By Anne Button
Changing careers can be tumultuous, especially for those at midlife and beyond. It helps to not go it alone.
That’s what the participants in the University of Colorado Denver’s inaugural Change Makers program found as they learned and collaborated over the course of four months together. The CU Denver program, which launched in January, brings experienced professionals who are approaching or already in retirement back to college for a semester to explore possibilities, retool and renew their purpose.
“I went into the course looking for direction in the next phase of my personal and work life,” said north Denver resident Kellee Miller, a fellow in the inaugural cohort who currently works as a nurse. “It delivered! The mix of self-reflective guidance, speaker presentations and cohort collaboration opened my mind to possibilities I hadn’t before considered.”
With professional backgrounds ranging from engineering and law to journalism and teaching, these 17 Change Maker fellows had built successful careers and honed a range of skills. They came to the program ready for a change — to use those hard-earned skills in new ways, for new jobs or meaningful volunteering. And they left in April with new perspectives, friends, and ideas for envisioning and plotting their next steps.
ON CAMPUS, AGAIN
The group met twice a week, in person and virtually, over a semester. Drawing on readings, group discussions and guest-speaker presentations, the fellows looked at what’s worked and hasn’t in their lives, what’s made the encore years meaningful for others, and the pathways, obstacles and opportunities they face in designing a meaningful next chapter.
Fellows engaged with guest speakers on topics ranging from personal storytelling to combating ageism to the power of intergenerational connection.
“The guest speakers were inspiring and motivating, which encouraged me to keep moving forward with my exploration,” said a north Denver teacher in the program.
Those who audited CU Denver classes — from modernist art to human-centered design — were inspired by interesting professors and the diversity of thought that comes from learning with a mixed-age group.
The most valued component was connecting with others asking the same sorts of questions about this stage of life. The group plans to continue meeting monthly to keep the conversation going.
“Building relationships with the class cohort strengthened my confidence and held me accountable to my purpose,” said the north Denver school teacher.
Change Makers is now accepting applications for the fall semester starting in August. The application deadline is July 7. Providing participants with the time, space and support to think about what they want next is something universities have traditionally done for people at the start of their careers. Now it’s working for people in the second half of life as well.
“As a result of Change Makers, I feel like I am on a positive journey to cultivating my purpose and place on the planet,” said Miller. “And, hopefully, leaving the world a little better each day.”
Anne Button is the founding director of the CU Denver Change Makers program (ucdenver. edu/Change-makers). She has lived in north Denver for nearly 30 years.