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2021 Year in Review

The past year has been a cautious reemergence into a world still churning from the effects of a pandemic. Despite the uncertainty and changes of living with COVID-19, our university community continued to rise to the challenge in 2021, including successfully navigating a full return to in-person learning and events this past fall. 

The past year has been a cautious reemergence into a world still churning from the effects of a pandemic. Despite the uncertainty and changes of living with COVID-19, our university community continued to rise to the challenge in 2021, including successfully navigating a full return to in-person learning and events this past fall. 

In addition, the university ended the year in a strong financial position with a cash balance of $56.5 million, an increase of $6.2 million from FY20 results, and $14.0 million more than FY19. These positive results indicate the resilience and responsiveness of UNC to the significant challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The commitment to strengthening UNC’s fiscal health in support of strategic initiatives continues in FY22 with first quarter updates forecasting growth in the end-of-year cash position for the fourth consecutive year.  

Listed below are some of the achievements and progress UNC students, faculty, staff and community members have made in 2021, including a collection of photos throughout the year: 

Student Honors and Achievements 

  • Emmy Scott, a senior double-majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and Business Administration Management, and grant coordinator for UNC’s Student LEAF organization, was awarded a $5,000 scholarship for winning first place in Clearway Community Solar's 2020 Essay Contest Scholarship. Her essay titled, "Crisis! The Relationship between COVID-19 and Climate Change," that looks at how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted climate-change efforts.

  • Graduate students Michelle Delgado, Lisa Colon, Stephanie Halvorson and Leah Brunner, from the Colorado School of Public Health’s Master of Public Health program at UNC, shared their experiences working on the frontline of the pandemic as COVID-19 case investigators. 

  • Undergraduate students Jamal Blassingale, Halaki Gionet, Davis Johnson and Emmy Scott from UNC’s Monfort College of Business won first place honors at the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative’s ninth annual Collegiate Program Case Competition.

  • Karina Sanchez, a Biological Education Ph.D. candidate at UNC was awarded a $20,000 American Dissertation Fellowship award from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), an organization that promotes education and equity for women and girls.

  • While the COVID-19 pandemic continued to pose challenges throughout 2021, graduates were able to celebrate their achievements by walking across the stage to receive their degrees in both the spring and fall commencement ceremonies; an opportunity 2020 graduates missed out on due to COVID-19 restrictions. Here, several of the 914 undergraduate and graduate students who are graduating this fall share their stories
    • As of Dec. 8, 914 students will graduate this fall with 566 earning bachelor’s degrees and 348 earning either a master’s, doctoral or specialist degree. The fall 2021 degrees will be conferred in January 2022. 
    • There were approximately 1,900 spring and summer graduates in 2021, with around 1,300 earning bachelor’s degrees and 600 earning either a master’s, doctoral or specialist degree. The spring graduates were joined by approximately 200 of UNC’s 2020 graduates, noted by their gold mortarboards, who were unable to enjoy in-person ceremonies the previous year. 
    • Altogether, UNC celebrated a total of over 2,814 graduates in the combined 2021 ceremonies (1,866 undergraduates and 948 graduates). 

Research, Scholarship and Creative Works 

Faculty and students were recognized for important work and achievements in their fields with honors, awards and grants:  

  • Faculty received over $8 million in grants in 2021. 
  • The Office of Undergraduate Research awarded just over $48,000 in funding to 58 students over the year, including 17 students who are participating in the new Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program. OUR supported an additional nine students attending the virtual National Conference on Undergraduate Research, with presentations ranging from food insecurity and demand during climate change to the use of rattlesnake venom to treat disease.  
  • David Slykhuis, Ph.D., assistant dean of UNC’s College of Natural Health Sciences and director of the Math and Science Teaching Institute, was one of four individuals who received the 2021 Edward C. Pomeroy Award for Outstanding Contributions to Teacher Education from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Slykhuis was recognized for his work in helping to develop the Teacher Educator Technology Competencies, a framework for integrating technology across an entire teacher preparation program, so that teacher candidates see technology in context and integrated into their practicum experiences.  
  • David Lerach, Ph.D., an associate professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at UNC was awarded a Fulbright Scholar Award and will travel to Italy in the spring and summer of 2022 to work with the University of Trento through the Department of Civil Environmental and Mechanical Engineering in the program of Environmental Meteorology. There, he will study how pollution in the northern Italian Alps may impact precipitation patterns across the region, specifically how much precipitation falls, where it falls and whether it’s being shifted between different watersheds.
  • Karen Barton, a professor in the Geography, GIS and Sustainability department at UNC, was awarded her seventh Fulbright Award and traveled to Mexico this past summer to explore the cultural geographic connections between Africa and Mexico. This latest project was an extension of the research she’s been conducting over the past five years in West Africa. 
  • UNC Professor of Africana Studies George Junne, Ph.D., and Professor Emeritus and Research Fellow of Anthropology Robert Brunswig, Ph.D., helped UNC secure a $497,776 grant from the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights Grant Program. The grant will help fund rehabilitation efforts at the African American townsite of Dearfield.  
  • UNC’s Department of American Sign Language and Interpreting Studies was awarded over $3 million from the U.S. Department of Education and the Colorado Commission for Deaf, Hard of Hearing and DeafBlind to focus on filling key gaps interpreter services, particularly in rural areas and educational settings. 

