Alumni Awards

CU Denver Alumni Awards 

Each year the CU Denver Alumni Board honors several individuals who have a record of distinction with the University of Colorado Denver and/or in their profession, community, and society at large. Learn more about your 2023 Alumni Award Recipients in their bios below.

For questions regarding the Alumni Awards and the awarding process, please contact CU Denver Alumni at 303-315-3601 or email  

2023 Alumni Award Recipients


Jennifer Leitsch headshot.

Jennifer Leitsch MS, MBA '08

Business School Distinguished Alumni Award

CU Denver is proud to honor Jennifer Leitsch MS, MBA '08 with the 2023 Business School Distinguished Alumni Award for her dedication in advancing sustainability strategies.

Jennifer is an accomplished sustainability executive and recognized thought leader with more than 15 years of experience leading environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy, programs, and reporting. As a Managing Director in the Climate Change and Sustainability Services practice at Ernst & Young (EY), she leads engagements advancing sustainability strategy, climate-related initiatives, and ESG reporting with clients across the country.
Jennifer is the former VP, Corporate Responsibility for CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, where she was key in advancing their global ESG strategy. Prior to CBRE, Jennifer developed, implemented and reported on ESG strategy and programs at Prologis, the global leader in logistics real estate.
Jennifer serves on the board of directors for United Nations Global Compact Network USA, the local network chapter of the UNGC. Jennifer is a lecturer at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, where she teaches the graduate-level elective Accounting and Finance for Sustainability. She serves on the University of Colorado Denver Business School Board of Advisors as well as the University of Colorado Denver Business School Managing for Sustainability Advisory Council, which she chaired for seven years.
Jennifer has an MBA and MS in marketing from the University of Colorado Denver and a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Iowa. She was named to the DiversityFIRST Top 50 Corporate Social Responsibility in 2021, Assent Top 100 Corporate Social Responsibility Influence Leaders in 2020 and 2019, and Environment + Energy Leader 100 in 2019.

David Dowall Headshot.

David Dowall MURP '74, PhD 

College of Architecture and Planning Distinguished Alumni Award

CU Denver is proud to honor David Dowall MURP '74, PhD with the 2023 College of Architecture and Planning Distinguished Alumni Award for his contributions to urban land use and planning management.

David received his master's in urban and regional planning in 1974 from CU Denver and a PhD ’1975 from CU Boulder. Dowall was a professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley from 1976 to 2012, and subsequently a professor emeritus. He was also director of the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at UC Berkeley from 2004-8.

Over the years his research has focused on domestic and international urban land use planning and management, housing policy, and infrastructure planning and finance. He has published widely, authoring numerous books, scholarly articles, and professional monographs.

In addition to his teaching and research responsibilities at UC Berkeley, he has served as a consultant and advisor to the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Latin American Development Bank, UN, USAID, USDOT, and the State of California. Dowall has worked professionally in over 40 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. Dowall started his career as an Assistant Advanced Planner for Jefferson County, Colorado. 

Courtney Ozaki headshot.

Courtney Ozaki '06

College of Arts & Media Distinguished Alumni Award

CU Denver is proud to honor Courtney Ozaki '06 with the 2023 College of Arts & Media Distinguished Alumni Award for her success and contributions to Japanese Art in America.

Courtney Ozaki is an independent creative producer/experiential designer, a Japanese taiki drum musician, and the founder of the Japanese Arts Network, a national resource for artistic collaboration and connection which provides access to resources and develops programs and platforms that support, advance, and strengthen visibility for Japanese Artists in America. She holds a master of fine arts degree in performing arts management from Brooklyn College and a bachelor's in music management from CU Denver’s College of Arts & Media with a dual emphasis in recording arts and music management as well as a partial piano performance degree. 

As a professional taiko musician with close to 30 years of experience, she has performed across the globe, as well as in major cities throughout the United States. In NYC Courtney worked as a project manager and dance producer for Joyce Theater Productions with whom she developed and toured new works by Wendy Whelan and other international artists. She most recently has been working with ADH Theatricals as General Manager for the world premiere of Joshua Frankel and Judd Greenstein’s new opera, A Marvelous Order, and premiered her own original experiential/immersive theater work, ZOTTO: A Japanese Supernatural Folktale at Sakura Square in Denver, CO to sold-out audiences.

