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  • Writer's pictureBeth & Tim Manners

University of Denver: Stereophonic Academics

Nestled among the Rocky Mountains just outside its namesake metropolis, University of Denver certainly is a sight to behold when it is 93 degrees above zero outside and the campus is buried under ten feet of sunshine.

Dry heat, we kept telling ourselves. Dry heat. Not so bad. We’re told the winters are relatively pleasant, too, thanks to the humidity-challenged chill, and heavy snowfalls that sometimes appear out of a clear blue sky and then melt away just as suddenly. Allegedly.

Our first college tour since before the pandemic left much to the imagination. It was difficult to suppose what studying in Denver might be like when the Black-eyed Susans are not vibrating in the sun and the amber waves of grain (or just grass, perhaps) can't be seen rolling in gentle, warm breezes. The classrooms, too, were silenced by summer, the pathways and quadrangles equally empty.

We could only surmise what students might be like based on the potential DU Pioneers on our tour, who represented a surprisingly diverse array of geographic if not demographic roots -- from as close as the host city, down to Arizona, over to Hawaii and back to New Jersey.

Our bright and sunny guide, Brooke, an engineering major, hails from the Lone Star State, as we recall. Her energy and enthusiasm rode high, even for a college tour guide. Perhaps she is a representative sample of the student body, but even if she’s not, it’s not hard to see why she seemed almost Rocky Mountain high on the school.

Let’s start with the obvious: University of Denver (or DU in the inexplicably dyslexic shorthand which similarly asserts itself at the nearby University of Colorado-Boulder, aka CU) is a gorgeous green campus, framed by those mountains, that is easy to love. It embodies a perfect balance of just about everything. It is a relatively small school (about 6,000 undergraduates) yet it lives on a somewhat large stretch of campus. It dates back to 1864, although many of its buildings look like they were built yesterday … either because they were, or if not, thanks to state-of-the-art renovations.

Most striking was the nearly brand-spanking new Dimond Family Residential Hall, which just opened in 2020. We’ve visited so many buildings formerly known as dormitories that often we stay outside while the less initiated experience the typically dimly lighted hallways and cramped, cinder-block aesthetics. This new-fangled “residential hall” is nothing like that. If not quite evoking a five-star hotel, the thought entered our minds.

Dimond's sparkling interior was as full of light as our tour guide herself. The walls were decked in shades of retro-avocado, the floors in ersatz hardwood and the trim in gleaming maple. Brooke made sure we knew that the sunsets are spectacular at Dimond and the mountain view from the corner room where she lived freshman year was to die for.

As if that were not enough, she dropped that there’s a rooftop bar, for those 21 and up. The just-opened Community Commons, meanwhile, home of a cornucopia of a food court, was all omelet stations, alongside vegan specialties, pizza, pasta and whatnot. The Commons also houses event spaces and lounges for students and faculty alike. We then toured the Coors Fitness Center, saw the hockey arena (DU’s #1 D-1 sport) and a spectacular pool, set against a mural of the Rocky Mountains.

Brooke highlighted the freshman seminar groups designed to introduce incoming students to college studies and professors, but also to potential friends. Our first post-pandemic tour did not include an information session, however, which is probably why we didn’t hear as much about DU academics as we might have otherwise.

DU does offer an online info session, posted on YouTube, which describes the school as a research-based, liberal-arts institution that encourages a well-rounded academic experience that enables mixing and matching majors and minors and trying new things. It offers a trimester, or quarterly, system, in which students typically attend three out of the four quarters (most students do not take classes in the summer quarter).

The school year starts the day after Labor Day and runs through Thanksgiving, and then unfurls a whopping six-week break until after New Year’s Day. A roughly week-long spring break interrupts two, 10-week quarters that end in early June, quite a bit later than most other schools. Other fun facts: About 80% of DU students do an internship, 75% study abroad. Care to guess which club is DU’s most popular? No, not the Alpine Club. It’s Dungeons & Dragons.

Many of our students are quite definitely set on either a city school or a green campus. As we strolled through DU’s stereophonic universe, we could hear birds chirping through the left ear and trucks roaring down the avenue through the right. The Denver and mountain skylines competed for attention. Not much of a contest, but you get the idea. It's all in the blend.

The mountains beckon hikers and skiers, while a train ticket from campus to downtown shops, restaurants and parks is included with tuition. The University of Denver invites a college experience that spans the best of those worlds centered on a mountain range of academic opportunities to elevate just about anyone's aspirations.

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