By taking an oath on Friday at the Capitol, Irene Griego will do more than become the newest member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents: She’ll enjoy a homecoming.
Her career in education – 38 years as a teacher, principal, administrator and university instructor – took root at CU. She earned her bachelor’s degree at CU-Boulder and doctorate at CU Denver, with a master’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado in between.
Asked about memories of her time on CU’s campuses, her list is long: “the excitement of learning; professional growth experiences; educational challenges; stimulating, engaging conversations with professors and colleagues; pride and sense of accomplishment; and the university culture in general.”
The director for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Jefferson County Public Schools, Griego was chosen by Gov. John Hickenlooper to take the place of Monisha Merchant, who resigned from the Board of Regents this fall. Griego’s resume includes a decade as community superintendent for the Jeffco school district; she also worked as part-time faculty at CU Denver and Metropolitan State College of Denver; principal and assistant principal at elementary schools in Jefferson County, Denver and San Jose, Calif.; and teacher in Denver Public Schools.
Griego’s husband, Albert Aguayo, earned a bachelor’s degree and doctorate from CU-Boulder; they have three children and six grandchildren. She enjoys photography, travel, yoga and genealogy.
“My late father fought in North Africa, Sicily and Germany during World War II. He was one of the first soldiers to arrive at the infamous concentration camp Dachau,” she says. “My mother, who turned 90 on Tuesday, is immensely proud of my being appointed to the board.
“Life is good! There is no other country in the world that would have provided me with so many opportunities and challenges.”
1. What made you interested in serving on the CU Board of Regents?
As a lifelong resident of Colorado and a graduate of CU, my professional credentials are an initial basis for my interest in serving. Those credentials – including education, from the bachelor of science degree through a doctorate in philosophy – have allowed me to serve in public education as a classroom teacher, elementary school principal, community superintendent, instructor for aspiring school administrators and in a post-retirement responsibility for Jeffco Schools as director of diversity and inclusion. Such service gives me a unique perspective of education – pre-K through college – and how such opportunities are made available to communities with distinct demographics.
When the governor appointed me, it was a positive yet humbling experience, since I am certain that there were other worthy candidates who would appreciate the opportunity to work with the other regents and President Bruce Benson on collaborative efforts to address the many needs of CU’s stakeholders. I look forward to such opportunities!
2. As you said, you have held many different posts in public schools. What do you see as the common thread connecting your experiences in those various roles?
Organizations are constantly changing systems of people. The common thread of my involvement in such a dynamic change process has been, and will continue to be, my commitment to the organization and to those involved in the many collaborative efforts, but most importantly to help provide opportunity and equal access to those served by a given organization.
3. How do you see your expertise in K-12 education influencing your perspective as a regent?
Education is the miracle machine of our society. Many of us make up the human element responsible for the effective and efficient operation of such a machine. It is my belief that I bring a “where the rubber meets the road” perspective to my appointment as a regent. I understand diversity, inclusion, academic performance of resilient and diverse student populations, and the hopes and aspirations of youth who seek post-secondary opportunities. Equally important is my experiential understanding of the performance of teachers educated at the university level and the skills they must demonstrate to effectively serve students.
4. You mentioned your work at Jeffco on diversity and inclusion. In the context of higher education, how do you define those principles?
Higher education must strengthen its efforts to provide equity and equal access to all students, no matter if they are rich or poor, whether they’re disabled, and regardless of sexual orientation, gender, religion and ethnicity. This should be the focus of diversity.
In terms of inclusion, higher education must support schools in emerging efforts to include students in meaningful, responsible opportunities that will support an organization’s mission, vision and major goals so students can become contributing members of our society.
5. It’s only been days, but what have you learned about the University of Colorado that you didn’t know before you were appointed to the Board of Regents?
Several critical needs: improve fundraising; budgetary challenges; seeing CU from a broader perspective; the need for collaborative thinking to provide new approaches for CU; and the important need to work as a team given challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.