The UNC Bear Den

Alum Interview: All-Star Animation Editor Don Barrozo
If you like cartoons, you’ve probably enjoyed the work of UNC alumnus Don Barrozo (BA-86). As a veteran film editor his sense of comedic timing has helped shape some of the most popular animated programs of the past two and a half decades: King of the Hill, and the longest-running American sitcom of all time, The Simpsons. On October 29th, Barrozo will return to campus to deliver a fascinating, free presentation on finding a practical way to make the art you love as part of UNC’s Schulze Interdisciplinary Speaker Series.
The son of musician Paul Barrozo, Don grew up in Great Falls, Mont., immersed in artistic expression. He also found himself drawn to the visual arts from a young age, creating comics influenced by his favorite cartoonists in Mad Magazine. Still, when it came to his higher education, he chose UNC for the opportunity to study his first love: jazz.
But realizing that academic requirements favored classical style performers, Barrozo had an artistic identity crisis in his junior year.
“I knew I couldn’t fit my style of playing into that mode,” said Barrozo. “So I spoke with a counselor and learned that I could pursue a liberal arts major with a general focus on fine arts. That gave me the chance to reconnect with my visual arts side—it was the beginning of me finding myself.”
An outstanding art history course with professor Chip Coronel reassured Barrozo that he had made the right choice in changing his academic course.
“There was no one else quite like him when it came to connecting with his students—it broadened my idea of what learning could be like,” said Barrozo. “The expansion of my studies turned out to be a great turning point for me. Although it wasn’t focused toward a specific career goal, it encompassed all the skills I had to have in my toolkit to do the job I have now.”
Having worked in commercial editing for two years following graduation, Barrozo’s grounding in the visual arts paid off when he was presented with the opportunity to get on board with a new animated series called The Simpsons.
“I was a huge fan of [Simpsons creator] Matt Groening’s Life in Hell comics series,” said Barrozo. “It was one of those moments when you just know that the project that’s been put in front of you is something you have to be a part of.”
Though it’s now a global phenomenon with a devoted fan base spanning multiple generations, production on the Simpsons started from humble beginnings.
“My editing equipment was set up in the garage of this small building in Hollywood that had been wired around the turn of the century,” said Barrozo. “The power would go out about four times a day, so I worked with a big box of fuses close at hand.”
And it wasn’t just technical issues—studio executives nearly pulled the plug on the entire show after an initial screening.
“They didn’t laugh once. The style of the show just wasn’t what they were expecting and we were told the future of the entire series would hang on their reaction to the second episode,” said Barrozo. “Fortunately for us, they loved it. We were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.”
Despite these early setbacks, Barrozo found great fulfillment in his new work—the sense of timing he had honed over years of jazz performance was a perfect fit for editing comedy.
“Acting is very malleable in animation because you can add and subtract time to a performance,” said Barrozo. “The same exact gag sequence can get a lot more laughs just by adjusting the pacing to make sure the audience doesn’t get ahead of the punch line.”
Now a firmly established professional in the creative industry, Barrozo’s upcoming talk at UNC will focus on some of the practical insights he’s gained over the course of his career.
“Coming back as a speaker is really an honor. I hope to provide some guidance to the next generation of artists and performers coming out of UNC,” said Barrozo. “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve encountered came from famous cinematographer Haskell Wexler. He said, ‘You have to figure out how to make your living so you can create the art you love.’ That balance can be hard for an artist to achieve, but there are stable opportunities out there for creative people if you know where to look and you’re willing to put the time into learning.”
Many thanks to Don Barrozo for taking the time to share his insights with us! For full event details on all of our upcoming Schulze Interdisciplinary Speaker Series presentations, please visit the program’s home page here. 
Looking for more opportunities to have eye-opening educational experiences at UNC? You can enjoy all the fun of compelling college courses with some of the university’s most engaging young professors at our 10/24 Alumni College event. Get registered and browse a full list of faculty presentations here.
Want to help support the next generation of UNC students as they pursue their professional dreams? You can give directly to a full range of academic and athletic scholarships by visiting our online donation portal here. 
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Alum Interview: All-Star Animation Editor Don Barrozo

If you like cartoons, you’ve probably enjoyed the work of UNC alumnus Don Barrozo (BA-86). As a veteran film editor his sense of comedic timing has helped shape some of the most popular animated programs of the past two and a half decades: King of the Hill, and the longest-running American sitcom of all time, The Simpsons. On October 29th, Barrozo will return to campus to deliver a fascinating, free presentation on finding a practical way to make the art you love as part of UNC’s Schulze Interdisciplinary Speaker Series.

The son of musician Paul Barrozo, Don grew up in Great Falls, Mont., immersed in artistic expression. He also found himself drawn to the visual arts from a young age, creating comics influenced by his favorite cartoonists in Mad Magazine. Still, when it came to his higher education, he chose UNC for the opportunity to study his first love: jazz.

But realizing that academic requirements favored classical style performers, Barrozo had an artistic identity crisis in his junior year.

“I knew I couldn’t fit my style of playing into that mode,” said Barrozo. “So I spoke with a counselor and learned that I could pursue a liberal arts major with a general focus on fine arts. That gave me the chance to reconnect with my visual arts side—it was the beginning of me finding myself.”

An outstanding art history course with professor Chip Coronel reassured Barrozo that he had made the right choice in changing his academic course.

“There was no one else quite like him when it came to connecting with his students—it broadened my idea of what learning could be like,” said Barrozo. “The expansion of my studies turned out to be a great turning point for me. Although it wasn’t focused toward a specific career goal, it encompassed all the skills I had to have in my toolkit to do the job I have now.”

Having worked in commercial editing for two years following graduation, Barrozo’s grounding in the visual arts paid off when he was presented with the opportunity to get on board with a new animated series called The Simpsons.

“I was a huge fan of [Simpsons creator] Matt Groening’s Life in Hell comics series,” said Barrozo. “It was one of those moments when you just know that the project that’s been put in front of you is something you have to be a part of.”

Though it’s now a global phenomenon with a devoted fan base spanning multiple generations, production on the Simpsons started from humble beginnings.

“My editing equipment was set up in the garage of this small building in Hollywood that had been wired around the turn of the century,” said Barrozo. “The power would go out about four times a day, so I worked with a big box of fuses close at hand.”

And it wasn’t just technical issues—studio executives nearly pulled the plug on the entire show after an initial screening.

“They didn’t laugh once. The style of the show just wasn’t what they were expecting and we were told the future of the entire series would hang on their reaction to the second episode,” said Barrozo. “Fortunately for us, they loved it. We were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.”

