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Aurora Public Schools to open STEM school next to CU Anschutz

The next generation of health professionals will soon be learning in a STEM-focused school next door to the world-class CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Aurora Public Schools (APS) recently announced that the Fitzsimons Innovation Campus will be home to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) school for grades 6-12. The school is scheduled to open during the 2019-20 school year to sixth-graders. A new grade will be added each subsequent year.

The new school, in partnership with the Denver School of Science and Technology, will provide APS students with a robust STEM program and access to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and its pioneering research labs.

Enhances quality of life

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman said having a STEM school next door provides outstanding opportunities for the medical campus. “Not only does it give our faculty, staff and students another avenue for community outreach and health education, but the addition of a school in our immediate neighborhood will positively affect the quality of life for our nearby residents now and into the future,” he said. “Coupled with other new amenities such as a food market, hotel and light rail, the school will contribute to a stronger community for those who work and live here.”

Students and educators at the school will enjoy the easy proximity to internships, externships and job-shadowing opportunities. CU Anschutz has a long history of exposing students from neighboring communities to potential health care careers.

Opportunity, impact for students

Superintendent Rico Munn said APS, which has enjoyed partnering with the Community-Campus Partnership at CU Anschutz, is committed to providing opportunity and impact for its students. “We are eager to grow the next generation of APS doctors, researchers and medical professionals who will be inspired to learn, work and give back to our community,” he said.

At the new STEM school, students living in northwest Aurora will be given preference for enrollment. Then, enrollment will open up to other APS students.

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Staff Council collects coats, school supplies to benefit community

Staff Council, which represents both the University of Colorado Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, spearheaded two incredibly successful community service projects in recent months.

Staff Council’s Networking/Campus Engagement Committee once again participated in Coats for Colorado by offering multiple sites on both campuses where coats could be dropped off. In October and November, the effort collected 532 coats – far surpassing the 325 coats collected in fall 2016.

Last summer, the committee launched a school supplies drive in collaboration with the CU Anschutz Community-Campus Partnership (CCP). In cooperation with Aurora Public Schools (APS), the groups chose as recipient the APS Welcome Center, which assists immigrant and refugee families in the metro area. Staff Council and CCP set up collection bins across both campuses and gathered over 500 items, including backpacks, lunchboxes, pens, crayons, notebooks and more.

Staff Council school supply drive at CU Anschutz
From left, Ingrid Summers, co-chair of Staff Council’s Networking/Campus Engagement Committee, and council member Maria Hernandez hold backpacks donated to the school supply drive.

Looking ahead, Staff Council has more outreach efforts planned in 2018.

Due to the overwhelming response received last year, the group has reserved an entire week – Feb. 12-16 – to volunteer at Food Bank of the Rockies. The initiative ties in with CU in the Community, an annual opportunity for CU employees to spend four work hours volunteering for the charity of their choice.

“We are very excited about this event and hope to fill all eight shifts – 40 volunteers each – at the Food Bank of the Rockies,” said Ingrid Summers, Office of Student Life, and co-chair of the Networking/Campus Engagement Committee.

If you’d like to volunteer for one of the food bank shifts, or for any other questions about Staff Council, please contact the council at


Staff Council provides a means for the exchange and dissemination of information among and for CU Denver | Anschutz classified, university and professional research staff about concerns and/or procedures and policies which affect staff at both CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

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Pharmacy school enrollment numbers up despite drops nationally

Skaggs brags:

There’s good news to share from the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (CU Pharmacy). Applicant numbers at CU Pharmacy have risen 30 percent, even as applications to pharmacy programs nationwide are down 3 percent.

While the number of pharmacy schools in the U.S. has increased from 80 in 2009 to 143 today, the number of students applying to pharmacy programs seems to have plateaued. In the resulting competition for pharmacy students, CU Pharmacy is faring well – and the school’s leaders credit high-quality academic programs and enhanced recruitment efforts for this success.

“We are a top-tier school,” said  CU Pharmacy Dean Ralph J. Altiere, PhD. “We recognize that competition for students has increased considerably over the past few years, and that led us to undertake a reorganization to establish a marketing unit last year.”

Stellar faculty and students

A growing reputation and top-notch academic and professional programs are motivating students to apply to and attend CU Anschutz’s No. 22-ranked pharmacy school.

Hartsfield family
CU Pharmacy student Eric Hartsfield and his family

“Skaggs has a reputation within the profession that is nationally and even internationally recognized,” said Hawaii native and second-year CU Pharmacy student Ryan Sutherlan. “Other schools that I considered also had strong reputations, but I worried that they may not be able to challenge me in the way I felt CU would.”

Both Sutherlan and first-year pharmacy student Eric Hartsfield noted the campuswide Interprofessional Practice & Education program as a driver for their interest in the school.

“I believe the future of medicine is based in collaborative care and want to learn as much about it as I can,” Hartsfield said. “I have really appreciated the stellar faculty and high-quality facilities of the campus.”

And as students express satisfaction with the pharmacy school, CU Pharmacy leadership express pride in both the students and faculty.

“Our students consistently outperform other schools by winning national competitions,” Altiere said, “and our faculty are lauded nationally with education and clinical awards.”

Strategic outreach and recruitment

To build on its reputation and promote its successful programs, CU Pharmacy has centralized and fortified its recruiting, marketing and communications efforts into a six-person team led by Dana Brandorff, director of marketing, communications and alumni affairs.

The team is implementing several new tactics to reach prospective students, including a strategic database management system, a multi-pronged advertising campaign and a live chat feature on the school’s website. To complement these traditional and digital approaches, the marketing team has had in-person interactions with more than 3,000 prospective students, advisors and influencers at conferences and other pharmacy events.