Strategic Planning

  • UNC has made significant progress in the discovery phase of becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). An HSI Task Force has been formed, informative presentations across campus have been given and a new website, unco.edu/hsi, was created as an outlet for additional details about the initiative. UNC’s Hispanic/Latinx undergraduate population in fall 2021 is 24.2%. An institution must reach the 25% threshold before applying for HSI status.  
  • To better prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion goals across the university, a division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion was formed in fall 2021. Tobias Guzmán, who served as chief diversity officer and interim vice president of Student Affairs, was promoted to vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to oversee this critical work. Guzmán is a UNC graduate who has worked at the university for over 20 years. Prior to assuming the role of interim vice president for Student Affairs, he was associate vice president of Student Affairs. Under his leadership, the division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has also implemented DEI trainings for employees and processes to ensure the university utilizes equitable hiring practices.  
  • In support of the vision element “Innovate and Create,” the University of Northern Colorado is moving forward with its exploration of creating an osteopathic medical school, a not-for-profit enterprise within the university. With dramatic population growth in Colorado and an aging physician population, a new medical school would provide the state of Colorado with additional physicians to provide high-level care to our communities. 
  • UNC continues to make investments in its people and physical spaces on campus, including a planned significant upgrade to the student experience. Through a new partnership with Sodexo, a global food service and facilities management company, UNC will have more local and diverse retail options on campus. This will result in the modernization of the lower level of the University Center, enhance retail service options across campus and create improvements to Tobey Kendel and the overall dining experience.  
  • Significant work has been done to begin addressing employee compensation in support of the “Enhance and Invest” vision element. In March, the Faculty Senate approved the adoption of a new NCHEMS group of 51 peer institutions as UNC’s salary compensation group. Over several months, the Salary Equity Committee has also conducted a broader examination of compensation issues in support of the development of a university compensation plan. Findings from the committee’s work were presented to the Board of Trustees at UNC’s November Finance and Audit Committee meeting. UNC also completed a pay equity study and distributed salary increases to address pay equity discrepancies in April. 
  • Phase 1 also articulated several tasks associated with establishing an infrastructure and setting a foundation for a supportive culture of career-long professional development for faculty and staff. Several achievements have been made in support of this goal. Human Resources has implemented LinkedIn Learning with a library of more than 2,000 professional development course offerings. Additionally, UNC’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) has established an advisory group to collect input and better support professional development related to instructional design.

Academic Programming and Planning 

  • This year, UNC welcomed a new interim provost, new deans and a new executive director:   
    • Lisa Vollendorf, Ph.D., interim provost and chief academic officer 
    • Jared Stallones, Ph.D. dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences   
    • Cristina Goletti, dean of the College of Performing and Visual Arts  
    • Kamel Haddad, Ph.D., dean of the College of Natural and Health Sciences 
    • Arte Libunao, executive director of Extended Campus 
  • After a year that saw the temporary closure of campus and the move to hybrid and online-only courses, UNC returned to a full schedule of in-person courses for the fall 2021 semester, restoring activities and events that allowed students to enjoy experiential learning, campus life and community engagement opportunities. 
  • After three years of working with the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) and the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), the Colorado State Board of Education voted unanimously to fully reauthorize UNC’s Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education programs. 

Community, Alumni and Donor Engagement 

  • To date in 2021, UNC’s donors made 6,386 individual gifts, contributing more than $8.5 million in philanthropic support to UNC.
  • Alumni and friends generously supported students through 1,940 donor-funded scholarships awarded in fiscal year 2021, providing over $4.1million in financial aid to students. 

  • UNC became the first publicly funded institution of higher education in Colorado to be designated as an All-Steinway School thanks to donor funds that purchased 96 new Steinway & Sons pianos. The new pianos were placed in Frasier Hall, Campus Commons and Milne Auditorium.   
  • This spring, UNC broke ground on the new Empower Center, a $4 million donor-funded sports performance building. The state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot stand-alone building will support nearly 400 student-athletes as they train to compete and represent UNC while pursuing their athletic aspirations. The project is nearing completion, with a February 2022 expected opening.

  • UNC was selected  as a recipient of a $850,000 Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) Back to Work grant. The funding will provide new career paths for workers displaced by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic while also addressing the need for teachers in Colorado’s classrooms. UNC will use the funding for “wrap-around” student support services, outreach and recruitment efforts, to expand their innovative Center for Urban Education (CUE) program. 
  • UNC alumni returned to campus to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Stryker Institute for Leadership Development, a program that has engaged more than 500 students through the generosity of UNC alumna Ronda Stryker.   

