This entry is part 18 of 29 in the series Fall - 2016


by Kate Hawthorne Jeracki

When the management team at the Denver Art Museum wanted to get a good look at what their 200 full-time and 200 part-time employees really wanted, they turned to Colorado State and the experts at Ascend.

“We believe in a strong culture and staff engagement,” explained Curtis Woitte, deputy director and CFO of the museum. “We were curious to know what people were really thinking so we could be sure we were on the right track and get them what they need, but gathering that information is hard to do internally.”

Enter Ascend. CSU’s Executive Director of Corporate and Career Services Jeremy Podany, Ascend Business Development Director Arthur Sintas, and Assistant Professor Lea Hanson worked with Woitte and DAM’s HR Director Laura Pratt to design a program to gather feedback in a way that let employees feel safe and secure sharing their real feelings.

“We told Jeremy and Arthur what we wanted to know, they crafted the initial survey questions, and when the results came back, we wanted to do a deeper dive to understand more,” Woitte said.

“They helped us put together groups for face-to-face discussions, and then put together a report that highlighted overarching issues as well as recommendations and suggestions on how to approach them. They made sure the right stakeholders were at the table and everyone felt comfortable with the process, and we learned so much.”

While DAM leadership is still planning how to implement the Ascend findings, Pratt said they have asked Ascend for a second proposal on how to incorporate a wellness component into staff engagement efforts.


Podany explains the philosophy behind Ascend is to help organizations of any size, in any field, fully develop and engage employees, from entry level to top leadership.

Access to a menu of services is part of an Ascend membership, which costs $1,500 a year. With that comes personal service from the staff to connect the organization to resources available anywhere in the CSU community. The assortment and level of services determines how much a client pays Ascend.

“Our charge is to be self-funded, and we’re working toward that,” Sintas said. “We’re not base-funded, we’re not taking money from student tuition, it’s all fee-for-service. We’re one of the few programs that basically operates off what we bring in.”

Ascend also honors the University’s land-grant mission by offering discounted memberships to local nonprofits. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Larimer County, Foothills Gateway, and the Food Bank for Larimer County are all members and have used Ascend’s services to support their nonprofit missions.

Since launching in January 2014 with $500,000 in seed money from the Colorado State University System Venture Capital Fund sponsored by the CSU Board of Governors, Ascend has worked with nearly two dozen clients. Podany and Sintas are now developing ways to take Ascend to the next level.

“We’re looking to grow, thinking about new revenue streams,” Sintas said. “We’re also looking to connect with other experts on campus who can add their knowledge to the range of services we can offer our clients as the best of Colorado State.”