University of Denver gets largest-ever alumni gift from a billionaire for new mountain campus
Starting as early as next year, University of Denver students will get the chance to learn, grow and experience Colorado’s wilderness on a new mountain campus two hours northwest of Denver.
The private institution announced Tuesday it has purchased 724 acres of land in Larimer County, adjacent to Roosevelt National Forest. The new James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus is named after DU alumnus Kennedy, who donated $26 million to purchase the land and run year-round programming for all students and faculty.
Kennedy is chairman of the board of Cox Enterprises, one of the largest TV cable providers in the United States. In the late 1970s, Kennedy was named the publisher of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel before becoming chairman of the board at Cox, a company his grandfather started. Forbes puts Kennedy’s net worth at over $9 billion.
The centerpiece of the DU mountain campus project will be a week-long immersive experience for all incoming freshmen and transfer students early in their first year. The rest of the year it will be used for faculty-led research projects for students interested in sustainability and the environmental sciences or ethics and diversity, equity and inclusion – or outdoor experiences and leadership building for staff.
“By the time they graduate, every DU undergraduate and graduate student will have had the opportunity to learn and grow at this remarkable place,” said DU chancellor Jeremy Haefner.
He said some projects may include working with mountain communities.
The 8,000 foot-elevation property was formerly the Magic Sky Ranch, land owned and used by the Girl Scouts of Colorado primarily as a summer camp. That organization will continue to lease a portion of the site for its camps for six weeks each summer. DU officials said they spent 18 months looking for a location for the campus and considered more than 40 sites before settling on the ranch outside of Red Feather Lakes. They paid $11.25 million for it, according to a DU press release.
In addition to purchasing the land, DU says it commissioned an archeological study that revealed Indigenous people lived on the land there at least 9,000 years ago. It also revealed a Indigenous burial site there dating to that period. The university says it is working with experts and Indigenous partners to further study the site and monitor cultural impacts on the land as it further develops and builds.
The university plans to build freshman orientation programming inspired by Colorado Outward Bound, focusing on team building and leadership skills through rock climbing, ropes courses, hiking and other outdoor activities.
DU says it hopes to have students on the campus by 2022.
The experiences tie in with the university’s adoption of the “four-dimensional experience” — a structure for teaching to the whole student in four areas — advancing intellectual growth, preparing for careers and lives of purpose, promoting well-being and exploring character.
“It’s in those last two dimensions where we feel strongly that the mountain campus can really accelerate the development of our students — get them excited about thinking about their wellness, and also get them reflecting on their character,” Haefner said.
DU officials say the new campus will be funded entirely through philanthropy and will not add additional fees or costs to students and their families. They said they hope to raise another $20 million to support the mountain campus in the coming years.
The university described Kennedy as an avid outdoorsman with a long-held commitment to conservation, sustainability and education. He graduated with a degree in business administration from the University of Denver and previously served as chairman of the Colorado Division of Wildlife Commission.
“It’s a different kind of classroom being outdoors, especially for students who haven’t spent much time experiencing nature. The hope is that they will develop a deeper commitment to preserving our environment,” Kennedy said in a statement.
Chancellor Haefner said that when Kennedy was a student at DU he fell in love with the outdoors and became the quintessential outdoorsman.
“He wants that same experience, he wants that same awakening to the outdoors in every student that comes to the University of Denver.”
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