  • UNC announces that donors have generously invested nearly $1 million in scholarships and program support to advance the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

  • UNC expanded community engagement to include sponsorships for District 6’s Back to School Kick off, Friday Fest pep rally with the Pride of the Rockies Marching Band, and Bear Country branded signs at alumni owned businesses and households, and updated signate along 8th Avenue.  
  • Students connected with alumni professionals to build their network and gain industry and insight during a series of virtual career panels, discussing diverse identities at work, international careers, careers in government and other career readiness topics.  
  • For the ninth year in a row, UNC was honored with Tree Campus USA recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation for its commitment to effective urban forest management. Currently, there are 392 campuses across the U.S. with this recognition, and UNC is one of seven Colorado colleges and universities with the designation, which it has achieved annually since 2012.


  • Kristen Mattio, a native of Nashville, TN and former head coach at West Texas A&M, was hired as UNC’s Women's Basketball coach.  
  • UNC President Andy Feinstein was appointed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Board of Directors. 
  • Facing one of the most challenging and adversity-ridden years in recent memory with a global pandemic, Northern Colorado student-athletes rose to the occasion by setting an all-time best 3.33 cumulative GPA after yet another stellar semester in the classroom. Across the spring semester, the Bears boasted a term GPA of 3.41, accounting for its 17th-straight straight semester above 3.00. All 17 programs achieved a GPA of 3.00 or better.  
  • For the fifth consecutive year, Northern Colorado Athletics leads the Big Sky in Graduation Success Rate (GSR). The NCAA released the most recent GSR reports on Thursday for the freshman cohorts from 2011-12 to 2014-15. Four programs—men's cross country, men’s track and field, women’s golf and women’s volleyball--had a perfect mark of 100%.  
  • Women’s Volleyball won both the Big Sky Regular Season and Tournament title. UNC went on to its sixth NCAA Tournament playing against Washington State in the first round. 
  • Women’s Soccer won their first outright Big Sky championship in 2021. Head Coach Tim Barrera earned the Big Sky Coach of the Year award for it while Lexi Pulley won the Golden Boot and Offensive MVP award. Maddie Duren was named the conference’s Defensive MVP.  

2021 in Pictures

Snowy UNC campus

January — Snow kicks off the spring semester as students return to class in a hybrid model.


March — The College of Performing and Visual Arts received a total of 96 new Steinway & Sons pianos, with most of them arriving in December of 2018, sealing the School of Music’s All-Steinway School status.

MCB Daniels Fund Winners

April  — Four UNC students from the Monfort College of Business earned first place honors at the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative's ninth annual Collegiate Program Case Competition. Pictured are students Jamal Blassingale, Halaki Gionet, Davis Johnson and Emmy Scott, along with Keiko Krahnke, professor of Management at UNC.

Empowerment Center Groundbreaking

April —UNC students celebrate breaking ground on the new Empower Center, a $4 million, entirely donor-funded sports performance building.

Solidarity Community Gathering

April — UNC students, faculty and staff came together to attend a Bears in Solidarity community gathering following the guilty verdict in the George Floyd murder trial.

May commencement

May — UNC celebrated spring 2021 commencement in-person as more than 1,900 graduates earned their degrees. Approximately 200 of UNC's 2020 graduates (wearing gold mortarboards) joined the ceremonies, an opportunity they missed out on the year before due to the pandemic.

COVID-19 vaccine

May — UNC's Student Health Center (SHC) hosted a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on campus the first week of May. It was one of 34 clinics hosted by the SHC in 2021 that provided 1,449 vaccinations. The SHC also helped coordinate additional clinics, including the availability of the state's mobile COVID-19 vaccination bus. In total there were 59 clinics on campus in 2021 providing 4,373 COVID-19 and flu vaccinations.

Flippin Flapjacks

August — President Feinstein hosted a new event — 'Flippin' Flapjacks with President Feinstein' — to welcome new students for the fall semester.


August — Students celebrated school pride during UNC's convocation, which traditionally kicks off each new academic year.

UNC Drag Bingo

August — The Office of Student Engagement and the Gender the Sexuality Resource Center hosted a night of Drag Queen Bingo and performances from UNC alumni Soña Rita & Zimmorah Mei (pictured above).

UNC State of the University

September — UNC Student Body President Enrique Benavidez speaks at the State of the University Address where UNC's togetherness and growth was highlighted. 

Stryker Institute Event

September — Alumna and Stryker Scholar from the 2014 cohort Azanet Rodriguez performs during the 20th Anniversary of the Stryker Institute for Leadership Development.

September Friday Fest

September — UNC and the Greeley Downtown Development Authority teamed up to host a fall welcome and pep rally in downtown Greeley.

UNC vs. CU football

September — After 650 days without UNC football, the team, accompanied by head coach Ed McCaffrey, returned to the field against CU.

UNC Career Fair

October — Approximately 80+ employers and graduate schools recruited UNC students for full-time jobs, part-time jobs and internships in the University Center.

El Movimiento

October — The Libraries exhibit, El Movimiento: The Chicano Movement in Colorado, immersed visitors in the urgency, passion and vitality of one of the state's most important social movements.


October — UNC's Homecoming traditions returned to an in-person week-long event of celebration and Bear pride.

Menorah Lighting

November — UNC celebrated the second night of Hanukkah with the return of lighting the Menorah.

Painting the Tunnel

November — Students participated in 'UNC United: Connecting Through Color', a mural event designed to clean and uniquely paint the campus tunnel.

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