Despite these early setbacks, Barrozo found great fulfillment in his new work—the sense of timing he had honed over years of jazz performance was a perfect fit for editing comedy.

“Acting is very malleable in animation because you can add and subtract time to a performance,” said Barrozo. “The same exact gag sequence can get a lot more laughs just by adjusting the pacing to make sure the audience doesn’t get ahead of the punch line.”

Now a firmly established professional in the creative industry, Barrozo’s upcoming talk at UNC will focus on some of the practical insights he’s gained over the course of his career.

“Coming back as a speaker is really an honor. I hope to provide some guidance to the next generation of artists and performers coming out of UNC,” said Barrozo. “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve encountered came from famous cinematographer Haskell Wexler. He said, ‘You have to figure out how to make your living so you can create the art you love.’ That balance can be hard for an artist to achieve, but there are stable opportunities out there for creative people if you know where to look and you’re willing to put the time into learning.”

Many thanks to Don Barrozo for taking the time to share his insights with us! For full event details on all of our upcoming Schulze Interdisciplinary Speaker Series presentations, please visit the program’s home page here.

Looking for more opportunities to have eye-opening educational experiences at UNC? You can enjoy all the fun of compelling college courses with some of the university’s most engaging young professors at our 10/24 Alumni College event. Get registered and browse a full list of faculty presentations here.

Want to help support the next generation of UNC students as they pursue their professional dreams? You can give directly to a full range of academic and athletic scholarships by visiting our online donation portal here


Have Eye-Opening Learning Experiences at 10/24 Alumni College Event

UNC celebrated a big birthday this year: the university has been providing students with an exceptional education in a full range of academic areas for 125 years now. As Bears, our eagerness to have eye-opening learning experiences is part of our DNA—it doesn’t go away after graduation.

Alumni College: Problem Solving & Innovation is an incredible opportunity for the UNC community to take a guided tour through our contemporary student experience: all the fun of a compelling college course with some of the university’s most engaging young professors, and no need to worry about grades or quizzes! Alumni, parents, and friends are invited to join us during Family & Friends Weekend on Friday, October 24th and take part in the transformational programs and activities our faculty provide to students on a daily basis.   

Lynn Cornelius, a faculty member in the School of Art and Design, is one of six fantastic professors from across UNC’s academic colleges who will be thrilling Alumni College attendees with their presentations. Professor Cornelius will share a fun, visually captivating look into one of her class’s unique community art projects—creating an explosion of spring beauty in Greeley’s public space through a process known as “yarn bombing”.

“Yarn bombing is a way in which artists, using yarn, transform a public space. It’s really a way to get people to think about their everyday environment differently—and usually it’s a little silly,” said Cornelius.

Despite the project’s whimsical appearance, she says students came away with some serious and surprising realizations that she’s eager to share with Alumni College attendees. “I’m most excited about sharing how students in the visual arts are integrating learning to include skills like navigating unexpected obstacles, and how those obstacles can be springboards for a deeper connection to themselves, their art, and their community.”

Finding new ways to create a fun and fulfilling learning experience will be a key theme throughout all of our Alumni College presentations, which range in topic from archeological digs in Greece to the design of technologically advanced prosthetic limbs. Attendees can expect to walk away with ideas they can apply far beyond UNC’s campus. “Graduates are the community,” said Cornelius. “What they most desire in their communities they have the power to influence and generate.”

To explore a full list of faculty and presentations and get registered for Alumni College today, please visit our event page, or contact the UNC office of Alumni Relations by phone at 970-351-2551.  You can also learn more about the UNC yarn bombing project by visiting this online media gallery.

Alum Interview - Colorado Poet Laureate Joe Hutchison
As Colorado’s eighth poet laureate Joe Hutchison’s (BA-72) job is to advocate for the art that he says is missing from many schools’ curriculums.
“My particular interest is in helping teachers find ways to integrate poetry into classes across the curriculum and not just in English classes,” Hutchison said. “Poets address everything from psychology to history to ethics, even geometry—the French poet Guillevic wrote a whole book of poems about geometric forms.”
A state poet laureate’s responsibilities traditionally include visiting schools and other venues as ambassadors for poetry and literacy, as well as presenting a poem that opens the state legislative session each year.
But Hutchison also has bigger project in mind—a database of Colorado poets whose works are organized by topic so teachers can more easily incorporate poetry into their lesson plans.
“I really want to help them integrate the creative element of human nature across all subjects,” he said.
This approach to learning—exploring connections between disciplines—is the core of a liberal arts education, a tradition embraced by UNC for generations.
Hutchison is interim academic director for arts and culture and global affairs for University College at the University of Denver. He has taught at the University of Denver for 12 years and also has been writing commercially since completing a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Along the way, he has published 15 poetry collections written “in spurts. Poetry comes when it wants to, you can’t force it,” he says.
Hutchison discovered his love for writing in middle school. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, he started writing short stories and was encouraged by some dynamic teachers throughout middle and high school. He decided he wanted to be a teacher and have a similar positive impact on his future students’ lives, so he chose UNC and earned his degree in English and Secondary Education.
“I started writing seriously at UNC and by the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to continue my education and get a master’s degree.”
He honed his skills under the tutelage of professors John Brand, Ed Kearns, Jim Doyle, and others.
“I had excellent instructors who didn’t come at literature from a theoretical standpoint,” Hutchison said. “We read out loud, we studied how words looked on the page, and how they sounded when spoken. We didn’t just deconstruct sentences.”
A 1970 reading by renowned poet Robert Bly at UNC had a profound impact on Hutchison’s dedication to poetry.
“It wasn’t in the ballroom like most of our readings. It was a classroom and we were seated at tables and he was walking among us, between the tables, wearing a multi-colored poncho.”
All of the sudden, Bly put on a rubber mask and read “The Busy Man Speaks,”a fierce commentary on “every man’s” acceptance of the Viet Nam war, with intense drama—the rubber mask, the colorful poncho moving through the room.
"That’s when I saw what poetry could do.”
Hutchison was hooked. And his enthusiasm was met with a combination of memorable experiences that encouraged him to pursue his dreams of writing poetry: the inspiring writers his instructors brought to campus and interactions with a community of second generation beat poets in Denver.
“Unfortunately, though, you can’t make a living as a poet,” he said. 
For today’s students who dream of writing for a living, Hutchison suggests one of two paths:  if you just love writing, then find a job in commercial writing or journalism, no matter what it is, it will strengthen your skills and help improve your creative writing; or, you can find a profession that will sustain you and continue writing on the side. Either way, your choice will inform your personal work.
Hutchison’s most recent book, “Marked Men,” features narrative poetry about the Sand Creek massacre and the subsequent assassination of Silas Soule, the captain who heroically defied orders and refused to allow his men to participate in the slaughter. It’s a subject he started researching more than 10 years ago. The past winner of the Colorado Poetry Award, his poems and short stories have appeared in more than 100 journals and several anthologies.
Busy now with his job at DU and his laureate duties, Hutchison doesn’t know what kind of poetry will flow next or when, but he is always listening and observing, ready for the next thing to spark his curiosity and inspire his work. In the meantime, Hutchison will be working to ensure we can all encounter poetry that speaks to us.
Many thanks to Joe Hutchison for taking the time to share his insights with us! Curious to explore his work? You can read poems directly inspired by his UNC experience here and here. Hutchison also regularly shares poetic insights, book reviews, and links to read and purchase his poetry on his blog, The Perpetual Bird.
Today’s UNC students can benefit from one of Hutchison’s favorite professors by applying for the Ed Kearns Scholarship. Ed Kearns served UNC as a faculty member in the Department of English from 1966 to 2000. Though Ed taught many different courses at all levels of the curriculum, he was particularly noted for his contributions to the first-year writing program. The $500 scholarship is awarded each spring to the freshman student who produces the best essay in a section of ENG 122 (College Composition). English composition instructors submit their best student essays to the English Scholarship Committee, whose members select the winner.
Want to contribute directly to the next generation of successful UNC students? You can support a full range of academic and athletic scholarships by visiting www.unco.edu/give. 
Photo courtesy of Helen H. Richardson and the Denver Post.
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Alum Interview - Colorado Poet Laureate Joe Hutchison