These efforts have led to that 30-percent application increase, as well as a completely full 2017 incoming class for the school’s PharmD program. And now the challenge, Brandorff said, is not just attracting students but changing the perception of what pharmacists do.

“The perception is that pharmacists only dispense medications,” said Brandorff, who came to CU Pharmacy in 2009. “Today, pharmacists are on the front lines of health care – in the ER collaborating with nurses and doctors, in clinics managing diabetes or heart disease patients and at independent pharmacies compounding medications or vaccinating patients. Our job is to help the general public understand the vital role pharmacists play in health care.”

To that end, the group engages in various community outreach activities, including volunteer days at health fairs and other events; a new Speakers’ Bureau showcasing faculty, alumni and students; and a new education initiative focusing on academic advisors, faculty members, administrators and students at Colorado universities. The school also conducts live, once-a-month call-ins on 9News and creates and distributes its own video content that is regularly aired by local and national television outlets.

Ryan Sutherlan
CU Pharmacy student Ryan Sutherlan

CU Pharmacy is also helping change Colorado laws to allow pharmacists to be reimbursed for pharmacy services other than dispensing. Altiere believes this would create more opportunities for pharmacy practice and help change how the public values pharmacists.

Top-choice pharmacy school

Although changing perceptions takes time, many student perceptions are right where CU Pharmacy wants them to be.

“At CU Anschutz, I am consistently impressed and humbled to be among the ranks of the amazing student body, who are so wildly unique, brilliant, compassionate and welcoming,” Sutherlan said. “It’s like being a part of a large, extended family.”

And Sutherlan said this positive experience began before he even enrolled as a student.

“CU Pharmacy always reached out to me … which stood in contrast to other schools’ carbon-copy communications,” Sutherlan said. “I don’t regret my choice of schools at all.”

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Middle schoolers dissect brains, peer into healthcare careers

Student outreach at CU Anschutz
Students and teachers at West Leadership Academy visit CU Anschutz as part of the WeLLCOMe Program.

As soon as 20 middle school students step into the hall and put on white lab coats and glasses, a noticeable change comes over them. There’s a sense of confidence, of feeling important.

“It feels like I’m a scientist,” Denajsha Vialpando says while flashing a smile. “It just feels like I’m working here, like I’m a medical student.” Another eighth-grader, Jacqueline Tarin, adds, “I feel like I’m in health care training. When I grow up I want to dissect brains and stuff like that.”

Just down the hall in the “bone room,” they will perform a cranial nerve exam, slice away slivers of brain, and study the three-dimensional images of the Visible Human.

This hands-on exploration of science, health and health careers is the idea of the WeLL-COMe Program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. WeLL-COMe stands for Wellness, Lifelong Learning and Career Orientation Mentorship, and it’s geared toward middle-school students.

The program is a collaboration between the Department of Neurology, the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, the master’s program in Modern Human Anatomy – all within the CU School of Medicine (SOM) – and Colorado Uplift, a nonprofit that provides guidance to underrepresented minority students. This spring, six waves of students from Denver and Aurora schools will participate, touring in groups of 10 to 25 students.

‘Change in their mindset’

On a recent morning, the group from Denver’s West Leadership Academy tours the anatomy labs on the fifth floor of Education 1. They are led through various health stations, including the brain dissection room, by several graduate-student volunteers from the Modern Human Anatomy program.

Brain lab at CU Anschutz
Maureen Stabio, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, hands students from West Leadership Academy parts of a human brain to inspect.

The group starts with an introductory lesson in neurons and brain plasticity. “We teach the students that their brains have enormous capacity to learn and change. Through practice and hard work, they can do science,” says Maureen Stabio, PhD, assistant professor in the SOM’s Department of Cell & Developmental Biology. “I think that change in their mindset is important.”

Hannah Benjamin, an anatomy graduate student, enjoys volunteering for the outreach sessions because they blend two of her passions – working with kids and studying human anatomy. “My favorite part is getting in the labs and doing hands-on work, because I don’t think this kind of opportunity is as available for middle school students as it is for high school students,” Benjamin says. “Watching their faces when they pick up a brain makes my day.”

Students in bone room at CU Anschutz
Denajsha Vialpando, left, a student at West Leadership Academy, and fellow student Jacqueline Tarin, right, perform a cranial nerve exam along with a teacher from the academy, in the bone room in Education 1 at CU Anschutz.

She says the students are especially fascinated by the brain slicing and cranial nerve demonstrations. When Vialpando steps up to cranial nerve station, she’s repulsed and fascinated at the same time. “Oh my God, are those eyes?!” she exclaims as she grasps the eyeballs dangling from slender nerves. In her next breath, the eighth-grader asks the graduate student, “What’s this black thing?” as she points to a blood vessel at the base of a brain.

“It’s squishy,” another student observes as he touches the gray matter.

Opening doors to science

Veronica Contreras de Raya, marketing and communications coordinator for Colorado Uplift, says the CU Anschutz outings leave a profound impression. “A lot of kids don’t consider a future in math or science as a possibility, so this kind of hands-on experience can really open doors,” she says.

Colorado Uplift is an essential collaborator for the program, says Alina Rich, education manager in the Department of Neurology, since the organization has strong connections to schools across Denver and Aurora.

In fact, the 3-year-old WeLL-COMe program, which is funded by the Maggie George Foundation, this year expanded to include Aurora Public Schools, joining Denver Public Schools students in the lab rotations.

Benjamin, who helped develop the outreach curriculum, has been accepted into the CU SOM for fall 2017. She’s delighted that she will be able to continue promoting healthy lifestyles and interest in health professions among middle school students.

“Hopefully some of them will walk out of here wanting to wear a lab coat again and be a doctor, nurse or other health care professional someday,” Benjamin says.

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