Winners of the 2022 CU Boulder Alumni Awards include:
Kayce Casner Anderson (EPOBio’01)
George Norlin Award
Kayce Casner Anderson (EPOBio’01) had all the makings of a renowned ecologist.
After discovering an interest in honeybee research at CU Boulder, Anderson pursued the study of insect and animal species for more than a decade. She received her doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology at the highly selective University of California, Davis, and her research on butterflies in the Andes and California found an important correlation between declining butterfly populations and climate change.
“I have no doubt that the stage was set for Kayce to have a highly productive and important career as an academic scientist,” said Michael Breed, a CU Boulder professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology who taught Anderson.
But there was much more for Anderson to accomplish — this time with humans.
In 2014, Anderson founded For the Good, which seeks out and partners with remote and disadvantaged communities in Kenya to keep girls in school.
“Given a secondary education, girls earn higher incomes, have fewer and healthier children and are more likely to send their own children to school,” declares For the Good’s website.
As executive director of For the Good, Anderson uses her scientific past to drive evidence-based program approaches and evaluations. She helps open secondary schools in remote Kenyan villages; works with local political, religious and cultural leaders who can influence parents to send children to school; and targets families who may not have easy access to schooling.
“Kayce feels strongly that education is a right for all people and a leverage point to address many global challenges,” said Breed.
In addition to her work abroad, Anderson — a Glenwood Springs resident — is also director of the Casner Family Foundation, which provides support for first-generation and low-income students on Colorado’s western slope.
Anderson has said of her humanitarian work: “My leap from studying ecology and evolutionary biology to studying problems that keep youth out of school in Kenya might seem drastic, but it actually feels like I just changed systems as I have many times before — from research on honeybees as an undergraduate to butterfly species for my PhD to aquatic insect communities when working as a postdoc to human communities in Kenya. The driving questions in all cases have been infinitely interesting, and the process to understand them is the same.”
Willie L. Hill, Jr. (MMusEdu’72; PhD’87; HonDocHum’02)
George Norlin Award
Willie L. Hill Jr.’s career has run the gamut — from sharing stages with musical icons like Dizzy Gillespie to advocating for arts to leading workshops for public school children. Through it all, Hill provided exceptional time and dedication to provide services for the communities with which he was associated.
A jazz saxophonist, Hill has appeared in concert with artists such as Liza Minelli, Johnny Mathis, Sammy Davis Jr., Lou Rawls and Lena Horne. With over 45 appearances as a guest soloist with iconic big bands and as guest conductor at over 35 venues, he continues to inspire the national jazz scene.
But it’s off the stage that Hill’s impact reaches even further.
Hill gave generously of his time throughout his career, first serving as a teacher with Denver Public Schools and later as a professor at the CU Boulder College of Music. As director of the CU Jazz Summer Camp, he inspired generations of young people in high school and college.
“I learned from and worked with Willie and saw his teaching powerfully reach generations of students,” said College of Music Dean Emeritus Daniel Sher. “I found him to be a consummate virtuoso on the saxophone, and his leadership was an inspiration to his colleagues.”
This was only the beginning of an impressive trajectory of impact. As president of the National Association for Music Educators, Hill led an organization of music educators and college student chapters — over 125,000 members. Similarly, as president of the International Association of Jazz Educators, he led 15,000 members from over 35 countries.
He has been inducted into the Colorado Music Educators Hall of Fame, Grambling State University Hall of Fame and National History Makers Organization, and he has received numerous awards and accolades, including the Benny Golson Jazz Master Award, Lawrence Berk Jazz Educator of the Year Award and DownBeat Magazine Achievement Award in Jazz Education. He is also a founder of the Rick Matterson/Clark Terry Telluride Jazz Academy and Mile High Jazz Camp in Boulder.
Most recently, Hill retired from his position as director of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts in 2019. In this role, he made a profound impact on communities by developing outreach initiatives to provide children with access, and also supported participation in music, dance, theater and the arts. Through his engaging personality, drive, energy and optimism, his participation made significant progress in the Fine Arts Center’s efforts to build community and develop the strategies and initiatives that break down cultural and societal barriers while promoting arts and culture.
Said Sher, “I heard from patrons and attendees of the events he performed in, planned or strategized that he was the kind of leader who always saw the best in people and always saw the glass as half full, no matter the challenge.”
Robert L. Stearns Award
A leader is integral to a team’s success. Good leaders identify a strong vision and support their teams to carry it out — while inspiring, motivating and celebrating them along the way. The best leaders bring joy to their work.
Deb Coffin was one such leader for CU Boulder.
