Half a Century of Family Ties: Vicki Spencer’s CU Denver Story

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Vicki Spencer

My family’s relationship with CU Denver spans half a century. My mother took extension classes at the old Tramway Building in the late ’40s  to the early ’50s where she learned stenography and accounting. I remember driving downtown with my father in our ’49 Mercury to pick her up after class. She didn’t get a degree because she took a job at the Air Force Accounting and Finance Center and was too busy working and raising a family. After my first year at Lake Forest College, I came home for the summer of 1970. I always loved school and, rather than being bored, I took a few literature classes. I will never forget how much I enjoyed reading the Satires of Juvenal. The courses influenced my decision several years later when I changed my major from chemistry to ancient and medieval civilization.

I returned to Denver after graduating in 1973 and took more courses while staying home with an infant. Later, I was able to take classes because I could put my son in childcare in a trailer parked along Lawrence Street. My family continued our strong ties to the university when my husband was hired as the first director of the Asian American Educational Opportunity Program. Then, in 1985, I was hired in the Office of Sponsored Programs where I started a career in research administration and technology transfer. I enjoyed helping faculty get grant funding and was especially proud to have helped obtain the first patent for our campus. When I worked at CU Denver, my office was in the Dravo building which was built on the site of my very first job as a teenager.

A girlfriend and I had worked in the Aspen Skiwear sewing factory. I was good at sewing straight lines and was assigned to making collars. She sewed sleeves. We learned our first lesson in labor relations when our supervisor pulled us aside after a couple weeks to let us know we were working too fast. We were paid for piecework, and if we continued to sew faster than others, it would raise the bar for everyone’s performance. Anyone who couldn’t keep up could lose their job. So, we learned to adjust our pace to the standard. In addition to my administrative job, I had the pleasure of teaching a few courses to international students, which gave me an opportunity to use my International Studies MA.

One of my most exciting experiences was getting a grant funded for a Wilderness Leadership Program. International students, who might never had had the opportunity to go to the mountains, got to spend a few weeks near Vail. They enjoyed hiking, camping, rock climbing, and rafting while learning leadership skills. After 12 years in Sponsored Programs, I transferred to the Health Sciences Center for a position that offered flexibility to work in sponsored programs and it fulfilled an internship requirement for law school. The university was a huge part of my life, and I will always have fond memories of the time spent with colleagues and students on the Auraria Higher Education Campus. —Vicki Spencer

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