I serve as the Executive Director in the University of Denver’s Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL). I hold a Bachelor of Science with majors in Biomedical Sciences and Environmental Studies. I also hold MS and PhD degrees in social aspects of natural resources. My prior research has focused on environmental communication, specifically urban residents interactions with city greenspaces. Through a citizen-based volunteer ecological restoration program, I explored issues of social capital, collaboration, communication and emotional motivations for volunteerism. I also have experience in informal education programming, group communication, public relations, and feminist theories of discourse.
Through my role in CCESL, I support faculty, staff and students in their community-engaged work – collaborating with the community through the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity - to live out the university's public good vision. I lead trainings, manage internal engagement grants, and provide consultation to faculty through the center's community-engaged learning and scholarship initiatives. I also provide oversight of all of the Center's student programs. In addition to supporting the campus community, I also teach university courses using service learning pedagogy and participate in community-engaged research.
Cultivating an Interdisciplinary Scholar - My Winding Path
I have been trained as an interdisciplinary scholar. It began with my bachelor’s degree with two majors (Biomedical Sciences and Environmental Studies) and two minors (Chemistry and Art) at Western Michigan University. I pursued projects that allowed me to explore the intersections of these fields such as the chemical processes involved in textile dyeing or creating my own original drawings/paintings to accompany my scientific posters. My broad major in environmental studies allowed me to explore topics as diverse as economics, anthropology, and biology from an environmental perspective. I completed honors research using the Tanapoxvirus as an undergraduate in Dr. Karim Essani's lab under the tutelage of his post-doctoral fellows at the time.
Upon graduation I sought an internship with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC). While at WMEAC, I attended public meetings between concerned residents and EPA and DNR scientists from the state and federal government working on the Kalamazoo River Superfund site. My job was to report back to our constituents on the progress of cleanup activities. As a keen observer of the communication divide between scientists and the general public, I became fascinated with how we communicate complex scientific information, especially as it impacts the lives of local residents. This experience brought me to Colorado State University’s Human Dimensions of Natural Resources department to pursue my graduate studies in environmental communication.
As a graduate student, I served as the Education Program Coordinator for Colorado State University’s Environmental Learning Center (ELC). To fulfill my MS degree, I created a weeklong unit on invasive plant species that included field trips to the ELC. I partnered with two high school teachers who provided their classes as participants in the project. I compared teaching pedagogies, traditional and constructivist, to see which would have the greatest impact on student learning, perceptions, and engagement with the content. My thesis was titled “Enhancing Environmental Knowledge: An Active Approach to Environmental Education with High School Students.”
For my PhD I was interested in exploring the oft overlooked role of urban green spaces impact on residents. My dissertation, "A Case Study of Social Capital and Collaboration as a Communication Process in an Urban Community-Based Ecological Restoration Project," allowed me the opportunity to further explore my growing interest in becoming an interdisciplinary scholar by drawing upon literature in fields as diverse as urban planning, psychology, anthropology, ecological restoration, communication studies, journalism, natural resource management and more. My experience working with a collaborative of nonprofit nature-based agencies, botanic gardens, and government entities to complete this project led to a widening interest in the role of community engagement in higher education. I began to cultivate my own learning by pursuing trainings and workshops that would allow me to employ community-engaged methods in my teaching, research, and service.
Always a learner, upon completion of my PhD I continued my studies by pursing coursework toward a certificate in Gender & Women’s Studies. I also sought out service activities including working as an advocate on CSU’s Victim Assistance Team, and with the Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center in Larimer County and the SuperGirls! Program at the Boys & Girls Club. Thus, I have a keen interest in feminist theories of discourse, including ecofeminism.
In 2017 I founded the Campus-City Partnerships for Public Engagement group at DU, which works collaboratively with residents, nonprofits, and city agencies to amplify community voices in public policy and planning. Our current Green Justice Initiatives, including the Valverde Movement Project and the Sand Creek Regional Greenway project, aim to practice community-engaged, place-based, environmental justice research, in a way that cultivates contextual understanding, reciprocal relationships, and collective power, so that we can work with diverse players to co-create a region where all people and nature thrive.
My interdisciplinary lens is reflected in the broad range of teaching, service, and other scholarly activities I have pursued, as evidenced in this portfolio.
University of Denver
2055 E. Evans Ave., Suite 1100
Denver, CO 80208