Six Questions for SPA Alum Monica Cutler, Associate Director of Advancement Communications at CU DenverEllen Patterson | School of Public Affairs Nov 1, 2023
Monica was born in Aurora, Colorado, and grew up in rural Idaho, 20 minutes from a ski hill. Her undergraduate degree is in Political Science from Boise State University, where she was an active participant on the national championship-winning speech and debate team (Talkin’ Broncos). She moved to Denver in 2013 and started the MPA program. In 2020 she was part of the founding group for the SPA GOLD Board, serving as president for a year, and continues to be involved.
When she's not working or volunteering, she enjoys tackling 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, house plants, taking care of her home, and hanging with her rescue Miniature Schnauzer named Tucker.
What inspired you to pursue a career in public service?
I’ve had an interest in the public service space for as long as I can remember. In junior high and high school, I would have my parents sign me out of class so I could attend the meet-and-greets with state district representatives and senators. In high school I served as a House Page and completed a college internship with a state representative. Growing up in a rural community, I was always heavily involved in service-oriented activities through volunteering, church activities, 4-H, and club fundraising.
While my career skillsets are arguably in digital marketing and communications, working within an organization with a broader mission is important to me. I am altruistically motivated in my work, and the public service (and higher ed) sector offers me the opportunity to make impact, even if it’s indirect.
What has been most meaningful to you about your career?
The most meaningful aspect of my career is being a part of an institution that is literally changing the trajectory of families’ lives and their legacies, including my own. My most favorite example of meaningful work is when CU Denver received the transformational Lesh-Laurie gift to student scholarships. We did a reaction video where students were told they were getting a full-ride scholarship…so many feels! Seeing students and their families react with overwhelming joy to having equitable access to higher education is powerful and inspiring. Focusing on how my role within CU Denver can change lives through education keeps me motivated and fulfilled in my work. As a first-generation college graduate myself, I’ve already lived and seen the difference a degree can make in the success of someone’s life.
A couple of managers I’ve had have also been incredibly meaningful to my career. The Vice Chancellor for Advancement, Melisa Baldwin, made an intentional investment in me when starting in our office and has granted me ample opportunity and grace for personal and professional growth. My direct supervisor, Jim Dunn, Managing Director of Advancement Communications, is the best boss I’ve had, who lets me create my expertise and guides me in strengthening my skillsets. Melisa is an inspirational servant leader and Jim is a humble and high-caliber individual who have both played a paramount role in my professional career. Managers can really make or break an experience with an employer, and I am so fortunate to have Melisa and Jim.
What part of your education at the School of Public Affairs has had the greatest impact on your work?
The School of Public Affairs has been instrumental in establishing my sense of community here in Denver. Being in the MPA program made moving here from out-of-state so much easier. Between classes and the MPA Student Association, I now have a wonderful cohort of nerdy public service friends who are impacting our communities. It’s a joy to be in different areas of the city and be able to say, “I helped clean-up that trail,” or “I planted a tree in that park,” or “my friend spearheaded this project.” The influence of these community-building efforts continues with the SPA GOLD Board. In so many ways SPA is folded into the fabric of our city and state and it’s exciting to have learned alongside these emerging leaders.
What is your favorite memory of the School of Public Affairs?
Oh goodness, I have so many fond memories of my time in the MPA program at SPA. MPA-SA Welcome BBQs to kick-off the school year, barhopping in Cap Hill after the SPA banquet, Professor Hansberry’s eccentric spirit, Classroom 500, and so many volunteer activities. Having grown up in rural Idaho, exposure to more diversity made a lasting impression on me. My very first class at SPA, I sat at a table and learned that I was the minority in the group as a white, U.S.-born person. Later, I took the Conflict Resolution and Negotiations class where half the students were from South Korea. I am so grateful to have gained an appreciation for other cultures and backgrounds which has made me more conscientious about considering alternative perspectives in all aspects of life.
Looking ahead, what do you see as the biggest challenges that your field faces?
In the field of higher education, I think our biggest challenge is continuing to articulate and demonstrate what a college degree can do for an individual and their families as people are questioning the value of advanced degrees. In terms of fundraising, the biggest challenge is saturation and competition. More organizations need philanthropic dollars to do their work and they’re often going to the same people and foundations to ask for big, transformational gifts.
What advice would you give to current students at the School of Public Affairs?
Do more than just classes. Get involved beyond coursework in some way, either a student club, internship, volunteering, applying for fellowships, or taking advantage of local conferences in which SPA is often a partner. The relationships you build in your time at SPA will benefit you for years to come, in ways you wouldn’t expect. Always be kind; it’s a small world.