Five questions for Lisa Douglas

CU South Denver vice chancellor building community connections

Five questions for Lisa Douglas

Lisa Douglas

A little over one year ago, Lisa Douglas took on a big role at CU South Denver, the new university location designed to appeal to residents in the area as well as employers and other professionals interested in continuing education opportunities. As vice chancellor, Douglas said she has “the unique opportunity to oversee the launch of an exciting enterprise within CU that has tremendous potential in the thriving south metro region of Denver.”

CU South Denver includes the Liniger Building, The Wildlife Experience and 14 adjoining acres east of Interstate 25 on Lincoln Avenue in Douglas County. It was a gift from Dave and Gail Liniger and their family; before the donation, the university had leased space in the building.

Douglas is involved with all aspects of the enterprise, from developing academic strategies to reaching out to the community to overseeing daily operations. Her first year in the role, she said, has been “fascinating.”

She also is the chief financial officer for the CU Denver campus. “These are two big roles for one person, but actually they fit very well together,” she said. “CU South Denver is owned by the CU system, but has delegated management of it to the CU Denver campus. Being CFO for the Denver campus keeps me very connected with the CU Denver leadership and deans, the CFOs of the other campuses, and the CU system offices. I think having both roles has helped CU South Denver not become isolated, which can be a risk with new initiatives.”

Douglas has been with the university since 2011 in the role of associate vice chancellor for budget and finance at CU Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus. Before that, she served as budget director and senior director of operations and finance for the Colorado Medicaid department and as the deputy budget director for Gov. Bill Ritter. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing and was a mental health nurse for almost 10 years before working her way into management. The “management duties required strong budgeting skills” and led her to the state roles, and will serve her well at CU South Denver.

Five questions for Lisa Douglas

“Any new ‘business’ is under pressure to perform strongly,” she said. “CU knew that trying to run a museum, event rental space and community events would be a financial challenge. Adding a new location where all CU campuses can offer courses is also a financial challenge. It has been very helpful to have a background in financial management in order to balance the need for investment with good stewardship of university funds.”

CU South Denver does not receive its own tuition, which goes to the CU campus that initiated the course or program.

“We are thankful for the president’s support during this startup period with one-time reserves, and CU Denver | Anschutz has contributed significant ongoing funds to the success of CU South Denver. UCCS and Boulder pay rent to use the space for course offerings, and all four campuses contribute their expertise to many programs.” 

1. What are the top priorities that have been set for CU South Denver?

CU South Denver is a wonderful opportunity that can bring all the campuses in the CU system together.  Already we offer a bachelor’s degree in nursing, two MBAs aimed at different student populations, certificates in various studies to help the working professional tailor his/her career, and a master of arts degree in political science. Our goals are:

  • To develop a CU presence through professional development courses, degrees and certificates for working professionals,
  • To encourage current CU students to take convenient courses near where they live, and help future students begin a CU degree,
  • To engage the local community and build upon existing connections through creative events, education, and museum programming, and
  • To support all of CU by being a resource for community learning, higher education, and space needs in south Denver for all four campuses.

Think about it. It all works together: The community connections are a pipeline to a CU education and our CU partners can help us reach a larger community to participate in our activities.

We definitely want to grow on the academic side, especially through full program degrees and certificates. We have an advisory group called the Collaboration Committee that is composed of representatives from all the campuses. We facilitate the course offerings and make sure the scheduling is correct and classes are complementary. We do this so we aren’t just offering random courses. In addition, we’ve been working with our contacts in the business community to help them identify what they want for their professional development. Currently, some of these businesses are sending their MBA students to the University of Denver and we want them to be aware that we offer MBAs to different types of professionals in their own backyard. Right now, we are in the middle of identifying what types of programs they want and taking those to the campuses and the schools to design class scheduling that works for our community partners.

2. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and triumphs you experienced on the way in the past year?

