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2020 Year in Review at UNC

The year 2020 has been marked by a number of unprecedented events taking shape around the world. Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact many areas of society including higher education. Despite the impacts, UNC’s campus community members continued to work on research, scholarship and creative works; strategic planning; academic programming; community, alumni and donor engagement; diversity, equity and inclusion; and athletics.

The year 2020 has been marked by a number of unprecedented events taking shape around the world. Despite the impacts, the University of Northern Colorado’s campus community members continued to work on research, scholarship and creative works; strategic planning; academic programming; community, alumni and donor engagement; diversity, equity and inclusion; and athletics.

Listed are some of the achievements and progress UNC has made over the past year: 

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 research grants totaling nearly $6 million during 2020. 
  • The Office of Undergraduate Research awarded nearly $50,000 in funding to 44 students over the year including 21 undergraduate students this fall who worked on a range of important subjects from trauma and depression among Latinx college students to the impact of climate change on food markets in the U.S. 
  • Eric Thorin and Greg Gisbertfaculty in the School of Music at UNC, were announced as 2021 Grammy nominees earlier this week. 
  • UNC’s Patrick Burns, Ph.D., a professor of Biological Sciences, and James Haughian, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Biological Sciences, received a four-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study how feeding beef and dairy cattle omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil results in increased pregnancy rates. Results from the research could mean millions in cost-savings for the beef and dairy industries, which trickles down to cost-savings for consumers, as well as provide insight into dietary effects on reproductive processes in women.

  • Governor Jared Polis announced the first round of Response, Innovation, and Student Equity (RISE) Fund awardees, including UNC, that received nearly $2.4 million for a partnership with Weld County District 6 to improve kindergarten readiness for children with disabilities. 

  • Professor of Psychological Sciences Thomas Dunn helped the state of Colorado in developing health care plans during the pandemic as he served on Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment committees to create crisis standards as a resource for hospitals and emergency medical services. 
  • The National Science Foundation awarded Assistant Professor Chelsie Romulo, Ph.D., and Professor Steven Anderson, Ph.D., a $1.077 million grant to improve teaching in college-level environmental science courses.  
  • The Active Schools Institute at UNC received two grants totaling $125,000 from the Colorado Department of Education to improve the quality of physical education and physical activity opportunities for K-12 students in Colorado. 
  • Jill Bezyak, Ph.D., professor of Human Rehabilitative Services and program coordinator for the Rehabilitation Counseling program, received a five-year, $958,778 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase the number of qualified vocational rehabilitation counselors who serve individuals with disabilities.  
  • UNC Professors William Merchant and Stephen Wright received approval for second year of funding, totaling $1 million paid out over two years, to study a digital screening intervention tool for adolescents and young adults. 
  • UNC Criminology and Criminal Justice’s Victoria Terranova, Ph.D., an assistant professor, and Kyle Ward, Ph.D., an associate professor, reviewed the Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool (CPAT) for accuracy when determining risk of new arrest or failing to appear in court for arrested individuals that have posted bond and discovered room for improvement, resulting in the new Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool-Revised (CPAT-R); the project was awarded a$126,000 grant from the Colorado Office of State Planning and Budgeting and a $15,670 grant from UNC. 

Student Honors and Achievements 

  • The Air Force ROTC Detachment 90 that supports UNC was recognized as the best in the nation after winning the prestigious Right of Line Award, the first time the detachment has won the award.  
  • Graduate student Ara Metz is working with Sharon Bywater-Reyes, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Environmental Geoscience, and Chelsie Romulo, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, GIS, and Sustainability, on a one-year, $10,000 City of Boulder grant to study erosion within the city’s trails. 
  • Zach Rich, a Jazz Studies doctoral student, won first place in the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers’ Bill Conti Big Band Arranging and Composing Competition for his composition of “We Love You Madly.”  
  • Students were met with unprecedented times during 2020 where the COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to quickly adapt to a new, virtual environment from March to the end of the year. Here, seven of the over 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students who are graduating this year share their stories.

    As of mid-December, over 930 students graduated with 627 earning bachelor’s degrees and 306 earning either a master’s, doctoral or specialist degree. The fall 2020 degrees will be conferred in January 2021.

    Also, the spring and summer 2020 graduating classes resulted in a total of 1,430 undergraduates (1,175 for spring 2020 and 255 for summer 2020) earning their bachelor's, and a total of 684 graduates (413 for spring 2020 and 271 for summer 2020) earning either a master's, doctoral or specialist degree.

    Altogether, the virtual commencement ceremonies in December celebrated a total of over 3,000 graduates (around 2,050 undergraduates and 990 graduates).