Coffin, who retired from the university in 2021, held a career in higher education for 39 years, including 19 years at CU Boulder. She served the university in many capacities, including as vice chancellor for student affairs and as the Boulder campus’s inaugural vice chancellor for advancement.
In student affairs, Coffin’s focus was on helping students succeed. She consistently advocated for students in the margins, created a seamless move-in process and supported Buffs families.
In 2015, Chancellor Philip DiStefano tapped Coffin to lead a new Boulder Advancement team. After several tumultuous years for the university’s advancement units, he knew he needed a strong leader who could create community for CU Boulder staff and supporters alike — and Coffin fit the bill perfectly.
In addition to record-breaking fundraising years, Coffin spearheaded the creation of new teams in advancement leadership, human resources, principal gifts, marketing and communications, and industry and foundation relations. A loyal CU Boulder donor herself, she also led a strategic planning process that continues to provide a foundation for alumni engagement and fundraising today.
“She is a quiet ambassador who asks nothing more from others than she is willing to give or do herself,” said Marty Coffin Evans (A&S’64), a CU donor and past University of Colorado Foundation trustee.
In announcing Coffin’s retirement late in 2020, Chancellor DiStefano said, “I can’t adequately share my deep gratitude to Deb for her many contributions to our university. … Deb has played a central role on my leadership team [and] is a true Forever Buff.”
Coffin’s legacy is evident not only in the tangible impact she had on the CU Boulder campus, but in the communities of people whose lives she touched. As Coffin’s nominating committee put it, “The care, joy, love and dedication she brought to her role as vice chancellor for advancement elevated the work of us all.”
Since retiring, Coffin has been enjoying time with Randy, her husband of 44 years, as well as her adult children and their families.
Michael Gooseff (MCivEngr’98; PhD’01)
Robert L. Stearns Award
After earning his graduate degrees from CU Boulder, Michael Gooseff excelled in his career as a polar science researcher and educator, always aspiring to return to CU Boulder as a faculty member. In 2015, the university hired him — and he impacted the campus and its students immediately.
CU Boulder recruited Gooseff to lead the McMurdo Dry Valleys Long-Term Ecological Research project — a $6 million project supported by the National Science Foundation to understand the effects of climate change on the Antarctic ecosystem. He has since enthusiastically advanced his field — which often involves unexplored regions of the world — in ways that will remain relevant for years.
“Dr. Michael Gooseff is exactly the type of colleague and professional that CU Boulder should be proud to call their own,” praised colleague Holly Barnard, associate geography professor.
Peers acclaim his unique teaching style, enthusiasm and student engagement. In addition to teaching five courses at CU, Gooseff has advised over 40 graduate and postdoctoral students throughout his career. His “scaffold and fade” method of teaching — involving short videos about a topic augmented by supporting materials that fade as a student progresses into the topic’s problem sets — was recognized by the National Academy of Engineering at its Frontiers in Engineering Education Symposium.
“His effective graduate mentoring is demonstrated in the fact that he has co-authored with many of them and that several of them receive competitive grants and best paper awards at conferences,” said Barnard.
Gooseff has served as the co-director of the CU hydrologic sciences graduate program since 2015, and has chaired or taken on leadership roles in several committees within CU’s department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.
Beyond CU, Gooseff chairs the Water Quality Control Commission for the State of Colorado and was a member of the Scientific Advisory Board on Water Body Connectivity for the Environmental Protection Agency and among other scientific boards and committees.
As a researcher delving into how a changing climate affects ecosystems, Dr. Gooseff has published over 150 papers and been awarded over $30 million in funding.
Said Barnard: “Mike truly puts his science into action for the greater public good.”
Hayley Leibson (Comm’15)
Business Analytics Minor (’15)
Technology, Art and Media Minor (’15)
Kalpana Chawla Outstanding Recent Graduate Award
Less than 2% of venture capital funding assists female-founded companies. Hayley Leibson is part of that 2%, and looking to increase that figure for others.
In an interview with CU Boulder in 2018, Leibson said her mission was to “inspire, motivate and move millennial women to enter the tech industry.” At the time, she was a growing name in the technology sphere and creator of the influential and wildly popular blog, “Lady in Tech,” dedicated to empowering women to pursue careers in technology.
Since then, she co-founded and serves as COO of Lunchclub, an AI-powered networking site, which is expected to have more than 1 million active monthly users by the end of 2022. The startup — which matches professionals based on their goals — has raised over $30 million from top-tier investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Michael Ovitz and is valued at over $100 million.
Leibson, named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for consumer technology, wrote her first book, Raise Early Stage Venture Capital. She also is a key investor and advisor for women and minority-founded companies. She was named a top founder angel investor recently by Business Insider.