Courtney serves on the board of directors for the Western Arts Alliance where she is the co-chair of ‘Hyphen+Asian’, a collective of Asian Pacific Islander community members and allies with a shared interest in advancing API engagement, opportunity, intersectionality, equity, and programming in the performing arts across the West. She is a governor appointed board chair for the SCFD, is on the organizing committee for the Creative Independent Producers’ Alliance, and is the co-chair of the Mountain Region chapter of the U.S. Japan Council. Courtney is passionate about the melding of ideas and the integration and interdependence of arts sectors; she is motivated by the impetus that an inclusive arts culture leads to a more productive and empathetic society.

Akram Atallah headshot.

Akram Atallah '84, MS '86, MBA '94

College of Engineering, Design and Computing Distinguished Alumni Award

CU Denver is proud to honor Akram Atallah '84, MS '86, MBA '94 with the 2023 College of Engineering, Design and Computing Distinguished Alumni Award for his contributions to the domain name industry.

Akram Atallah is the President and CEO of Identity Digital, a leader in the domain name industry. Prior to Identity Digital Akram was at ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, where he served as the first president of ICANN’s Global Domains Division and oversaw the management of generic domain operations, domain name industry engagement, and web services. Previously, Akram served as ICANN’s Chief Operating Officer.

Akram’s diversified technology experience runs the gamut from engineering to operations to product development and marketing. Before ICANN, he was Chief Operating Officer at CoreObjects Software, an engineering services start-up. Prior to CoreObjects, he was General Manager of the Broadband Access business unit at Conexant, and before that, he was the General Manager of its Universal Access business.

His industry experience includes semiconductors, data storage, digital communications, internet and software development industries among others. Akram holds a master’s degree in business administration, a master’s in electrical engineering, and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Colorado Denver. He is trilingual in English, Arabic, and French.


Dr. Erik Lucero headshot.

Erik Lucero '05, PhD

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award

CU Denver is proud to honor Erik Lucero '05, PhD with the 2023 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award for his contributions to quantum computing and helping to create AI opportunities for CU Denver students.

Erik designed, built, and operates Google’s Quantum AI campus in Santa Barbara — with the mission to build an error corrected quantum computer for the world to enable humankind to solve problems that would otherwise be impossible. He is one of the scientists on the Google Quantum AI team who demonstrated humanity’s first beyond-classical computation (Nature 2019), recognized as one of the Breakthroughs of the Year. He has two decades of experience in quantum architectures: controlling SQUIDs and qubits at Google, HRL Laboratories, IBM T. J. Watson, the University of California, Santa Barbara, NIST Boulder and the University of Colorado Denver.

Erik has amassed a portfolio of photographs documenting the evolution of quantum processors from single qubit devices to Google’s Sycamore quantum computer. Erik engineers quantum systems from the qubit level to the campus level, and is passionate about building a community for all quantum mechanics.

Erik received two bachelor's degrees in: electrical engineering (honors) and applied physics (magna cum laude) from the University of Colorado Denver and a PhD in physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He joined Google in 2015.

What Is Quantum Computing? Answers from Erik Lucero of Google

Lisa Roy Headshot.

Lisa R. Roy MA '96, EdD '16

School of Education & Human Development Distinguished Alumni Award

CU Denver is proud to honor Lisa R. Roy MA '96, EdD '16 with the 2023 School of Education & Human Development Distinguished Alumni Award for her dedication and commitment to advancing early childhood education in the State of Colorado.

Lisa is the newly appointed Executive Director for the Colorado Department of Early Childhood. The Department will manage Colorado’s new universal preschool program, serving children in the year before kindergarten statewide starting in the summer of 2023. The Department will also manage comprehensive programs and services for young children, families and early childhood professionals, utilizing a "one-stop shop" application process.

Lisa previously served as the director of program development for the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and as the executive director of early childhood education for Denver Public Schools. She has volunteered and worked in non-profit and government roles supporting families with young children for over 30 years.

