Students, Alumni Laying Foundation for DU’s Future
Pioneers past and present have a hand in constructing the new residential village and community commons
When the University of Denver knocked down Driscoll North, Joanne Cho (BSBA ’16, MSC ’19) was just about in tears.
“I had a personal connection to that building,” says Cho, who as an undergrad worked inside as a reservations administrator. “It was a bittersweet goodbye, although I never really liked the old, outdated blue tile in there.”
But every day at work, when she puts on a fluorescent yellow vest and a hard hat, Cho is reminded of how sweet the future will be. As a project engineer at Saunders Construction, Cho (who recently left the company to pursue another opportunity) is just one of several DU alumni and current students who quite literally have a hand in building the new Community Commons and Dimond Family Residential Village for first-year students.
“Looking at the prints, I remember how excited I was when I was told I was on the Community Commons project,” Cho says. “It was very personal to me because I was longing for that [space], not only as a current student but as an alum and now a working professional.”
The Dimond Family Residential Village will house 500 first-year students in a pod system, created to foster several layers of community and create a greater sense of belonging and connection.The Community Commons is designed as a hub to bring faculty, students, staff and community members together. Its halls will feature spaces for classes, programming, studying and meeting, as well as a central dining hall. A rooftop venue with views of the mountains and campus is Teena Bergstrand’s favorite feature.
“I think it’s going to be a great space to connect what’s great about Colorado, the outdoors and Driscoll Commons,” says Bergstrand (MS ’09), marketing and communications director at Saunders. She also loves the building’s skin and façade, which blend copper, limestone and brick. “It honors the longtime architectural standard but modernizes it a touch. We value our history and where we came from but we’re pushing toward the future. It’s a good balance of the two of those.”
Cho is also using her staff to bridge the gap between past, present and future. When she realized this summer that she needed an intern, Cho looked inside the Daniels College of Business and its Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management and asked rising junior and former classmate Jackson Wegmiller for help.
As a project engineer intern, Wegmiller aids in quality control, documentation, supply runs and installation. Plus, his time with Saunders has taught him people management and communication skills.
“My favorite part about it is the fact that I’m working on projects for a school I go to,” Wegmiller says. “It’s going to be cool to have a physical impact, something I’ll be able to see years later when I come back as an alum. The pride and the extra care are things that DU alumni and students are adding to the project.”
Wegmiller, Bergstrand and Cho all say that improving the campus they call home is a form of service, paying homage to the place they credit for a meaningful educational experience. (Dick Saunders, the founder of Saunders Construction, is also an alum, earning his Daniels degree in 1963. Saunders has completed several projects on campus, including the Ricketson Law Building.) They want to make sure they take special care of their “customer” over the course of the next year.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, an experience I’ll never forget,” Cho says. “I think by engaging [our students and alumni] it’s not just construction. It’s about the community and what we’re doing to this community.”