The Office for Outreach and Engagement was created in 2001 as a unit within the Division of Continuing Education and is supported by the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Provost and the Division of Continuing Education. Office staff report to Sara Thompson, who is the dean of Continuing Education and vice provost for Outreach and Engagement.

The office builds on a century of innovative outreach and engagement, which started in 1912 when the Department of University Extension was founded. Since that time, what is now Continuing Education has powerfully influenced the development of higher education and public life in Colorado through a variety of programs.

1925 map of places were CU radio broadcasts were heardEarly years

In 1912, Loran D. Osborn was recruited to serve as the first director of CU’s new Department of University Extension. A few months into the job, he summed up the unit’s purpose as follows: 

"Only a fortunate few have the privilege of being in residence at the University of Colorado…Its expert resources are too valuable an asset to the state to be thus limited. They should be at the disposal of individuals who cannot come within the college walls, and communities which are seeking information and guidance in solution of the complex problems of modern life."

With this guiding philosophy and in close partnership with academic departments, Extension undertook a wide range of activities and programs: the development and offering of correspondence and “home reading” courses, language and citizenship programs for international residents, the state’s first public radio broadcasting effort, Community Health Conferences statewide, the creation and hosting of the Colorado Municipal League and outreach centers that evolved quickly into independent institutions of higher learning--including what would eventually become Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction and (in partnership with the Teachers College at Greeley) Trinidad State Junior College and Adams State College in Alamosa.

Over the years Extension efforts brought lectures, university courses and even degree programs to cities and towns throughout the state, to members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, military veterans and prison inmates. Correspondence courses brought CU Boulder offerings within reach for active-duty military personnel and high school students. Extension staff created an audiovisual library and instructional resources, and produced programming for Denver’s educational television channel. Responsive to the state’s needs, programs soon ranged from real estate appraisal to “Great Decisions” foreign policy discussions. 

1970 to 2009students perform science experiments

In 1970, the name Extension was changed to Continuing Education. The Denver and Colorado Springs Extension Centers, established in 1930 and 1952, respectively, became independent campuses in 1972, transforming CU into a multi-campus system. That same year the state discontinued financial support and the division became self-sustaining. Since then Continuing Education has continued to serve CU Boulder as a center of innovation and public outreach, playing a key role in English instruction for international students through the International English Center, STEM education outreach through Science Discovery as well as evening and online courses, degree completion and professional master’s programs (such as the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership) for traditional and nontraditional students.

CU Boulder public and community engagement gained new support in 1986 when then Vice Chancellor Bruce Ekstrand established a grant program to support faculty-led outreach efforts across the state. In 1998, the Outreach Committee was established to provide a rigorous peer review of proposals and in 2001 a coordinator was hired. In 2009, the Office for University Outreach (now Office for Outreach and Engagement) was established and the dean of Continuing Education assumed additional responsibilities as associate vice chancellor (now vice provost) for Outreach and Engagement.

2010 to present

As part of Flagship 2030, the Council of Deans adopted an updated campus definition of outreach and engagement in 2010, which focuses on how to build partnerships with communities and harness the university’s academic resources to address public issues. This definition serves as the office’s mission and has guided its growth.

Currently, the offfice consists of a director, assistant director, two program managers who focus on content-based initiatives and an outreach communications team who provide outreach communications support to the office and outreach faculty and staff. We maintain a campuswide public outreach and community engagement website, support P-12 outreach and engagement activities, develop networks and partnerships around the state, partner with campus administrators and implement an integrated communications plan.