CU Innovation and Efficiency Awards celebrate ‘Aha!’ moments

Ideas from across the system to be featured at May expo
By Staff

“Aha!” moments happen everywhere, at all times of the day. Always enlightening, they’re frequently channeled into ideas that take hold and grow into bigger things. And, it’s especially nice when those moments lead to prizes.

This is where the CU Innovation and Efficiency Awards come in. The program is here to recognize all those “Aha!” moments and reward some of them with cash prizes. As we approach the end of the 2019 program year, which saw 20 very worthy submissions overall, we’d like to thank all who participated and extend some recognition to our 10 semi-finalists who will go on to compete for cash prizes totaling $5,500.

All semi-finalists will be showcased and award winners will be announced during an expo from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 7 at system administration offices, 1800 Grant St., Denver.

UCCS came on strong this year, contributing eight submissions. Three made the finals and all are geared toward easing orientation and registration processes for new students. Hailey Santonastaso, UCCS orientation program coordinator, had her “Aha!” moment when she noticed the “attachment” new students had to their smartphones. Working with Nick Lockwood, director of orientation and new student outreach, Santonastaso identified a mobile app that could be downloaded to phones to assist new students with the orientation process by providing valuable resources and guidance (schedules, campus maps, event information, etc.) at their fingertips.

Lockwood also played a key role in another UCCS submission designed to ease the student orientation and registration process. When the laptops that were used for student orientation and registration reached the end of their useful lives, it was apparent that new technology was needed to improve the registration experience for new students. The laptops were not only bulky and difficult to transport across campus, but also were slow and required intensive maintenance. Lockwood teamed with Greg Williams, OIT director of operations, and Koroush Iranpanah, IT professional, to research available technology and find solutions (Chromebooks) that addressed all these issues and resulted in significant time and money savings.

Elsewhere on the new student experience front, Wellness Center employees Melissa Kuykendall and Chrissie Bailey recognized the need to improve the paper-driven process of collecting student immunization records. By using Medicat software that allowed students to directly upload those records, Kuykendall and Bailey reduced both administrative burden and paper waste, resulting in cost savings and an easier, more convenient method of records collection for staff and students.

Other “Aha!” moments leading to successful and innovative new processes were:

Using Commercial Paper to Fund Construction Projects – A team from Treasury consisting of Treasurer Dan Wilson, Associate Treasurer Charles Cook and Associate Director of Treasury Michelle Travis realized that they could reduce the dollar amount and cost of long-term borrowings by taking advantage of commercial paper (short-term, low-interest notes) to fund the initial phases of construction.

In-House Research Center – Research and academic scholarship are important criteria for promotion of early career clinical faculty, but they are often neglected as these faculty struggle to meet heavy clinical obligations. With the support of Douglas Novins, M.D., director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, employees of the Department of Psychiatry – including Merlin Ariefdjohan, Emmaly Perks and Melissa Sinclair – established an in-house research support center, staffed with qualified research personnel who can assist early career clinical faculty with their research needs. This benefits the university by allowing these faculty members to focus more time on scholarly research.

Asset Inventory Management System – A team consisting of CU Denver’s Thomas Johnston and system administration’s Cal Anderson, Bradley Rieke and Linda Warren joined forces to develop a previously unused PeopleSoft module to create a consistent and efficient centralized asset inventory management system that can be used across all CU campuses. The system resulted in significant time-savings for all aspects of inventory management, plus improved employee satisfaction.

CU Non-Employee Reimbursements – The laborious, paper-driven process of creating reimbursements for non-employees who perform work for the university was overhauled when system employees from the Office of University Controller, UIS and the Procurement Service Center (Cal Anderson, Linda Warren, Adam Rodriguez and Jaime Mendez) collaborated to merge functionalities in PeopleSoft and Concur and automate this process, resulting in faster reimbursements and reduced administrative burden.

Student Hunger and Homelessness Initiatives – Kudos to Coby Wikselaar, Kelly Stritzinger and Tony Robinson from the CU Denver political science department for recognizing that hunger and homelessness affect some students at CU Denver and the Auraria Campus, and for implementing initiatives aimed at identifying and alleviating these issues in an effort to promote student well-being, retention and success.

Autoclave Program for Managing Biohazardous Waste – Denise Donnelly and Mark Garcia from the biological waste management team at CU Anschutz brainstormed to design and implement a program where biohazardous waste is treated using existing campus autoclaves, rather than using a more expensive outside vendor to pick up and transport this waste for treatment. This new program saves money, improves safety and reduces the negative environmental impact of transporting and dumping large amounts of biohazardous waste.

Green Darkroom: Creating a Modern Photography Lab – In other sustainability news, Mariana Vieira, a laboratory coordinator on the CU Boulder campus, recognized the costs and negative environmental effects of chemical waste and excessive water usage in the Visual Arts Complex photography lab, and re-engineered processes to reduce those impacts by using different chemical solutions and installing water regulators on the faucets.

Other participant ideas submitted this year ranged from improving landscape maintenance at UCCS by adding mulch kits to mowers, to creating an international internship program that uses the experiences and relationships of former CU students (rather than outside vendors) to create a more memorable and meaningful internship program for current students.

All semi-finalists will be showcased and award winners will be announced during an expo from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 7 at system administration offices, 1800 Grant St., Denver. Everyone is welcome to attend, but until then, we encourage you to check out the 2019 submissions at, and the finalist videos at

Maybe these will inspire an “Aha!” moment of your own.