As Colorado’s eighth poet laureate Joe Hutchison’s (BA-72) job is to advocate for the art that he says is missing from many schools’ curriculums.

“My particular interest is in helping teachers find ways to integrate poetry into classes across the curriculum and not just in English classes,” Hutchison said. “Poets address everything from psychology to history to ethics, even geometry—the French poet Guillevic wrote a whole book of poems about geometric forms.”

A state poet laureate’s responsibilities traditionally include visiting schools and other venues as ambassadors for poetry and literacy, as well as presenting a poem that opens the state legislative session each year.

But Hutchison also has bigger project in mind—a database of Colorado poets whose works are organized by topic so teachers can more easily incorporate poetry into their lesson plans.

“I really want to help them integrate the creative element of human nature across all subjects,” he said.

This approach to learning—exploring connections between disciplines—is the core of a liberal arts education, a tradition embraced by UNC for generations.

Hutchison is interim academic director for arts and culture and global affairs for University College at the University of Denver. He has taught at the University of Denver for 12 years and also has been writing commercially since completing a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Along the way, he has published 15 poetry collections written “in spurts. Poetry comes when it wants to, you can’t force it,” he says.

Hutchison discovered his love for writing in middle school. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, he started writing short stories and was encouraged by some dynamic teachers throughout middle and high school. He decided he wanted to be a teacher and have a similar positive impact on his future students’ lives, so he chose UNC and earned his degree in English and Secondary Education.

“I started writing seriously at UNC and by the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to continue my education and get a master’s degree.”

He honed his skills under the tutelage of professors John Brand, Ed Kearns, Jim Doyle, and others.

“I had excellent instructors who didn’t come at literature from a theoretical standpoint,” Hutchison said. “We read out loud, we studied how words looked on the page, and how they sounded when spoken. We didn’t just deconstruct sentences.”

A 1970 reading by renowned poet Robert Bly at UNC had a profound impact on Hutchison’s dedication to poetry.

“It wasn’t in the ballroom like most of our readings. It was a classroom and we were seated at tables and he was walking among us, between the tables, wearing a multi-colored poncho.”

All of the sudden, Bly put on a rubber mask and read “The Busy Man Speaks,”a fierce commentary on “every man’s” acceptance of the Viet Nam war, with intense drama—the rubber mask, the colorful poncho moving through the room.

"That’s when I saw what poetry could do.”

Hutchison was hooked. And his enthusiasm was met with a combination of memorable experiences that encouraged him to pursue his dreams of writing poetry: the inspiring writers his instructors brought to campus and interactions with a community of second generation beat poets in Denver.

“Unfortunately, though, you can’t make a living as a poet,” he said. 

For today’s students who dream of writing for a living, Hutchison suggests one of two paths:  if you just love writing, then find a job in commercial writing or journalism, no matter what it is, it will strengthen your skills and help improve your creative writing; or, you can find a profession that will sustain you and continue writing on the side. Either way, your choice will inform your personal work.

Hutchison’s most recent book, “Marked Men,” features narrative poetry about the Sand Creek massacre and the subsequent assassination of Silas Soule, the captain who heroically defied orders and refused to allow his men to participate in the slaughter. It’s a subject he started researching more than 10 years ago. The past winner of the Colorado Poetry Award, his poems and short stories have appeared in more than 100 journals and several anthologies.

Busy now with his job at DU and his laureate duties, Hutchison doesn’t know what kind of poetry will flow next or when, but he is always listening and observing, ready for the next thing to spark his curiosity and inspire his work. In the meantime, Hutchison will be working to ensure we can all encounter poetry that speaks to us.

Many thanks to Joe Hutchison for taking the time to share his insights with us! Curious to explore his work? You can read poems directly inspired by his UNC experience here and here. Hutchison also regularly shares poetic insights, book reviews, and links to read and purchase his poetry on his blog, The Perpetual Bird.

Today’s UNC students can benefit from one of Hutchison’s favorite professors by applying for the Ed Kearns Scholarship. Ed Kearns served UNC as a faculty member in the Department of English from 1966 to 2000. Though Ed taught many different courses at all levels of the curriculum, he was particularly noted for his contributions to the first-year writing program. The $500 scholarship is awarded each spring to the freshman student who produces the best essay in a section of ENG 122 (College Composition). English composition instructors submit their best student essays to the English Scholarship Committee, whose members select the winner.

Want to contribute directly to the next generation of successful UNC students? You can support a full range of academic and athletic scholarships by visiting www.unco.edu/give

Photo courtesy of Helen H. Richardson and the Denver Post.

