Saturday, January 3, 2015


Auraria Higher Education Campus in the foreground
alongside Downtown Denver
“Metro.” Short for Metropolitan State College. That’s what it was called when I attended in the 70s. There was some confusion with a college in Minnesota — I think. So the phrase “of Denver” was added in 1990.

Most recently the name was updated after a long and tortuous process to the very predictable “Metropolitan State University of Denver.” Although the school only offers Master’s degrees in a relatively small number of disciplines, the administration was anxious to move from “college” to “university” status.

In fall 2010, the university began offering master's programs in teacher education and accounting, with social work to begin in fall 2011. On April 18, 2012, Metro State achieved university status. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper approved the changing of the name of Metropolitan State College of Denver to Metropolitan State University of Denver, effective July 2012.

It is a relatively new school, established in 1965 by the state legislature. The decidedly non-traditional college was originally teaching from classrooms located throughout downtown Denver in office buildings and rented space. It was during this time period that I attended. I went part-time, at night, and took seven years to complete my degree. I typically took one class at a time, so getting from classroom to classroom was not as much of an issue for me as finding parking. I don’t know how full-time students were able to get from class to class quickly, since they could be blocks, if not over a mile apart.

The founding concept of Metro was that people from all walks of life could have a chance at a college education. By design, Metro State is required to be accessible to all, which is why it consistently has some of the lowest tuitions of four-year Colorado colleges and universities. Approximately a third of the student body are students of color. MSU Denver was the first university to allow DREAMers to have a chance at higher education. It made national headlines.

It was partially due to this openness, that I first started attending there. Upon arrival in Colorado after I got out of the Navy, I applied for admission to the University of Colorado in Boulder. Due to my very poor grades in my first year at the Montana School of Mines, I was denied admission. The counselor recommended I go over to Metro and raise my GPA before reapplying. Metro, by charter, had to accept all Colorado High School graduates, regardless of grades, and apparently that loose admissions policy applied to me too.

Upon enrolling at Metro, I found a school that had small class sizes, was focused on teaching and students rather than research and publications, and that typically had professors who worked directly in industry. The student body was quite different too. The average age was in the late twenties, if I recall correctly, which was years older than the average age at Colorado’s leading universities. I remember a talk by a UC professor who referred to her students as "kids." They weren't kids at Metro

There were no fraternities or sororities, no organized sports, and no dormitories. The average student was employed and often married and raising a family. The focus was on getting a good education rather than the party-hardy reputation of CU.

In 1976, while I was still in school, the Auraria Higher Education Campus was established. This added a unique location for Metro on the new Auraria Campus, an educational facility located next to downtown Denver. The campus houses facilities of three separate universities and colleges: the University of Colorado Denver (UCD), Community College of Denver, and Metropolitan State University of Denver. They share certain facilities such as gyms, library, student union, medical facilities, and parking.

The campus also houses Auraria Higher Education Center, the administrative body that handles parking, maintenance, and janitorial services. The campus is located southwest of downtown, on the east side of the South Platte River and south of Cherry Creek, near the site of the original Auraria mining camp settlement of 1859. To this day, new buildings are still being constructed. A four-star hotel was recently added where students in the service industry curriculum take practical classes in the state-of-the-art kitchen and hotel facilities.

The Auraria Campus is also home to Tivoli Union, a former brewery that dates back to the 1870s. It now goes by the name Tivoli Student Union, serving as a lounge and cafeteria, and housing a significant number of student organizations for all three schools. The 9th Street Park borders the Campus to the west, housing community outreach programs, academic departments, and other campus offices as well as a fast-food restaurant in the Mercantile building.

When I first enrolled in Metro, they evaluated my previous college and military training, and gave me 36 credits, primarily for my Navy electronics training. At that time the requirement for a Bachelor’s degree was something like 132 credits. Even though I got considerable credit for my previous studies, they required me to take a total of 158 credits to graduate. On a positive note, they didn’t make me retake some basic electronics courses. I started out as a sophomore.

