Niki was born in Pueblo and received her B.S. in political science and mass communications from the University of Southern Colorado. She was an El Pomar Fellow from 1998 to 2001, during which time she coordinated numerous programs including Colorado Leadership Alliance, El Pomar Youth in Community Service (EPYCS) and the Nonprofit Executive Leadership Program.
She subsequently received a master’s degree and most recently a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Denver. Her research interests include diversity, inclusive leadership, first-generation and millennial students, and the partnership of diversity and academic excellence.
Why did you join the Fellowship?
I was an EPYCS student when I was in high school and enjoyed the opportunity to engage in philanthropy with my community. As I learned more about El Pomar Foundation, I believed in the mission and the invaluable services this organization provides to the state of Colorado. As a recent college graduate, I appreciated the Fellowship’s professional, leadership, and educational opportunities that many people are not able to experience during their entire career.
What were some of the biggest takeaways from your experiences at El Pomar?
One of my favorite quotes is by Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
Throughout my time in the Fellowship, I was inspired—by the staffs of El Pomar and the Boys and Girls Clubs, by the seniors and community leaders I met, and by the high school and college students with whom I had the privilege of working. All these people gave so much of themselves on a daily basis for the betterment of our community, and they lived the Churchill quote to care more about what we give instead of what we get. The Fellowship challenged my mind, engaged my heart, and inspired my soul in my quest to make a life by what I give.
Why did you choose graduate school? What career path led you there and what do you hope to do next?
One of the most significant components of the Fellowship is that each day is different and you have the opportunity to work with various populations. I knew I found my calling while directing El Pomar’s role in the Colorado Leadership Alliance, because I had the opportunity to work with college administrators, faculty, community members, and students to pursue academic leadership programs. Since arriving at DU in the fall of 2001, I have been involved in and created a variety of state-of-the-art educational programs and services involving faculty, staff, and students. I am a co-founder of the Community of Excellence Scholars Program, a project that supports highly talented new students during their first year of college.
Designing and implementing programs like this are just a couple of the skills I learned at El Pomar. Currently, I serve as the Assistant Director for Undergraduate Advising and Adjunct Faculty for the graduate program in Higher Education at the Morgridge College of Education at DU. I will co-teach a course this fall on Higher Education Leadership and Supervision. The next step is to become a Director for a couple years, and then move into a Dean or Vice-Chancellor position and continue to serve as a consultant and trainer on issues of inclusiveness. With any of these positions, my hope is to also teach at least one course per year at the graduate level. I am honored to have a shared responsibility for educating competent, committed, inclusive citizens in a global society.
What advice can you give to those interested in working in a giving-oriented field like education or philanthropy?
Who we are as people impacts who we are as leaders. It is really important to understand the various identities that we have in order to develop into inclusive leaders and professionals-people who create environments that welcome and value all identities in our societ- so that everyone has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.
Another reason to truly understand oneself first is that in giving professions, burnout can be high, so it is critical to set boundaries and to have a healthy balance of life and work (this is obviously true for any profession).
Knowing the intersection of theory and practice is critical. As a life-long learner I encourage everyone to pursue an advanced degree to be up to date on the research impacting their field and then how to practically implement the theory to create the best possible environment for their constituents.