After almost 10 years of honing her expertise in all aspects of university advancement, Lyndsey B. Crum is coming home. The 2005 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado will return to her alma mater as its Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations on September 15, combining her professional experience with her personal passion. By way of introduction to the UNC community at large, Lyndsey took some time to talk with us about her vision for the future of alumni engagement.
What can our graduates expect from their Alumni Association under your leadership?
Alumni should never stop having high expectations of their alma mater. That deep, personal relationship they had with the institution as a student should always be there for them as a graduate. That’s where UNC’s Office of Alumni Relations comes in—we’re here to serve as a dedicated reentry point where alumni can hook back into the life of the university in a way that makes sense for them: by keeping up on new developments, celebrating their personal accomplishments, or sharing their requests and concerns. 
In Alumni Relations, we have a continuing commitment to increase our graduates’ pride and the overall value of their degrees. I’m excited to facilitate both of these functions at my own alma mater, which I love so dearly.
Were there particular student experiences that really cemented your UNC pride?
A landmark moment for me was being recruited to attend UNC from Hawaii. I was a sophomore in high school, just starting to get serious about my college prospects when a recruiter visited one day and put a viewbook in front of me. I was immediately sold on the university, basically sight-unseen beyond the pages of that book.
I felt a personal connection with UNC from that initial contact all the way through my application process. From the friendly calls I received through the UNC Ambassador Program, to the stories shared with me by a friend’s older sibling about her wonderful UNC experience, all of these were enough to convince me that there was no other place I’d rather go for my education.
I believe this illustrates the awesome power alumni have when they share their stories. When you share your experience with us, not only are you reconnecting and building bridges with your fellow alums, you’re also reminding our students what it means to be a part of the UNC Community. It may even help a potential student make the decision to come to UNC, pursue a certain major, or just generally stick with their education. It’s also just plain fun! Any time that we can reinforce the value of our shared educational experience, we should take advantage of it.
What does it mean to you to be taking on this leadership position at such a historic moment as UNC celebrates its 125th anniversary?
UNC’s alumni community encompasses more than 125,000 graduates in the U.S. and around the world. And for 125 years they—our teachers, nurses, and other professionals—have been changing their communities for the better due in large part to their UNC education.
With the sheer number of people and length of time involved, it can be difficult to wrap your head around UNC’s true impact and yet we know that there is power in our community and our history. An alumni perspective helps us hone and focus our institution’s narrative, which is why we’ve invited all alumni to share their stories with us online. I’m thrilled to be part of a team that’s working to illuminate UNC’s 125 years of impact—not only on individual lives but also on our global community.
You’ve mentioned our responsibility to provide value to our alumni. What are some immediate steps you plan to take toward that goal?
First, it’s critical that we continue to provide value to the degree of every alum and that we help to transition students into post-graduation life. By partnering with Career Services to provide professional development programming, we’re taking advantage of a unique opportunity to play a vital role in the life of any alum.
The second area of importance is the academic partnership between the alumni office and the schools and colleges within the university. The heart of the university exists with our faculty and students—their expertise and vitality can extend beyond the classroom by adding value to the careers of our alumni. Our excellent new events series, Success Looks Like Me and Alumni College, are engineered to do just that. 
Finally, as a new face in this leadership position, I’m bringing one wide-open mind to the table. If you have ideas, concerns, stories, or thoughts on anything—the latest Bears game or Broncos game—I want to hear them. Email and social media are great ways to reach out, and you’re sure to see my smiling face at lots of upcoming events. Come up and say “hi” anytime!
Please join us in welcoming Lyndsey into this exciting leadership position! If you have a greeting, question, idea, or any other kind of message to share with our new AVP, please take advantage of the comment section below or send a quick email to alumni@unco.edu.
If you haven’t already added your UNC story to our 125th anniversary celebration collection, there’s still time to preserve your place in university history. Just complete our quick online survey today!
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After almost 10 years of honing her expertise in all aspects of university advancement, Lyndsey B. Crum is coming home. The 2005 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado will return to her alma mater as its Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations on September 15, combining her professional experience with her personal passion. By way of introduction to the UNC community at large, Lyndsey took some time to talk with us about her vision for the future of alumni engagement.

What can our graduates expect from their Alumni Association under your leadership?

Alumni should never stop having high expectations of their alma mater. That deep, personal relationship they had with the institution as a student should always be there for them as a graduate. That’s where UNC’s Office of Alumni Relations comes in—we’re here to serve as a dedicated reentry point where alumni can hook back into the life of the university in a way that makes sense for them: by keeping up on new developments, celebrating their personal accomplishments, or sharing their requests and concerns. 

In Alumni Relations, we have a continuing commitment to increase our graduates’ pride and the overall value of their degrees. I’m excited to facilitate both of these functions at my own alma mater, which I love so dearly.

Were there particular student experiences that really cemented your UNC pride?

A landmark moment for me was being recruited to attend UNC from Hawaii. I was a sophomore in high school, just starting to get serious about my college prospects when a recruiter visited one day and put a viewbook in front of me. I was immediately sold on the university, basically sight-unseen beyond the pages of that book.

I felt a personal connection with UNC from that initial contact all the way through my application process. From the friendly calls I received through the UNC Ambassador Program, to the stories shared with me by a friend’s older sibling about her wonderful UNC experience, all of these were enough to convince me that there was no other place I’d rather go for my education.

I believe this illustrates the awesome power alumni have when they share their stories. When you share your experience with us, not only are you reconnecting and building bridges with your fellow alums, you’re also reminding our students what it means to be a part of the UNC Community. It may even help a potential student make the decision to come to UNC, pursue a certain major, or just generally stick with their education. It’s also just plain fun! Any time that we can reinforce the value of our shared educational experience, we should take advantage of it.

What does it mean to you to be taking on this leadership position at such a historic moment as UNC celebrates its 125th anniversary?

UNC’s alumni community encompasses more than 125,000 graduates in the U.S. and around the world. And for 125 years theyour teachers, nurses, and other professionalshave been changing their communities for the better due in large part to their UNC education.

With the sheer number of people and length of time involved, it can be difficult to wrap your head around UNC’s true impact and yet we know that there is power in our community and our history. An alumni perspective helps us hone and focus our institution’s narrative, which is why we’ve invited all alumni to share their stories with us online. I’m thrilled to be part of a team that’s working to illuminate UNC’s 125 years of impact—not only on individual lives but also on our global community.

You’ve mentioned our responsibility to provide value to our alumni. What are some immediate steps you plan to take toward that goal?

First, it’s critical that we continue to provide value to the degree of every alum and that we help to transition students into post-graduation life. By partnering with Career Services to provide professional development programming, we’re taking advantage of a unique opportunity to play a vital role in the life of any alum.

The second area of importance is the academic partnership between the alumni office and the schools and colleges within the university. The heart of the university exists with our faculty and students—their expertise and vitality can extend beyond the classroom by adding value to the careers of our alumni. Our excellent new events series, Success Looks Like Me and Alumni College, are engineered to do just that. 