(All these numbers are from memories that are over 40 years old. I may have a few mistakes in those values. Plus the school converted from quarter credits to semester credits during my enrollment, which changed everything. My point is that, even though I got a lot of transfer credits, they required I take additional classes. I guess that was good for them. They got paid for all those courses. But it was good for me too, I suppose. I took a lot of different and varied classes to get that B.S. degree.)

Another reason I needed so many credits to graduate was because I sort of “started over” in the mathematics area, taking a non-credit "Introduction to College Algebra" and "Introduction to College Trigonometry." Many schools these days give credit for these classes which, in my day, were called “bone head” courses and were non-credit.

It was a good move, however, as I was then able to succeed nicely in "Introductory Calculus" and other following math classes.

When I first started at Metro, it was a quarter-based system. Each term was ten weeks in length and the fourth “quarter” was a summer term. Part way through my attendance, they switched to semester measure with fifteen week terms. All my credits were adjusted accordingly. One issue with semesters is that the summer term is often shortened and accelerated. Since, with only one exception, I took the summers off, that didn’t matter to me and it was easier to plan two semesters rather then try to get the required classes in a three-quarter schedule.

I needed the summer break from studying, working, and raising a family. I would often take a long vacation during these months. The one exception was the summer I took Physics. It didn't go well due to the accelerated pace, I got behind in the work, and I had to take a short vacation in the mountains that I studied about twelve hours a day for a long weekend to recover. I ended up getting an A, but it was touch and go for a while there. I never tried another summer class.

As I approached graduation, I had completed most of my major and minor requirements, and just needed a bunch of liberal arts and general studies classes to finish. I took a leave of absence from work and took 22 semester hours, full-time. (Actually a heck of a lot more than full-time, which was 16 hours.)

It was a lot easier to complete that heavy schedule without the distractions of work. Linda was a great help at home and I actually breezed through that final term. I got straight A’s in all my classes except one. I got a B in a one-credit course that was a preliminary to the final keystone course called “Senior Project.” So my final GPA was 3.97, and I graduated Summa Cum Laude. Not bad for a guy that couldn't get admitted to CU due to bad grades!

When I first started at Metro, I was teaching at the Electronics Technical Institute (ETI) in Denver. My first professor at Metro was Mel Capehart. He did not have a Ph.D., only a Master’s in Electronics Engineering, yet he was the department head. A dedicated teacher, he had been the Technical Director (top teacher) at ETI before I worked there. I didn’t work for him at ETI since he was a bit before my time, but he knew who I was. I was very impressed with his teaching style and preparation, and it had a lot to do with how I taught after that experience.

I had him several more times and most significant were the insights he gave me into Fourier’s Transform methods. He also taught me that an instructor needs to prepare for three hours for every hour of lecture. He focused on deriving equations rather than memorizing them. All ideas that have served me well since then. And you students thought studying was hard. Teachers often study harder.

I told Mel that I had tried to get into CU and was advised to go to Metro to raise my GPA and then come back. I told him I had liked it at Metro and I stayed and graduated. Years later, he told me that he had used that story a hundred times when talking to prospective students, and that I was more famous than I realized, although I doubt he had used my full name. Still it was nice to have a professor of that caliber talking about me!

After I received my Master’s Degree a couple of years later from the University of Colorado, he hired me to teach at Metro. My formal title was “Adjunct Instructor,” and I taught at Metro for about three years part-time while working for IBM in Disk Drive Engineering. Mostly I taught Digital Engineering and Circuit Design, a subject I enjoyed greatly. I still have all the class notes and considered, at one time, writing a text book.

After joining IBM’s Technical Education in 1985, I resigned from Metro, only to be asked back to represent IBM on Metro’s "Industry Advisory Council." In that position I made recommendations on curriculum and other technical matters for their School of Technology and was a member of that committee into the twenty-first century. While there I worked on accreditation by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA). Also the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree program accreditation by ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. We dealt with graduation requirements, new courses and programs, capital equipment budgets, and issues such as women in engineering. It was always pleasant to return to the Metro campus to deal with these scholastic concerns.

