title IX, or harrassment, please reach out to the Office of Equity.
Lawrence Street Center, 12th Floor

If you weren’t an equity coordinator, what would you be?

I would be a farmer. I would grow all of the vegetables, and that’s what I would do all day. We’re working on expanding our garden at the moment, because the first year we planted, everything got killed by bindweed. So, we’re building raised beds – we have two of them, out of the 10 we plan to have. That’s what grounds me.

What gets you up every morning, and what keeps you up at night?

In the summer, I get up early to play in the garden before work. But really, what gets me up is being able to come up with creative ways to solve problems, and that process – particularly here. This whole office is very collaborative; I talk to my colleagues all the time. Having that sense of community around social justice issues is really motivating to me.

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Top stories of 2017

Shim Stem Cells5. Training cells as cancer killers

Researchers develop new line of attack that relies on reengineering a patient’s own cells to recognize, attack and kill cancer cells. The target in the Novartis therapy is acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of cancer in children.

Dr. Jay Lemery of CU Anschutz4. Sounding the alarm on climate change

In his book ‘Enviromedics,’ Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor of medicine in the CU School of Medicine, explores the link between global warming and human health. Lemery co-wrote the book with Paul Auerbach, MD, professor of emergency medicine art Stanford University SOM.

EMT checking in patient in ER3. Program reduces high ED use, increases primary care visits

Researchers at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus have found that a community-based, care-coordination program aimed at high users of hospital emergency departments succeeded: It reduced ED visits and hospital admissions, while increasing use of primary care providers.

Sleep pods in CU Anschutz library2. Library opens spacious and welcoming study zone

With over 4,000 students, it can sometimes be hard to find study space on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. Students are loving the Health Science Library’s new and inviting 5,000-square-foot-space (and state-of-the-art sleep pods).

This miniature microscope allows researchers to see inside the living brain.1. CU researchers win prestigious $2 million NIH grant for brain study

CU Anschutz and CU Boulder scientists will refine and expand use of unique miniature microscope they’ve developed. The grant is part of the NIH’s new BRAIN initiative aimed at revolutionizing the understanding of the human brain.

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CU Anschutz Fall 2017 Commencement

Jubilant graduates filled the Colorado Convention Center on Dec. 16 as the CU Anschutz Medical Campus held its Fall 2017 Commencement ceremonies in downtown Denver.

Families and friends gathered to honor more than 350 new graduates of the university.

The breakdown:

  • Graduate School: about 105 graduates (doctoral and master’s degrees)
  • College of Nursing: about 170 graduates (Doctor of Nursing, Post-Graduate Certificate, Master of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Science in Nursing)
  • School of Medicine: 81 graduates (70 earning Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees; 11 earning Master of Science in Anesthesiology degrees)

Congratulations to the graduates and their families. Please view some of our favorite photos from the day below:

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Students get creative to bring holiday cheer to kids

Covered in glitter and holiday-themed stickers, Samantha Robinson, a student in the Graduate School, laughed as she put the final touches on her holiday card. She tossed her finished product in a crate with many other colorful creations bound for Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Student working on his holiday card
A student puts the finishing touches on his holiday card.

On Dec. 7, the CU Anschutz Student Senate held a card-making event for kids who are spending the holidays in Children’s Hospital. This is the first year of this event, and the Senate wants to turn it into an annual tradition.

Students making holiday cards
Students drink hot chocolate and create holiday cards for kids at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“We’re really hoping to bring joy to these children,” said Hetu Shah, a student in the Anesthesiologist Assistant program in the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “We want to make them feel extra-comfortable and at home at Children’s. Everyone deserves some love and attention, especially during the holidays.”

You can still pitch in!

This event continues today (Friday, Dec. 8) from noon to 2 p.m. in Education 2 North.

Students, teachers and faculty from all schools and programs were encouraged to make a card and spread holiday cheer. At times the table was crowded with students eager to share happy wishes and warm greetings. Each given a plain card, participants decorated them using a variety of stickers, seasonal stamps, glitter and markers.

“The turnout has been so great,” said Robinson. “It’s really uplifting to see students and faculty come together for a cause. We’re so happy to be able to share some smiles with the children and experiences with other students.”


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