Finally, as a new face in this leadership position, I’m bringing one wide-open mind to the table. If you have ideas, concerns, stories, or thoughts on anything—the latest Bears game or Broncos game—I want to hear them. Email and social media are great ways to reach out, and you’re sure to see my smiling face at lots of upcoming events. Come up and say “hi” anytime!

Please join us in welcoming Lyndsey into this exciting leadership position! If you have a greeting, question, idea, or any other kind of message to share with our new AVP, please take advantage of the comment section below or send a quick email to alumni@unco.edu.

If you haven’t already added your UNC story to our 125th anniversary celebration collection, there’s still time to preserve your place in university history. Just complete our quick online survey today!

Alum Interview – NFL Player and Humanitarian Vincent Jackson

If you’re a fan of UNC athletics, then NFL wide receiver Vincent Jackson likely needs no introduction. This 2011 Athletics Hall of Famer left a lasting mark on our university’s record books—his pass receptions, receiving yards, and overall touchdowns have yet to be surpassed. An especially well-rounded athlete, he was named All-American twice in football and consistently performed as one of the top scorers on UNC’s basketball team.

But these athletic accomplishments only provide a portion of the picture—an exceptional student, Jackson was drawn to UNC in large part by the advanced learning resources available at the Monfort College of Business. Since establishing his career in the NFL, he’s successfully leveraged that business know-how toward a number of humanitarian causes including the operation of his own non-profit, Jackson in Action 83, an organization devoted to the support of military families.

When discussing these wide-ranging accomplishments, Jackson is quick to credit the teammates and mentors at UNC who never stopped challenging him to succeed, especially Football Head Coach Earnest Collins. 

“When I was being recruited he was still the defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator,” Jackson said. “I can still remember sitting with him in my parents’ living room—there was something different about him. He said he wanted to help me reach the next stage in my life and my career and when I arrived at UNC he followed through on that promise to a T.”

This support proved especially crucial as Jackson made his ultimate transition into the NFL. “I think going to a smaller university with such a tight sense of community gave me an edge in my journey,” said Jackson. “I was absolutely determined to make all the people who bled with and supported me proud by becoming one of the ‘unknown’ players to make a career in this league. My coaches at UNC gave me wisdom and my teammates created a very competitive environment. I had the tools I needed.”

Now in his 10th NFL season, Jackson is looked to as a veteran by his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates—he’s been elected a team captain twice and last year his peers nominated him for the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his charitable work with Jackson in Action. He credits his longevity in the league to the support of his family and colleagues as well as a consistently studious approach to the game.

“I always approach a new season like a rookie, having to earn my spot on the roster,” Jackson explained. “I work on the fundamentals, take notes, and do all the small things that have allowed me to find success.”

Regarding the Bucs’ prospects in 2014, Jackson is optimistic.

“With our new head coach, Lovie Smith, lots of new players, new uniforms, and the opportunity to play in one of the toughest divisions in the league, we’re all very excited,” Jackson said. “The goal for every team is a Super Bowl Championship and I believe we have what it takes to get there.”

As for life beyond the gridiron, Jackson is inspired by the warm reception his non-profit’s efforts have received over the course of its relatively brief, two-year lifespan. “We’ve coordinated surprise reunions, established reading programs for military schools, and even published our first children’s book with all proceeds benefitting further community outreach,” Jackson said.  “I plan to keep expanding on these efforts for years to come.”

For fellow Bears looking to make a similar impact in the non-profit sector, Jackson says finding a cause you can truly devote yourself to is essential.

“As someone who grew up a military brat, experiencing the many joys and obstacles that come with that lifestyle, I knew support of military families was a cause I could give my all to,” said Jackson. “Discovering that passion, that drive to leave your mark on a cause, is what’s going to keep driving you forward.”

Many thanks to Vincent Jackson for taking the time to share his insights with us. To learn more about his work with Jackson in Action 83, visit the organization’s homepage here.

Would you like to support the next generation of UNC student-athletes? Your gift of any size could make a world of difference for our talented competitors. Browse our full list of funds here.

UNC Football kicks off Saturday, 9/6 with a spectacular match-up against UNLV. See what the 2014-15 season has in store for the Bears by checking out their full schedule here. You can also score season tickets starting from just $60 here.

Photo courtesy of Jay Conner and the Tampa Tribune.

Alum Interview - Broadway Music Director Mike Ruckles

As a music director and vocal technician, Mike Ruckles (BME-02, MM-09) has made an impressive career helping top-tier vocalists and musicians give their best possible performances. This past theatrical season, his music direction helped carry the show A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder to a Tony win for Best Musical. As he continues to mold the next generation of Broadway stars through his expert instruction, he took some time to talk with us about his UNC experience and the passion required to succeed on the Great White Way.

What made UNC an attractive place to study and begin your career as a musical director and instructor?

As a singer and a classically trained pianist, I already knew that music was my goal, but I had no idea how that passion was going to focus itself over the course of my studies in college. So I chose UNC’s School of Music for its strong reputation and well-rounded approach to music education. Coming to UNC was ultimately a great choice because it allowed me to train as a singer while still exploring a broad spectrum of opportunities within the performing arts.

What were your most influential experiences at UNC?

I remember how thrilled I was to be accepted into Dr. Howard Skinner’s prestigious Concert Choir in my very first semester at UNC! At that time, in 1997, he was the interim President of the university in addition to all of his duties on the music faculty. It was through Dr. Skinner’s example that I truly began to understand what it takes to succeed in the performing arts: discipline, fire, perseverance, and a sense of humor about it all.

Every single choir rehearsal, I would ask myself: “How can he demand so much of us? And how can he give so much of himself?” I recall one particular rehearsal for the Verdi Requiem in which he took 20 minutes to go through the Latin text with us, phrase by phrase. He didn’t want us to just sing it; he wanted us to mean it.

He translated each phrase on the spot, talking here and there about the etymology of a certain word. He spoke with soft intensity, and the passion he felt for the text was palpable. You could cut the air with a knife! I remember looking across the classroom to find that we were all on the edge of our seats, many in tears. And then we sang like our lives depended on it. That was and is Howard Skinner, and I thank him for it every day.

Following graduation and your cross-country move to NYC, how did you go about establishing your career in the performing arts?

I’ve not been shy about reaching out to people in the industry whose work I admire. Once in a while I had a door shut in my face or an email left unanswered, but most of the time people were willing to help guide my way. I’m very grateful for that.

This is a tough business. The best advice I can offer to students and alumni pursuing a career in the performing arts would be this: If there’s anything else in the wide world you could imagine yourself doing that would bring you happiness, do that instead. But if music or theatre is the only thing that makes you jump out of bed in the morning, excited for what the day will bring, go for it and give it everything you’ve got.