  • UNC's Journalism and Media Studies 481: Strategic Communications Campaigns class in the spring raised thousands of dollars to help get school supplies into the hands of local District 6 teachers, who can spend hundreds of dollars from their own pockets to purchase necessary materials for their students. Professor Amy Reitz, Ph.D., who teaches the course, said the purpose of her class projects is to better prepare students for their careers.  

Strategic Planning 

  • UNC has implemented its Strategic Enrollment and Student Success plan as well as further developed Rowing, Not Drifting 2030,” UNC’s vision for 2030.   

  • UNC was one of the top three schools in Colorado that received applications on Colorado Free Application Day. The university conducted its first standalone Free App Day on Dec. 1 to encourage students located anywhere around the world to apply to UNC, and as of Dec. 18, the total number of admitted students for fall 2021 is 9.3% higher compared to this time last year. 

  • UNC’s leadership helped develop and ensure passage of a new funding formula for colleges and universities at the state legislature. 
  • Worked with other higher education leaders to persuade the state to limit the severity of budget cuts this year. 
  • Reinvested $2 million dollars in UNC’s operational reserves last year despite COVID-19's significant impact. 

Academic Programming and Planning  

  • New programs and degree offerings this year include a Master of Athletic Training, a Digital Marketing minor, a Digital Marketing undergraduate certificate program and an Emergency Nurse Practitioner graduate certificate program. 
  • This year, UNC welcomed new deans and recently announced a new executive director:  
    • Sher Gibbs, Ph.D., dean of the Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business  
    • Jennifer Nutefalldean of University Libraries  
    • Jeri-Ann Lyons, Ph.D., associate vice president for Research and dean of the Graduate School 
    • Arte Libunao, executive director of Extended Campus, who will start on Jan. 11, 2021 
  • Over the fall, 127 Aims Community College students enrolled in Aims2UNC, a new program which streamlines and simplifies the path for students to transition directly to UNC after earning an associate degree at Aims Community College (read one student’s experience in this program).

Community, Alumni and Donor Engagement 

  • In 2020, UNC’s donors made nearly 7,000 individual gifts, contributing more than $15 million in philanthropic support to our students, faculty and programs.

  • Alumni and friends generously supported students through 1,868 donor-funded scholarships awarded in fiscal year 2020, providing nearly $6 million in financial aid to students. 

  • The Stryker Institute for Leadership Development at UNC, a participation-based scholarship program that serves women and transwomen from underrepresented groups, received a $5 million gift over five years to support its efforts.  It was the largest pledge received by UNC in 2020.
  • Through gifts from generous alumni and donors, the School of Music’s entire fleet of pianos were upgraded to Steinway pianos in December, and the school seeks to receive a Steinway designation this spring. The project totaled more than $1 million and included around 100 pianos.
  • UNC also co-hosted the first Greeley Day at the State Capitol on the city of Greeley’s 150th anniversary.  
  • UNC was honored with 2019 Tree Campus USA recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation for its commitment to effective urban forest management. Currently, there are 401 campuses across the U.S. with this recognition, and UNC is one of six Colorado colleges and universities with the designation, which it has achieved annually since 2012. 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) 

UNC remains committed to prioritizing policy, cultural and systemic changes to include campuswide professional development, recruitment of faculty and staff of color and other underrepresented identities, establishing DEI standards, communicating and sharing DEI stories, information governance and identifying bullying or threatening behavior. 

  • UNC Professor Danielle Brittain, Ph.D., co-authored recommendations on inclusive practices for health care providers, citing that nearly two-thirds of transgendered individuals delayed or avoided medical care due to fear of gender-related discrimination. 
  • Students have also raised awareness and shared their experiences: 
    •  Joelle Jenkins ‘20, Liad Sherer ‘20 and Terra Ware discuss their academic viewpoints on the BlacacademicUS Twitter page that was created as tool to assist in creating a more inclusive environment for Black students.  
    • UNC Athletics and student-athletes formed the Bears Against Racial Strife committee to further the conversation and action against racial injustice.  


  • For the fourth consecutive year, UNC leads the Big Sky in Graduation Success Rates (GSR) with four sports resulting perfect ratings (men's cross country/track and field, women's basketball, women's golf and women's volleyball)Additionally, four other programs had a score of 90% or better in swimming and diving (96), baseball (95), softball (94) and women's cross country/track and field (90).   
  • This spring, UNC will break ground on the nearly $4 million donor-funded Sports Performance Center, a state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot stand-alone building that will support nearly 400 student-athletes as they train to compete and represent UNC while pursuing their athletic aspirations.

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