Leibson has spoken around the world, including at Stanford and Harvard Universities, on topics ranging from startup building to diversity and inclusion. She credits some of her success to her time at CU and her studies in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences in the technology, arts and media (TAM) program.
“Through TAM, I discovered the best way to make a positive impact on the world is through technology, and I have carried this belief forward ever since,” said Leibson.
For her work, Leibson was named one of Entrepreneur’s “15 Entrepreneurs Under 30 to Watch Out For” and was selected for the Women in IT Award’s 2019 Silicon Valley Rising Star of the Year Award, among other recognitions, and she has been featured on such media outlets as the BBC and ABC and in The Wall Street Journal.
“We need all perspectives and viewpoints represented as we build the future,” Leibson said. “Utilizing the talent that exists means we’re assembling smarter, more innovative teams.”
Col. Barry Baer (Mgmt’65; MBA’72) and Mrs. Sue Baer
Alumni Recognition Award
Col. Barry Baer and Sue Baer have deep roots at CU Boulder.
They met on campus in 1964 as university undergraduates, marrying less than two years later. As strong believers in the value of public education, Barry and Sue remained committed to the university that brought them together — long after leaving Boulder in 1972.
During their time away from CU, Barry and Sue pursued meaningful careers in both the public and private sectors. Barry served 27 years in the United States Army, achieving the rank of colonel. He commanded an armored cavalry troop in Vietnam, a finance battalion in Germany and an airborne finance brigade during the Gulf War. His service has earned him numerous awards. Sue, meanwhile, continued to pursue her own dreams working as a teacher, counselor, cooking instructor and food stylist before finding her calling as a children’s author.
After moving back to Boulder in 2003, the Baers immediately re-engaged with the university, attending events, volunteering on boards and providing financial support. This includes Sue’s service on the Dean’s Board of the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Music Advisory Board. Barry has served as a CU trustee, as well as advisory board president for the Program in Jewish Studies, committee chair of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Board and chair of the AROTC Board.
Further, their philanthropic gifts have provided opportunities for students of myriad backgrounds and interests to pursue their passions and receive important financial assistance — whether that’s through Barry & Sue Baer Endowed Undergraduate and Graduate Student Scholarships, the Baer Crown Institute Scholarship or their contributions to the university’s Student Emergency Fund.
“‘Alums give back to CU, city in multiple ways,’ was the headline written about the impact Barry and Sue Baer have on CU and the city of Boulder — and that was back in 2015,” says Michelle Gaffga, director of development in the College of Arts and Sciences. “In the six years since this alumni spotlight, they have given back in ways that are more audacious. CU would not be where it is today without the generosity of Barry and Sue Baer.”
In addition to their support, the Baers are active members of the CU Boulder community, regularly auditing courses and attending countless campus events.
“There’s a Hawaiian word, ‘ohana,’ which means family,” said Barry. “CU Boulder has become part of our ohana, our extended family.”
Ann Miller Scott (Soc’71; MPE’83)
Alumni Recognition Award
Ann Miller Scott is a CU fan through and through.
Scott is a dedicated contributor to the CU Boulder community — and she consistently goes above and beyond. Whether at Buffalo Belles (a group of engaged supporters of CU Athletics) or in her many positions across campus and over the years, she always promotes CU with enthusiasm and sincerity.
After graduating from CU Boulder with her bachelor’s degree in 1971, Scott was a public school teacher for Baltimore City Public Schools before transitioning to a 35-year career in higher education with a return to her alma mater in 1977.
She started as a data entry operator and worked her way up to become the director of registrations, better known as registrar. Managing staff and the many volunteers known as the "registration ladies," she registered 20,000 students three times a year.
Later, as a fundraising leader at CU, Scott raised millions in current and estate giving for departments, colleges and schools throughout the campus.
Over the years, her progressively significant roles included senior director of development in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, director of reunion giving for the Leeds School of Business and assistant dean for advancement in the School of Education. In the latter role, she increased planned giving to the School of Education by more than two-fold and was instrumental in securing the largest gift in the school’s history for its new building initiative.
Her ability to expertly connect with donors, alumni and fellow Buffs supporters and their unique passions is paramount to her accomplishments as a fundraiser. Further, her contributions to CU Athletics, the School of Education and CU’s culture of philanthropy have had enduring impacts on the university well beyond her tenure as a fundraising leader.
In true Buffs fashion, Scott also served as a mentor to many.
