To know Dave Curtin is to know a dedicated, professional and trustworthy man who lives by deadlines. For 42 years he has worked on deadline: for speeches, news stories and projects. He's worked early mornings, late nights, weekends and holidays.
In July, Curtin is going to take a break from deadlines and pursue some of the items on his personal to-do list. So you might see him in his recreational vehicle at a national park––he wants to visit all of them––or taking in one of Ken Burns' documentaries, or simply watching the Colorado Buffaloes and Colorado Rockies in action.
A CU Boulder-trained, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Curtin brought his skill set to CU in 2007 as the executive communicator for campus. He has served under two chancellors, three chief financial officers, three chiefs of staff, three Strategic Relations and Communications vice chancellors and two assistant vice chancellors.
He spent most of his time as Chancellor Philip DiStefano's speechwriter and executive communicator.
“I have enjoyed working alongside Dave for the past 12 years, as he is a gifted professional communicator who brought his many talents to bear at CU Boulder,” said DiStefano. “He embodies the positive values of our university community not only as an employee, but also as a CU graduate, parent and educator, and I wish him the best in his well-deserved retirement.”
Here's a brief window into Curtin's career, and how it appropriately began and ended at CU.
What does an executive communicator do? First you learn––all the nooks and corners of the university. Then you spend time with the chancellor, to learn the priorities and assist in connecting with a broad range of audiences, including students and prospective students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, donors, regents, legislators, and community and business leaders.
Especially in his early days on the job, Curtin often sat with DiStefano to chat about what he wanted his message to be to any given audience.
"Chancellor DiStefano is the nicest, most personable and easy-going person I have ever worked with," Curtin said. "A speech might rely on a deep understanding of the university’s history, the campus strategic initiatives, the budget, national and local current events impacting the community, or simply the nature and mood of the audience.
“Every speech is unique and that’s what makes the job enjoyable,” Curtin said. “Keeping pace with the dynamism and the fluidity of the university is challenging, interesting and fun.”
Curtin says of all the hundreds of speeches he has worked on with Chancellor DiStefano over the past 12 years, two relatively recent ones line up as his favorites.
"In the 2018 State of the Campus address, the chancellor introduced students for which higher education changed the trajectory of their lives, as it did his own. It was so personal to him and it reminded us all in real terms why we work here," Curtin said. "The 2020 spring commencement ceremony was the first virtual commencement in our history. And it celebrated the perseverance of a class that went through so much to get to the finish line in the most difficult of circumstances. Plus it took the skills and expertise of an entire campus community working together to produce it."
A trusted voice
Prior to joining CU Boulder, Curtin had a decade of experience covering the university in his role as a higher education reporter for the Denver Post. In this role, he gained a deep knowledge and appreciation of the university, covering it from many angles. He covered the University of Colorado Board of Regents, the Commission on Higher Education and the state legislature. That experience served him well in his job at CU Boulder.
Curtin's career started at CU Boulder when he completed his bachelor's degree in journalism in 1978, but his connection to CU Boulder began when he was still in high school at Bear Creek High School in Lakewood, Colorado.
"I was new to the state and my first exposure to CU was as a sophomore at a statewide high school newspaper competition. We got off the bus and went into the Glenn Miller Ballroom for an awards ceremony. I was enthralled with the campus and I knew from that day on this was the place for me,” said Curtin.
It didn’t hurt that his newspaper, Bear Facts, won the sweepstakes and he was named top sports columnist that day.
After completing his CU senior year internship at the Boulder Daily Camera, he took “a grand tour of the state,” working at daily newspapers in Greeley, Durango, Colorado Springs and Denver. His intimate knowledge of varied Colorado communities and regions was beneficial in drafting state outreach speeches for DiStefano.
“In my last newspaper job as a higher education reporter at the Post, I got to know many people at CU Boulder very well through good times and bad," said Curtin. "When I landed here I already had a strong relationship with many CU folks and I think we had mutual respect for each other. It felt like coming home.”
The Pulitzer Prize is often seen as the most prestigious award a working journalist can receive. Curtin was awarded the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.
"It was a story about an extremely brave family with two young children, ages 4 and 6, who suffered disfiguring burns in an explosion in their home," Curtin recalled. "It was about their painful physical and psychological recovery and their ability to navigate a world that reveres external beauty. The children and their parents had this great inspiring internal beauty, optimism and perseverance with the power to inspire each of us in our own lives. I wanted to show that, especially through the children."
On the heels of the Pulitzer Prize, Curtin lectured in college classes statewide, including at CU Boulder, and taught journalism for two years at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Curtin's award-winning story was still included in a handful of journalism class syllabi nationwide as recently as 2017.
Favorite part of working at CU Boulder
"The best part of working at CU is the people of the university community––students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors," said Curtin. "Working with people who are so smart, informed, articulate and dedicated to the university...who else gets to work somewhere where there’s such a diversity of expertise and talent in one place? Students from all walks of life and from around the world bring such a youthful energy, vitality and optimism for our future. They know they can be the leaders and change agents of our society. Being around them inspires me and keeps me young. Faculty and staff, including administrators, respond to requests for information at all hours of the night, on weekends and holidays. It inspires you in your own work."
An avid hiker and camping enthusiast, Curtin said he plans to take a break from a life filled with deadlines to dive into his hobbies. He’s transitioned from climbing fourteeners (a colloquial term for mountains exceeding 14,000 feet) to lake kayaking, moving from “the highlands to the lowlands,” he says. Forty-three years after starting his career as a CU-trained journalist, Curtin is reflective. He’s enjoyed CU as an alumnus, a parent (his son A.J. graduated from the College of Media, Communications and Information in 2019) and an employee.
"CU has been the bookends of my career in transformational ways and I’m grateful to the university and the dedicated people who serve it.”