You’ve taught music in some form or fashion since graduating from UNC. How would you describe your approach to musical instruction?

The fascinating thing about being a vocal technician is that each person who walks through the door brings a new puzzle, a new set of habits, balances, and imbalances to be evaluated. I can’t wait to get to the studio every day and explore.

I sometimes describe teaching as a wonderful game of Jenga! The truly exciting thing is to guide a client toward achieving balance in some area of their performance. Their singing becomes easier instantaneously because they are working with their body not against it. To see that new awareness become habit is the big payoff for a teacher.

And what do your responsibilities include as a Broadway music director?

A music director is in charge of all things musical relating to the production. We teach the music to the cast in the first week of rehearsal in great detail, and it’s our responsibility to continually help them refine their performances. We’re also in charge of rehearsing and conducting the orchestra. We are the ones in the orchestra pit night after night, maintaining the pace of the show and keeping up the high standards that were set on opening night.

With so much responsibility, it can be overwhelming at times, but for me the joy of working with musicians, singers, and actors who are all at the top of their game is worth all the work.

How were you brought in to provide music direction on A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder?

Prior to opening in New York we had two regional productions, first in Hartford and then in San Diego. I was brought onboard to music direct the second production at the Old Globe Theater. It was an enormous sacrifice to leave NYC and my wife and daughter for several months, but the opportunity to music direct at the most prestigious regional theater in America was just too good to pass up. There was hope we would move on to Broadway, but no one knew for sure at that point.

And how did you feel when Gentleman’s Guide was awarded the Tony for best musical?

I never would have dreamed it possible for my first Broadway show to win a Tony. I have always believed in this fantastic show from the start: it’s hilarious, it has a breathtaking score and a cast of extraordinary talents. However, we do not have a celebrity in the lead, nor are we based on a famous movie—the usual recipe for success on Broadway. It was likely that we might run for a few months and then close.

All of that made winning the Tony for Best Musical even more incredible. It gave me great hope for the future of Broadway—that producers will keep taking chances on great storytelling, great music, and substance over flash and spectacle.

Many thanks to Mike for taking the time to share his insights with us! If you’d like to see some examples of his musical collaborations at UNC, be sure to check out these performance videos.

If you’d like keep track of the latest happenings in UNC’s College of Performing and Visual Arts, you’re in luck! They’ve always got lots of interesting updates on their Facebook page AND they’ve just started their very own blog on Tumblr. 

If you’d like to give directly in support of the next generation of great performers at UNC, you’ll find many worthy funds on our giving page.

Photo courtesy of Ciara D’Anella Photography

Alum Interview - National Health Investors CEO Justin Hutchens

Like many people, Justin Hutchens (BS-95) found his passion in college. In his case it was the healthcare industry—a part-time gig at a Greeley care facility ignited his interest in human rehabilitative services which led to internships and eventually his first post-college job.

19 years, 3 states, and 6 companies later he’s moved up quite a bit in the industry as the CEO of National Health Investors. In fact, he’s been featured regularly alongside business leaders like Mark Zuckerberg on Forbes’s lists of America’s most powerful young CEOs.

A Colorado native who gradually worked his way up the corporate ladder, Hutchens has a healthy skepticism about “secrets to success.” From his experience, success is gradual—the result of consistent effort, taking on whatever level of responsibility you’re afforded and, of course, finding a field that excites you. In many ways, that path began at UNC.

“College is a great opportunity to discover what you’re truly passionate about,” said Hutchens. “One of the things that was so exciting to me about student life at UNC was that if you had a cause you wanted to take action on you could always find people who would be willing to jump right in alongside you.”

One such experience occurred when his future wife, Tiffani (BA-95, MA-97), recruited him to get involved in her campus chapter of Best Buddies—an organization dedicated to outreach work with local people with disabilities. Combined with his internships in an intermediate care facility and a special education classroom, the skills he’d learned in his coursework began to take on a new significance.

“I started finding opportunities to execute what I was learning in school to help individuals and organizations realize their full potential,” Hutchens explained. “That’s when the field became really exciting to me and it’s remained a focus ever since.”

As CEO of NHI, Hutchens develops multi-million dollar investment partnerships with long-term healthcare facilities to help them expand their services for an ever-growing senior population. Though he no longer works directly with the people being served by long-term healthcare, he takes satisfaction in developing the number of quality resources available to them.

“I’ve found it very important to make sure we’re doing business with companies who are in this industry for the right reasons and have long track records of successful operations,” said Hutchens. “It makes strong business sense and at the end of the day we feel like we’ve helped good providers serve even more people.”

As for the factors that have allowed him to achieve such a high position so early in his career, Hutchens gives much of the credit to his family—Tiffani and their two sons—for allowing him the flexibility to move wherever the next big job opportunity required. For fellow Bears who’d like to follow a similar trajectory in their professional life, his advice is straightforward: never stop learning. 

“Your college education is a great foundation and ideally you’ll have many opportunities to keep building on it throughout your career,” said Hutchens.  “Lifelong learning is critical to staying competitive—both personally and in the industry as a whole—so keep taking those chances wherever you can get them.”

Many thanks to Mr. Hutchens for taking the time to share his expertise with us! 

To learn more about the range of programs offered by UNC’s College of Natural & Health Sciences and read amazing stories from current students, click here. If you’d like to explore opportunities to support further NHS student success, click here.