“Ann Scott is someone who truly embodies the idea of being a Forever Buff and exhibits it through quiet actions of leadership,” said Matt Young, assistant vice chancellor for CU Boulder Advancement. “She always has the best interests of the university in mind — whether it be through taking on responsibilities as an employee, serving as an informal ambassador connecting alumni and friends to the institution or skillfully mentoring younger Buffs as they find their way within the community.”
Scott retired in 2020 but not without creating a network of authentic and up-and-coming fundraisers who are stronger professionals thanks to her leadership and model of service to the university. Even as a retiree, she continues to connect potential supporters and advocates. In fact, those supporters have come together to name the assistant dean for advancement office in the new School of Education building in her honor.
Said Young, “Her positive impact on the CU family is easy to see and impossible to quantify.”
Vanessa Lopez (Bus, EthnSt’09)
Leanne Skupa-Lee Award
Vanessa Lopez thrives on giving back to her community.
A board member for both the Forever Buffs Latinx club and Forever Buffs Boulder chapter, Lopez consistently takes a leadership role in building connections and creating impact.
“It is likely impossible to calculate the total hours that Vanessa has volunteered with the Forever Buffs community, but it is clear that her ongoing dedication has had a tremendous impact on the efforts of the university,” said Aja Ringenbach, program manager for alumni volunteer engagement. “She is consistently a volunteer who stands out above the rest.”
Take her role in the Buffs Give Back national volunteer event, which returned last spring. When Lopez heard the event was coming back after a pandemic hiatus, she immediately became a project leader for both Forever Buffs Latinx and Forever Buffs Boulder, coordinating two different shifts for volunteers at the Marshall Fire Donation Center.
With Lopez at the helm, the groups spent the day unpacking, sorting and shelving donations for individuals impacted by the fires in Superior, Louisville and unincorporated Boulder County. Both shifts filled up completely, and Lopez — who has participated in four Buffs Give Back projects to date — was able to connect with over 20 local Buffs, including several alumni who had not regularly engaged with the groups before.
Lopez also finds joy in building connections with students. A co-chair for the May 2022 Latinx Graduation, she had a direct, positive impact on the experience of graduating Buffs. With planning that began in January, she was highly intentional and vocal about creating a meaningful event that represented the values of the CU Boulder Latinx community.
As a volunteer for the Forever Buffs scholarship program, Lopez has helped provide students with transformative scholarship awards. In 2022, she reviewed 41 scholarship applications — when the average reviewer reads only 10 to 15. In all, Lopez helped the Forever Buffs Latinx club award $30,000 to 10 deserving students, and she helped start the new Forever Buffs First Generation Scholarship, awarding $15,000 to five students.
In all, Lopez remains committed to giving back to her CU community. She said, “While we all can’t reach global or even national recognition for our contributions to society, we all are capable of making an important impact in someone’s life.”
Michael Bortnowski (Mgmt’22)
Forever Buffs Student Award
When Michael Bortnowski transferred to CU Boulder in 2019, he noticed a gap in the college experience for students like himself. He took it upon himself to make CU a more welcoming environment for transfer students, many of whom are students of color.
In 2021, Bortnowski campaigned for — and won — a representative position within Leeds Student Government. In his role, he created and led a task force, the Reducing Student Inequities (RSI) committee, to address some of the concerns he observed and felt were echoed by the student body. The committee started with interviews of more than 40 faculty, staff and administrators asking where student voices could improve conversations regarding a more inclusive campus.
The small team also lobbied for the passing of the education bills HB21-1067 and HB21-1173 through the Colorado state legislature, which removed the admissions requirement of mandatory ACT and SAT test score submissions and prohibited legacy preference for college admission.
“With the help of Leeds Student Government senators and countless others, the RSI team galvanized the entire CU Student Government and student governments at most other Colorado higher education institutions to lobby and testify on behalf of these bills’ passage, which both successfully became law,” said Bortnowski.
The following semester, Bortnowski and his RSI team conducted a study to understand the perceptions of community college transfer students about the business school and CU in general. The report has since been used by school administrators and within the admissions and advancement departments across campus, in the spirit of continuously improving the transfer student experience.
As a senior, Bortnowski also created a new tradition for graduating members of the Leeds Consulting Group (another organization with which he was also very invested in): a senior summit, which allowed for students to reflect on their achievements and lessons learned during their time at CU, and how they could translate those key learnings into their upcoming careers.
At this summit, students surveyed their peers, friends and family, asking when the respondent sees them at their best. A respondent for Bortnowski said, in part: “He is bringing people to a place they haven't been before, emotionally, physically — sometimes even spiritually.”
As Bortnowski embarks on this next phase of his life, he will continue to coach and inspire others.
He said: “I believe I have long served this kind of a role without recognizing it until recently.”