Published: Jan. 20, 2021 By

Former Mechanical Engineering faculty member Jenifer Blacklock has returned to the College of Engineering and Applied Science as the director of the Rady Program at Western Colorado University. She will lead the Western-CU Boulder Partnership Program alongside Western Senior instructor Holly Brunkal.

“We are so fortunate that Jeni has returned to CU Boulder in this unique role to lend her wealth of engineering and education experience to growing the partnership program at Western,” said Keith Molenaar, interim dean of the college. “She has a proven record of building innovative programs and is an exceptionally qualified and inspiring leader. Our CU students at Western will be the beneficiary of her vision.”

The Western-CU Boulder Partnership Program at the Paul M. Rady School of Computer Science and Engineering, now in its second year, is home to 92 students pursuing CU Boulder degrees in either mechanical engineering or computer science. Students complete the first two years of their degree through Western Colorado University and the remainder through the University of Colorado Boulder, all on the Western campus in Gunnison, Colorado.

“Jenifer brings a wealth of knowledge and practical experience to Western,” said Western President Greg Salsbury. “She not only has a vision for the program—that of hands-on learning and community involvement—but she also is an excellent role model for young women pursuing careers in engineering and computer science, typically male-dominated fields.”

An engineering powerhouse

“When this opportunity came to my doorstep, developing the curriculum was the most compelling aspect,” said Blacklock, “along with the foundation of a state-of-the-art building, Paul Rady’s support, along with the resources and foundational curriculum at CU. All of these resources allow us to get creative and engaged with students’ learning.”

Blacklock has more than a decade of experience in engineering curriculum, program development, assessment and industry. She began her teaching career at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden where she oversaw curriculum, assessment, accreditation and student affairs as the assistant department head for mechanical engineering. She helped launch the Innovation Ecosystem at Mines, developing labs and hands-on spaces for students.

In 2017, Blacklock joined CU Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science as a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and helped launch the SEE (Student Experiential Education) initiative with the goal of strengthening industry presence in the classroom. During this time, she focused on creating strong industry ties to enhance student internship rates and student experiences in their chosen career field.

After CU Boulder, she returned to Mines to launch the Advanced Manufacturing Program. The efforts of this program led to the funding of a $2 million National Science Foundation peer grant, supporting workforce development in the field of advanced manufacturing.

Benefiting students and the community

Blacklock said she sees the potential of the Western program to connect students to local industry for career and mentoring opportunities but also to drive industrial development in the Gunnison Valley. She maintains deep industry connections in the Front Range and nationally and plans to bring that experience to the program.

“What drives me is seeing students get a job that they are excited about, especially when it’s their first job out of college,” said Blacklock. “Those are the success stories that make us want to work harder to get students their dream jobs or into a graduate program.”

Blacklock seeks to spark innovation in the partnership program by teaching students how to develop a growth mindset and be excited about new challenges. One way she’s doing that is through “design for a purpose” projects in which students partner with clients of the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte to design sports equipment for their special needs.

Blacklock holds dual degrees from Miami University in manufacturing engineering and engineering management. She has a master’s in biomedical engineering. As a Fulbright Fellow, Blacklock earned her PhD from the Max Planck Institute in Potsdam, Germany. She has extensive industry experience and served two years as a National Research Council Fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The Western-CU Partnership Program launched in 2019 and were made possible through the support of Western alumnus and CU Engineering Advisory Board member Paul Rady, chairman and CEO of Antero Resources, a Denver oil and gas company. The new 75,000-square-foot-facility housing the program opened this month. CU Boulder’s Department of Mechanical Engineering is named for Rady in recognition of his generous support to the college. Through innovative programs like these, the College of Engineering and Applied Science assists in filling industry demand for engineers across Colorado.