Alum Interview - Public Artist Armando Silva
Artist Armando Silva (BA-10) is constantly creating work in new and unexpected places—from staggering murals on your local street corner to original performance videos online. Over the past three years, Armando has made quite a mark on and around campus. He’s the mastermind behind the gigantic, multi-colored bear that stands watch over runners and weightlifters in UNC’s Campus Recreation Center.
“When I first came to UNC, I was actually a business major,” Armando said. “But it started to dawn on me that my passion lie elsewhere—I couldn’t stop sketching in my notebooks during class. Then I came across an art show on campus and it finally clicked that I had a lot to offer with my creative work.”
From then on, Armando focused on his Visual Arts degree and tailored his UNC experience to make the most of the opportunity.
“At UNC was I was able to talk to my professors about perspective and about art as a product—the design and the layout—the piece as a whole. That’s a great conversation to be able to have with people who have real-world experience.”
As he drew on his instructors’ expertise, he started to find a sense of empowerment and self-determination in the creative process.
“In art, it’s not like anybody is telling you what to paint or how to paint it, that comes from within. What good instructors do is help you refine the tools and techniques you need to execute your vision. Then it’s up to you to bring that drive, passion, and purpose you need to make it all happen.” Armando said.
During his senior year, Armando got his first opportunity to carry out his vision on a massive scale when he won a mural design competition held by a local business. Now, Armando’s artistic influence is evident throughout the region—he’s been commissioned to create public works in support of Colorado flood recovery and was recently named director of Greeley’s downtown beautification initiative, the Artist Alley Project.
“I love doing public work because it fulfills a need in a community,” Armando said. “It’s more than just a painting on a wall. As I’m creating the work, I get to engage with the people around me and hopefully provide an experience that makes them see things in a new way.”
Recently, Armando has found new outlets for his creativity: public speaking and creative collaborations with video artists.
“I’ve decided to take advantage of who I am—I’m a Hispanic male artist, first generation, bilingual. These are all factors that give me a context in which to give back to the community. I have something to share.”
“I always say three things when I’m speaking about my profession:  you’ve got to love what you do; you’ve got to put in the work; you’ve got to show up. That’s how you discover your passion.”
UNC gave Armando that space and time to find his passion and he works everyday to get better at it.
“As a student in the arts, UNC was the best experience I could’ve had,” he said. “It was very organic; it was conversations; it was life. And I’m still discovering where this path is leading me. Maybe that’s the beauty of it.”
Many thanks to Armando for taking the time to share his insights with us! If you’d like to see more of his work and keep tabs on his upcoming projects, Armando’s website and Instagram account are great sources of information and inspiration. 
If you’re an artist interested in collaborating with Armando on the Artist Alley Project, you can contact him directly at artmandosilva@yahoo.com for more information on the application process.

Would you like to help foster the next generation of incredible UNC artists? You can give in support of visual arts students and many other worthy causes here.
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Canon EOS REBEL T3i

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1600

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Alum Interview - Public Artist Armando Silva

Artist Armando Silva (BA-10) is constantly creating work in new and unexpected places—from staggering murals on your local street corner to original performance videos online. Over the past three years, Armando has made quite a mark on and around campus. He’s the mastermind behind the gigantic, multi-colored bear that stands watch over runners and weightlifters in UNC’s Campus Recreation Center.

“When I first came to UNC, I was actually a business major,” Armando said. “But it started to dawn on me that my passion lie elsewhere—I couldn’t stop sketching in my notebooks during class. Then I came across an art show on campus and it finally clicked that I had a lot to offer with my creative work.”

From then on, Armando focused on his Visual Arts degree and tailored his UNC experience to make the most of the opportunity.

“At UNC was I was able to talk to my professors about perspective and about art as a product—the design and the layout—the piece as a whole. That’s a great conversation to be able to have with people who have real-world experience.”

As he drew on his instructors’ expertise, he started to find a sense of empowerment and self-determination in the creative process.

“In art, it’s not like anybody is telling you what to paint or how to paint it, that comes from within. What good instructors do is help you refine the tools and techniques you need to execute your vision. Then it’s up to you to bring that drive, passion, and purpose you need to make it all happen.” Armando said.

During his senior year, Armando got his first opportunity to carry out his vision on a massive scale when he won a mural design competition held by a local business. Now, Armando’s artistic influence is evident throughout the region—he’s been commissioned to create public works in support of Colorado flood recovery and was recently named director of Greeley’s downtown beautification initiative, the Artist Alley Project.

“I love doing public work because it fulfills a need in a community,” Armando said. “It’s more than just a painting on a wall. As I’m creating the work, I get to engage with the people around me and hopefully provide an experience that makes them see things in a new way.”

Recently, Armando has found new outlets for his creativity: public speaking and creative collaborations with video artists.

“I’ve decided to take advantage of who I am—I’m a Hispanic male artist, first generation, bilingual. These are all factors that give me a context in which to give back to the community. I have something to share.”

“I always say three things when I’m speaking about my profession:  you’ve got to love what you do; you’ve got to put in the work; you’ve got to show up. That’s how you discover your passion.”

UNC gave Armando that space and time to find his passion and he works everyday to get better at it.

“As a student in the arts, UNC was the best experience I could’ve had,” he said. “It was very organic; it was conversations; it was life. And I’m still discovering where this path is leading me. Maybe that’s the beauty of it.”

Many thanks to Armando for taking the time to share his insights with us! If you’d like to see more of his work and keep tabs on his upcoming projects, Armando’s website and Instagram account are great sources of information and inspiration. 

If you’re an artist interested in collaborating with Armando on the Artist Alley Project, you can contact him directly at artmandosilva@yahoo.com for more information on the application process.

Would you like to help foster the next generation of incredible UNC artists? You can give in support of visual arts students and many other worthy causes here.

Alum Interview - Entrepreneur and Educator Dave King
Like most entrepreneurial success stories, Triple Crown Sports was born out of a simple idea. Founders Dave (BA-81, MA-82) and Annette (Adams) King (BA-81) wanted to develop a high-quality sporting event that would be more than just a competition. It would be an unforgettable experience for everyone involved. 
This concept proved to be an incredibly popular one—what began with a single slow-pitch softball tournament in Meeker, Colo., has grown over the past 32 years into a portfolio of more than 300 events across the country with airplay on major networks like CBS Sports and ESPN. 
This fall, as Triple Crown prepares for the next big step in its development, King will be bringing his decades of CEO experience back to UNC’s campus as the instructor of a brand new course on the fundamentals of family-run business.
“I’m a development person,” said King. “It’s the coach in me. If I can equip someone with fundamental principles and repetitive behavior that will advance them toward their goals, I know I’m doing something worthwhile.”
That affinity for personal development is what drew King to UNC in 1977 to pursue his studies in recreation management. “I was a student-athlete and several schools were trying to recruit me for track, but only UNC offered the caliber of academic program I was looking for,” recalled King.
As part of his UNC curriculum, King secured a student internship with Grand Junction Parks & Recreation, a position that presented him with his first opportunity to oversee a national-level sports tournament. “That experience triggered several thought processes for me,” said King. “Two months later we were putting on our first Triple Crown event.”
Though Triple Crown has expanded far beyond its mom and pop origins, a supportive, distinctly familial ethos continues to characterize its day-to-day operations. Observant visitors may notice a map of the United States on his office wall—it has pins marking the location of every scholarship athlete he’s coached and advised through the college recruitment process over the past decade-and-a-half. There are more than 170 of them.
But family dynamics within the business world are not without their challenges, as King is quick to point out. Best practices for navigating the complex relationships that define a family business have been a continuous object of study for him since completing Harvard’s Executive Program in 2009.
“At least 70 percent of all businesses in the world are family-owned, passed from one generation to the next,” said King. “Without a strategic plan to maintain their structure during times of transition, it’s very rare that those businesses will simply luck into a smooth succession. That’s where you get power struggles and infighting—’Game of Thrones’ can be a surprisingly close point of comparison.”
Returning to UNC to share his years of expertise in family business with Monfort College of Business students is a crucial feature of King’s own succession plan—shifting his focus to the higher calling of education as he prepares to pass Triple Crown’s torch on to the next generation.
“I’ve been immersed in the psychological and strategic elements of sustainable family business for so long that I really feel I have some value to add to the curriculum,” explained King. “Experience also gives you the benefit of being able to help others learn from your past mistakes. The saying that’s served me best is, ‘If you weren’t humbled today, you will be tomorrow—so it’s best just to remain humble.’” 
Many thanks to Mr. King for taking the time to share his insights with us!
Are you looking to expand your professional skill set? In addition to Mr. King’s new course, the Monfort College of Business is launching its MBA program this fall. It’s an exciting new program designed to suit the busy schedules of working professionals. You can get more info here. 
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Canon EOS REBEL T3i

