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George Junne stands in front of Dearfield.

    A Peek Into UNC Professors’ Work on Campus

    There is no shortage of good work being done on UNC’s campus. Learn more about a handful of professors taking their classes to the next level.

    On any given day, there are many interesting courses being taught on the University of Northern Colorado’s campus. Yet those who have graduated might not know what professors are teaching and specializing in, and students may not know what is happening in different degree programs. With so many professors, and staff members for that matter, doing incredible work on campus, here is a look into the impact a handful of professors are making right here in Greeley. 

    Milan Larson, Ph.D.            

    Having lived and worked in Colorado for 10 years, Milan Larson, Ph.D., was itching to get back after spending three years pursuing his doctorate at a university in Nebraska. Having enjoyed living in Windsor, it was only natural to consider applying to work at the University of Northern Colorado.       

    “Obviously, you try to do your homework on where you might go to work,” said Larson, “So, when I started rolling up my sleeves to apply for this position, I was just blown away by the college and the quality program it provided its students.” 

    When he was offered a faculty position at UNC’s Monfort College of Business (MCB), it was a natural fit. 

    Now, as an associate professor of Management and the assistant dean of undergraduate programs for MCB, Larson said making an impact is what it’s all about. 

    The longer Larson stays at UNC, the more his insight and involvement in the university grows. Having served on several committees since arriving at UNC, his role as the assistant dean has drawn him into more university-wide committees, including the Undergraduate Council that he now chairs, as well as a member of Faculty Senate. 

    In addition to his other duties, Larson teaches Human Resources Management. In fact, when the department decided to create a pathway to earn a Human Resources Management certificate, Larson wrote the curriculum to best serve students. 

    At the end of the day, what Larson strives to do is have the largest, positive impact on as many students as he can. It’s one of the most distinguishable qualities about Larson that makes it easy to see why so many students appreciate the effect he and his teaching has had on their lives. 

    “It’s hard to think of just one or two favorite memories, instead I've got a favorite category of memories which is seeing students succeed,” said Larson, “I've got all kinds of thank you notes in my desk drawer from former students that came unsolicited. Those notes are some of my biggest rewards... they’re why I do what I do.” 

    Speaking with Larson, the emotion he feels reminiscing on these notes from former students is palpable.  

     Suzette Youngs and Christine Kyser, Ed.D. '14.           

    Christine Kyser, Ed.D. '14, lived in Glenwood Springs when she enrolled in the Education Doctorate program at UNC. As a second-year student, her graduate assistant supervisor was Professor of Literacy Education Suzette Youngs.  Since their first lunch meeting in the summer of 2011, much has transpired. Kyser is now an assistant professor in UNC’s School of Teacher Education and together with Youngs, the two have built a strong history of collaboration focused on efforts to support future educators, both in high school and college.  

    Their goal — to equip students to be the best teachers they can be — served as inspiration for UNC’s Future Teacher Conference. Now in its ninth year, the conference is a statewide signature event for the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences. 

    Starting with the teacher cadet honors program for high school students, Youngs and Kyser created a conference where students could come and listen to keynote speakers, participate in workshops and learn about a range of different topics relevant to education. The conference started with 50 students attending, it quickly grew to more than 500 students. This past February, the conference saw its highest attendance to date with 589 students. 

    Youngs and Kyser have been researching the impact of the Future Teacher Conference with the teacher cadet students who attend. Emphasizing the need to ensure the experience continues to be valuable for attendees, Youngs and Kyser are always looking for ways to push the envelope and reinvent aspects to better support the students attending. 

    “We're running some focus groups about their experience,” said Kyser. “[Speaking to] students that attended the conference as high school students or community college students, and what kind of tipped them over the edge to pursue education or come to UNC.” 

    At this point, with nearly a decade of conferences under their belts, Youngs and Kyser are starting to see things come full circle. Soon, they will be able to invite teachers to come back and speak at the conference who attended as high school students, earned degrees from UNC and have started teaching. It opens an entirely new opportunity for the pair to learn from those who have grown beyond the conference into professional teachers. 

    George Junne  

    When Professor of Africana Studies George Junne began teaching at UNC 30 years ago, he had never heard of Dearfield. Now, Dearfield has become a defining point in Junne’s career and an important piece of history. 

    When Junne was registering his car at the DMV in Denver, the clerk asked if he knew about Dearfield. From that conversation, Junne’s awareness of and interest in the abandoned Black homesteading colony located east of Greeley along Highway 34 only grew.  

    Over the years, Junne and his archaeological and history cohorts have learned more about Dearfield from primary sources than many others could ever dream of.  

    As the community’s awareness of Dearfield grew, more and more people came forward having collected priceless historical documents from the site. 

    “I was talking about Dearfield to a class, and afterwards a student came up to me and said ‘my father was driving past Dearfield years ago and saw a cardboard box out there in the field, so she picked it up. It’s in the attic,’ ” said Junne.  

    As it turned out, the cardboard box was filled with letters from O.T. Jackson, the founder of Dearfield, and other primary sources.  

    There have even been people who have come forward to connect Junne with grandparents who lived at Dearfield.  

    The farming colony was hugely successful until the Dust Bowl hit. When the rain stopped, the colony lost the industry that supported it. 

    “Dearfield is a prime example, to me, of what African Americans could do in the time when the Ku Klux Klan was on the rise in Denver,” said Junne, “These people got up and worked their butts off, and they succeeded in a fantastic farming community.” 

    Over the years, Junne has taken busloads of students and other interested Coloradans — and even German tourists — to the historic site of Dearfield. Junne has even witnessed children he brought to Dearfield come back and present their research of Dearfield later in life. 

    The work that Junne has done on Dearfield has paved the way for increased national awareness to the point that it is now being considered by the National Parks Service for incorporation into the parks system. 

    Kim Clay                                             

    Associate Professor of Dance Kim Clay has always been a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to dance 

    As a child, she wanted to do all types of dances rather than specialize in one. Even when presented with an opportunity to pursue ballet, she was determined to continue doing all types of dances. Her versatility is part of what makes her a perfect fit for her position at UNC. 

    Teaching dance of all styles at UNC for the past seven years, Clay continues her passion while helping students find theirs. The most rewarding aspect of her work comes when students make a breakthrough, she sees a lightbulb go off while they dance. 

    “I feel successful as a teacher, I feel that I explained it in a way that it made sense to them and that they were able to connect their mind to their body and then they were able to feel successful in that moment,” said Clay. 

    For Clay, one of her most successful moments on a personal level came just weeks ago as her students took to the stage to perform Seussical, a musical comedy based on the children's stories by Dr. Seuss. 

    “I choreographed 18 numbers, I believe,” said Clay. “I am feeling so proud of myself for the accomplishment of this mainstage musical. I think in the last seven years, this musical is probably my biggest accomplishment choreographically.” 

    For Clay and many professors, the joy in their work most frequently comes from seeing their students succeed. It’s a rare and welcome occurrence when they get to experience a defining achievement alongside their student’s success on stage.

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