With that background, you can see that it was a rather special experience last month when I sat in the same great hall in the Denver Convention Center that I had graduated from some forty years earlier and watched my son receive his Bachelor’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics. (Dietetics is the health field that focuses on the interaction between nutrition and health. Not to be confused with the book by L. Ron Hubbard.)

The program for that graduation listed Mel Capehart as professor emeritus. He has recently died. I hadn’t seen him for the last fifteen or so years, and I was sad to learn of his passing. So much of my teaching style and professional success was directly related to his mentoring.

And how is Metro doing these days? Well, it was a difficult time as they tried to chose a new name. Research showed that the term “Metropolitan” was the most important part of the school’s name and reputation as an open school for non traditional students. “Denver” was the next most important part of the name since it is located in downtown. Including both of the those words in the title reduced the possible names.

In addition, the University of Denver wanted to maintain clear name recognition and fought against such titles as “Denver State University” as too confusing. So "MSU of Denver" was finally chosen. Only after this decision did the administration realize that MSUD is already a known acronym for Maple Syrup Urine Disease. (And you thought you had problems at work.) With such a long name, a good abbreviation is welcome. "MSU of Denver" seems to have won out.

So MSU of Denver it is. Again, how are they doing these days? Splendidly. As of 2009, the institution had the second-largest enrollment of undergraduates of any college in Colorado. With 56 majors and 82 minors, the university is noted for a wide array of liberal arts and science programs as well as teacher education, business, aviation, and criminal justice programs. Metro State has an enrollment of over 23,000 students.

With a beautiful campus right next door to the high rising building of the core of Denver, it is the first choice of many Coloradans looking to improve themselves with education and job training. Located in downtown Denver, adjacent to Speer Boulevard and Colfax Avenue, it is convenient for those who split time between college and work.

Although still focused on education and teaching, athletics has been added to the school. Metro State's women's soccer team won the Division II National Championship in 2004 and 2006; the men's basketball team won the Division II National Championship in 2000 and 2002.

There are a couple of fraternities and several sororities on campus, but it is still a school focused on opportunity and study for serious and mature students. It is a school where honor societies outnumber fraternities and sororities and a campus with the most diverse population of any school in Colorado with 32.8% of the student body persons of color, of the full-time faculty members, 23 percent are professors of color, and an average student body age of 26. Forty-one percent of the students attend full time.

This diversity is accompanied by true excellence in education.

  • Top teachers, top rankings and top programs make MSU Denver a top leader among colleges and universities in Colorado.
  • MSU Denver Professor Ann Williams was named a U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
  • MSU Denver is No. 50 on Military Times' list of the nation’s "Best Colleges for Veterans."
  • U.S. News & World Report ranked MSU Denver 23rd among regional colleges in the West.
  • A $60 million Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building will bring together aerospace science and aviation; physics; industrial design; civil, mechanical and electrical engineering technology; and computer science. More than 2,000 students are enrolled in these disciplines.
  • MSU Denver has the second-largest teacher-preparation program in Colorado.
  • The award-winning Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center provides hands-on learning opportunities for students studying Hospitality, Tourism, and Events.
  • MSU Denver boasts a 90 percent pass rate for its accelerated nursing program graduates taking the National Council Licensure Exam. The national rate is 82 percent.

While I went on to graduate with Master’s degrees from both the University of Colorado and, most recently, the University of Denver, Metro has been and continues to be the school I’m the most fond of. I find myself going back to the campus on a regular basis to photograph the modern new buildings as well as the repurposed historical buildings on 9th street and the Tivoli Brewery now converted to the AHEC Student Center.

And now that it is my younger son's alma mater, that only increases my regard for this institution. It is possible that my niece will move to Colorado and attend their nursing program. Metro continues to be a major part of my life, and that makes me glad. I really like the place and recommend it highly.

With its central location, Metro and the associated schools continue to be a hub of downtown Denver life as well as scholarship. If you're ever in Denver, check them out.

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