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400

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Alum Interview - Entrepreneur and Educator Dave King

Like most entrepreneurial success stories, Triple Crown Sports was born out of a simple idea. Founders Dave (BA-81, MA-82) and Annette (Adams) King (BA-81) wanted to develop a high-quality sporting event that would be more than just a competition. It would be an unforgettable experience for everyone involved. 

This concept proved to be an incredibly popular one—what began with a single slow-pitch softball tournament in Meeker, Colo., has grown over the past 32 years into a portfolio of more than 300 events across the country with airplay on major networks like CBS Sports and ESPN. 

This fall, as Triple Crown prepares for the next big step in its development, King will be bringing his decades of CEO experience back to UNC’s campus as the instructor of a brand new course on the fundamentals of family-run business.

“I’m a development person,” said King. “It’s the coach in me. If I can equip someone with fundamental principles and repetitive behavior that will advance them toward their goals, I know I’m doing something worthwhile.”

That affinity for personal development is what drew King to UNC in 1977 to pursue his studies in recreation management. “I was a student-athlete and several schools were trying to recruit me for track, but only UNC offered the caliber of academic program I was looking for,” recalled King.

As part of his UNC curriculum, King secured a student internship with Grand Junction Parks & Recreation, a position that presented him with his first opportunity to oversee a national-level sports tournament. “That experience triggered several thought processes for me,” said King. “Two months later we were putting on our first Triple Crown event.”

Though Triple Crown has expanded far beyond its mom and pop origins, a supportive, distinctly familial ethos continues to characterize its day-to-day operations. Observant visitors may notice a map of the United States on his office wall—it has pins marking the location of every scholarship athlete he’s coached and advised through the college recruitment process over the past decade-and-a-half. There are more than 170 of them.

But family dynamics within the business world are not without their challenges, as King is quick to point out. Best practices for navigating the complex relationships that define a family business have been a continuous object of study for him since completing Harvard’s Executive Program in 2009.

“At least 70 percent of all businesses in the world are family-owned, passed from one generation to the next,” said King. “Without a strategic plan to maintain their structure during times of transition, it’s very rare that those businesses will simply luck into a smooth succession. That’s where you get power struggles and infighting—’Game of Thrones’ can be a surprisingly close point of comparison.”

Returning to UNC to share his years of expertise in family business with Monfort College of Business students is a crucial feature of King’s own succession plan—shifting his focus to the higher calling of education as he prepares to pass Triple Crown’s torch on to the next generation.

“I’ve been immersed in the psychological and strategic elements of sustainable family business for so long that I really feel I have some value to add to the curriculum,” explained King. “Experience also gives you the benefit of being able to help others learn from your past mistakes. The saying that’s served me best is, ‘If you weren’t humbled today, you will be tomorrow—so it’s best just to remain humble.’” 

Many thanks to Mr. King for taking the time to share his insights with us!

Are you looking to expand your professional skill set? In addition to Mr. King’s new course, the Monfort College of Business is launching its MBA program this fall. It’s an exciting new program designed to suit the busy schedules of working professionals. You can get more info here

Alum Interview - Award-Winning Educator Jessica Cooney

Since second grade, Jessica Cooney (BA-99) never had any doubt that she wanted to be a teacher. But when the Colorado Department of Education named her their 2014 Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Educator of the Year, she was genuinely surprised—and honored.

To be recognized for doing what I love, for fulfilling my passion, is truly humbling,” said Cooney, a driving force behind Greeley District 6’s Newcomer Program which helps equip non-native English speakers with the skills they need to succeed in the public school system.

Cooney manages a classroom where 13 different languages are spoken. Her students come from all over the world—Burma, Kenya, Mexico—and from many different backgrounds. 

“The first thing I work on with each new group is consistency: establishing routines and clear expectations,” said Cooney of her award-winning teaching practice. “My students may be approaching their education from very different perspectives and levels of experience, but they always know what to expect when they walk through my door.”

Cooney’s path toward creating this unique learning environment began as an undergraduate at UNC. Drawn in by the reputation of the School of Teacher Education, she attained her ESL endorsement and discovered a deep passion for language learning. “The experience of acquiring a new language as I earned my Spanish minor made me excited about the prospect of teaching language to other people,” Cooney said. 

For Cooney, culturally and linguistically diverse education means empowering her students to teach others about their native language and cultural identity. To that end she founded El Teatro, a student-led theater troupe that’s toured across the country acting out stories from performers’ real-life experiences as first-generation Americans. 

In 2011, El Teatro’s activities caught the attention of Professor of Hispanic Studies and Director of Engagement Deborah Romero who began collaborating with Cooney to turn her students’ narratives into a series of self-published books. “The students write and edit their own stories and, with the help of UNC undergrads, learn how to create layouts and edit photos to essentially produce the book themselves,” explained Cooney. 

Having built up so many unique programs and earned the recognition of her professional peers across the state, Cooney says it’s the positive feedback from students and their families that keeps her excited about coming to work every day.

“Sometimes it comes from the kid you’d least expect to hear it from, someone you had to push really hard,” said Cooney. “But then I’ll receive a message from them saying, ‘Thank you for believing in me enough to hold me to those high standards. Because of you I learned English. Because of you I went to college.’ That’s when I know I’m succeeding in my work.”

Many thanks to Jessica for taking the time to share her insights with us! If you’d like to see samples from her students’ self-published stories, click here.

Speaking of culturally and linguistically diverse learning experiences, some incredible study abroad photos are being shared in our #BearsGo photo gallery on Facebook. Go here to see Bears around the world expressing their UNC pride and submit your own photo today. 

Photo courtesy of Greeley Unexpected.