Eight women stand staggered in front of a building.


CSU Spur will open next year with a focus on food, water, and health

March 15, 2021

WHEN JOCELYN HITTLE IMAGINES the forthcoming CSU Spur campus, she pictures kids.

A youngster who learns about growing crops in a futuristic greenhouse and then foresees a career in urban farming. A kid visiting the South Platte River, whose gaze turns west as he considers studying the high-mountain origins of irrigation and drinking water. A student who observes a puppy’s veterinary checkup and discovers a new interest in medicine.

“CSU Spur, since it’s located in Denver and at the National Western Center, really offers us a chance to expand on the land-grant mission of connecting with people in the state to collaborate on the latest research and to inspire kids to pursue careers in food, water, and health,” Hittle said. “I’m excited about connecting young people with science and scientists at work, and encouraging them to tackle the big challenges facing our world.”

Hittle is responsible for developing CSU Spur programs to make all that a reality. As a key part of the CSU System leadership team, she is immersed in planning the unique urban campus whose construction officially began in May 2020. As the CSU System’s largest building initiative, CSU Spur will encompass 300,000 square feet, with a construction budget of $200 million. Its phased opening is expected to start in early 2022.

The new campus will be unlike any other in Colorado, with three new buildings focused on lifelong learning about food, water, and health. The topics – critical and interdependent in the West and around the globe – are areas of core System expertise. CSU Spur programs will explore them through collaborative research, community outreach, and public education; this work will tie to academic programming on the CSU System’s three main campuses, the flagship university in Fort Collins, CSU Pueblo, and CSU Global.

Spur is rising within the ambitious redevelopment of the historic National Western Stock Show complex, near the interchange of I-25 and I-70 in north Denver. The CSU System is one of five key partners remaking the aging complex into the National Western Center, which, among other goals, will allow the storied Stock Show to flourish on its original grounds. CSU Spur will be a vital part of carrying the site’s deep Western heritage into the future, Hittle said.

She is among a group of professional women with notable roles in the project; their work ranges from educational programming to architecture, exhibit design, and public art curation. For years, Amy Parsons, former executive vice chancellor of the CSU System, was a primary figure in developing the new campus as a milestone of System growth in Denver and beyond. She worked closely with National Western Center partners to get the entire redevelopment rolling. Parsons recently left the CSU System to become chief executive officer of Mozzafiato LLC, an American company that represents a collection of Italian heritage beauty brands coming to the U.S. market.

Rising professionals likewise have significant roles. For instance, Mariah Shrake, who graduated from CSU in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in construction management, works on site as a project engineer for JE Dunn Construction, the group building CSU Spur’s three facilities. “It’s pretty awesome to be part of the university’s plans to branch out,” said Shrake, who spends her days coordinating construction crews. “It’s nice to have work that has such tangible results, and I love that every day is different, with different problems to solve.”

Tiana Kennedy, in charge of external relations for the CSU System, is another familiar leader. She develops community partnerships central to CSU Spur’s missions in education and engagement – and has kicked off many programs well before the appearance of bricks and mortar. In her role, Kennedy is helping to establish CSU Spur as an anchor institution, or one that interacts closely with neighboring communities to offer meaningful connections and educational opportunities.

For instance, the System has partnered with Bruce Randolph School to spark projects tailored to the needs and interests of its students, who live near the forthcoming Spur campus. Other connections already have established the annual Focus on Health Community Clinic, which provides veterinary care for pets and health resources for families in the nearby Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods.

“We’ve been thinking of Spur as having very fluid walls,” Kennedy explained. “Whenever possible, we’re supporting our local communities, whether it’s through economic development or educational access for local K-12 students. These partnerships are such a two-way street, and they really enhance what we’ll do at CSU Spur.”

Photo at top: The team leading efforts to plan and build CSU Spur includes, from left, Rachel Quinn with CAA ICON; Ashley Stiles, CEO of Tribe Development; Mariah Shrake, field engineer with JE Dunn Construction; Tiana Kennedy, assistant vice chancellor for external relations, CSU System; Martha Weidmann, CEO of NINE dot Arts; Amy Parsons, former executive vice chancellor, CSU System; Jennifer Cordes, project principal, Hord Coplan Macht; and Jocelyn Hittle, assistant vice chancellor for the Spur campus and special projects, CSU System. They are pictured on the site of the forthcoming Hydro Building. Photo: Vance Jacobs