A unique group of alumni and former staff will reunite Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Old Main Heritage Center to commemorate and honor those who founded academic opportunities for ethnically diverse students, including Charles Cambridge, a Navajo student who became the first American Indian to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at CU Boulder.
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement (ODECE), the CU Boulder Alumni Association and the Japanese American Association of Colorado are sponsoring the gathering of Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) leaders.
The event is open to alumni and the university community. Organizers include alumni, staff and volunteers from CU Boulder and CU Denver EOP and from Kimochi Inc. of Colorado and the Asian American Community Action Research Program, community-based organizations dedicated to helping the elderly and American Indians in need of support across the United States.
Cambridge will be honored for 50 years of contributions as a former university staff member, anthropologist and archaeologist and environmentalist. In 1969, he was the only American Indian CU Boulder student when he met Elaine Takahashi, a third-generation “Sansei” Japanese American from Long Beach, California, who was studying piano performance and pedagogy in the College of Music.
Combining their interest in helping other students, the duo advocated for EOPs to provide mentorship and academic support to American Indian and Asian American students, including first-generation students who were at risk of leaving the university.
“It is an honor to welcome this group of alumni back to CU,” said David Aragon, ODECE’s assistant vice chancellor for diversity and student success. “Charlie and Elaine were instrumental in laying some of the groundwork for important, ongoing work our campus is engaged in to foster a more inclusive campus for all students, faculty and staff.”
In 1970, then-CU President Frederick P. Thieme appointed Cambridge as the first American Indian EOP director and Takahashi as the first Asian American EOP director, and they also helped establish similar programs at CU Denver in 1972. With Cambridge’s help, 112 American Indian students were recruited and enrolled at CU Boulder by fall 1971.
Cambridge also led efforts to improve health care on American Indian reservations, and his research about AIDS in indigenous communities became the basis for his doctoral thesis. As a CU Boulder student, he conceptualized the idea of solar hogans—traditional Navajo housing structures—and later collaborated with architect Dennis Holloway to establish the Colorado Solar Hogan Project at CU Boulder in 1987.
Takahashi said the EOPs that she and Cambridge founded fostered a unique alliance among American Indian and Asian American students and staff, which led to lifelong friendships and community partnerships. Many EOP students became successful artists, attorneys, government employees, engineers, civic leaders, physicians and doctoral graduates who gave back to their communities, she added.
Now living in her native California, Takahashi said she and others are hopeful that the Colorado reunion will help people reconnect with old friends and classmates and forge new relationships with current students, staff and alumni. She said the group is interested in forming a CU Boulder and Denver Asian Pacific Alumni Association, which would complement the existing CU Boulder American Indian Alumni Association.
“It is gratifying to return to my alma mater to reconnect with colleagues and old friends and to celebrate the many ways the programs we established have built goodwill and collaboration across cultural, academic and community lines,” Takahashi said.