We have been blessed to hire many of the experienced staff of The Wildlife Experience, and to attract experienced CU leaders to be a part of our effective team. Those individuals include Sam Moreno, Maureen Durkin, Joann Brennan and Sondra Meyer, who come from different paths of CU experience.  It has been a joy for us to share our program development with the Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Anschutz campuses. These collaborations have helped to mitigate our startup challenges. We are grateful to all the schools and colleges for their partnership, and continue to invite ideas and initiatives that have growth potential at CU South Denver. We have been challenged by some patrons thinking that The Wildlife Experience has closed, but the marketing directors across CU have been a huge support. 

3. How does the museum fit into the plans for CU South Denver? 

This time of year is a busy time for The Wildlife Experience and CU South Denver. We are focused on holiday programming for the next few weeks. We are your family’s destination for fun this holiday break with movies and events for all ages throughout December. Some events/programs include:

  • Borderlands, a beautiful museum exhibit through the end of December explores the effect of the United States-Mexico border wall on the wildlife and ecosystems in the area.
  • Family Fun Days, a collaboration with CU Boulder’s Museum of Natural History and Fiske Planetarium, on Dec. 19 will focus on creating holiday crafts and gifts using the natural world and human culture for inspiration.
  • Adult visitors are able to see “Christmas Vacation” on two evenings in December. The event includes appetizers and drinks.  
  • The Frozen Winter Ball for families on Dec. 19 features music, dancing, activities, a snack and hot chocolate, a photo opportunity with a live princess, and includes the classic movie “Frozen” on the big screen.
  • Breakfast with Santa is one of our biggest events, and is scheduled for Dec. 19, 23 and 24.

Other upcoming programs include regular outdoor activities such as archery and astronomy; a new film series in 2016 that includes post-film discussions with public radio film critic and University of Colorado Denver faculty member Howie Movshovitz; and a series of wilderness medicine-focused classes and lectures in partnership with the University of Colorado School of Medicine Division of Wilderness and Emergency Medicine.  

4. How has CU South Denver reached out to introduce itself to the surrounding community?

We have made many friends in the south Denver community and are continually working on this critical outreach every day. The South Denver Economic Development Partnership has been very helpful in our efforts to connect with others in the region, and we are active in the South Metro Denver Chamber. We have made presentations at the Lone Tree City Council, met with the Arapahoe County and Douglas County commissioners, attended countless networking events, and we have introduced ourselves to many of the businesses in the south Denver area. Schools and colleges have sponsored “launch” events for CU programs to help community members understand new courses. Merrick & Company, whose headquarters is in Greenwood Village, reports that that there are more engineers per capita in the south Denver corridor than anywhere else in the United States, which suggests there is a big opportunity for CU, especially because of its strength in engineering across campuses. Our chancellors, deans and CU campuses have all been involved in many of these outreach opportunities.

5. Away from your duties at CU, what are some activities that you enjoy?

Five Questions for Lisa Douglas

One of the reasons I was so excited to work at The Wildlife Experience is my own love of the outdoors, travel and the wilderness. I have backpacked solo in Alaska, the Canyonlands, Zion, Big Bend, the Cascades, Death Valley, the Maroon Bells, the Grand Canyon and even the swamps of the Everglades.

In January, I have a trip planned to the rugged and remote Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, Arizona's second-largest canyon (after the Grand Canyon). Almost all of the wilderness area is only accessible by foot. I’ve hiked in the desert dozens of times and I tried to pick somewhere that is remote enough that I’m less likely to see anyone else the whole time. I research to find areas to get that backcountry, secluded experience.

When I am not in the backcountry, I am usually training to get there, typically by hiking with my husband, Bob, and boxer dog Ky, or you might find me eating Mexican food. I also summited my 19th fourteener this year, most done solo. The most beautiful one I’ve done is Handies Peak in the San Juans. It’s doable for the average hiker but has some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen on any fourteener.

Five questions for Lisa Douglas
Lisa Douglas at Mount Elbert earlier this year.

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