Boards Lisa has served on include:
Emily Griffith Foundation, Denver Early Childhood Council, Afterschool Alliance, KIPP Colorado, Mental Health Center of Denver, Tony Grampsas Youth Crime Prevention and Intervention, and Denver Welfare Reform.

Lisa's current memberships include: National Association for the Education of Young Children, Colorado Women's Forum, and Golden Key Society. Dr. Roy was recently honored with the Harmon Award for Early Childhood Mental Health from the Colorado Association for Infant Mental Health.

Lisa has presented several times a year at local (Omaha and Nebraska for the last few years, and Denver and Colorado for more than three decades), as well as national webinars and conferences.

Lisa writes for pleasure, primarily as a literary nonfiction and historical writer and include:
Prairie Pioneer, Essay Daily - January 31, 2022
Submit, Ouch, Revise, Resubmit, Brevity Blog - December 30, 2021
Summer of '68: Crab Feast, The Linden Review - December 7, 2021
Various articles with, - January 12, 2020
Salsa Soul and Spirit Book Review, Taylor and Francis Online - January 29, 2015

View Lisa's LinkedIn

Read more about Lisa's role in leading the state's new Department of Early Childhood.

Headshot of Joe Pelle.

Joe Pelle MCJ '87 

School of Public Affairs Distinguished Alumni Award

CU Denver is proud to honor Joe Pelle MCJ '87 with the School of Public Affairs Distinguished Alumni Award for his dedication and service to the safety of his community.

Joe grew up in Boulder, Colorado. He received bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in public administration from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a master’s degree in criminal justice from CU Denver. He has 43 years of public safety experience and has served five terms as the elected Sheriff of Boulder County. 

Joe led a long and successful career at the Sheriff’s Office and Boulder Police Department, running for sheriff in 2002 and taking office in January 2003. He has led a full-service public safety agency of approximately 450 employees and hundreds of volunteers through 20 years of change and challenges. There have been significant improvements in facilities, staffing, training, and equipment over the course of these years. Natural disasters, including several major fires and a historic flood, have especially challenged the department and the community. Joe is most proud of establishing “Character First” as the working motto and bulwark of the Mission and Vision statement of the Sheriff’s Office.

Joe has been married to his wife, Stephanie, for 43 years and has two grown, married children and four grandchildren. With his decade of loyal service to his community, Joe officially retired in January 2023.

Patrick Browne Headshot.

Patrick Browne '10, MA '18

Graduate of the Last Decade Award

CU Denver is proud to honor Patrick Browne '10, MA '18 posthumous with the Graduate of the Last Decade Award for his service and advocacy of Veteran and military-related students.

Patrick was a two-time CU Denver graduate, receiving his bachelor's in Business Administration in 2010 and his master's in Administrative Leadership & Policy Studies in 2018. He also worked at CU Denver in the Office of Veteran & Military Student Services (OVMSS) for 12 years. Patrick’s life was full of service – to his country as a U.S. Army Veteran, to other Veterans at CU Denver, and to his family. He was an amazing colleague who worked tirelessly to support student Veterans. His teammates considered Patrick the heart of the Office of Veterans & Military Student Services who always engaged the military-connected population in a very positive way. 

He is the reason OVMSS serves not only student Veterans and active military but also their spouses and families. He never swayed from his commitment to our student Veterans and active military, standing with them, advocating for them, and creating a community for them where they felt like they belonged.

Patrick's family established the Patrick Browne Memorial Fund in his name to support Veteran students on the CU Denver campus – continuing his legacy by helping Veterans have access to higher education.

CU Denver remembers Patrick Browne.

Lola Salazar headshot.

Lola Ann Salazar MA '92 

Mack Easton Distinguished Alumni Award

CU Denver is proud to honor Lola Ann Salazar MA '92 with the 2023 Mack Easton Distinguished Alumni Award, the Alumni Board's highest distinction, for her commitment to improving her community. 

Lola Salazar grew up in Denver, a product of Denver Public Schools. She married her high school sweetheart and they moved to Alamosa, Colorado. Even at the age of 18 and having just graduated, the Salazars focused on their values — to rely on each other, prioritize education, and work tirelessly towards their goals. After moving back to Denver, Lola received her bachelor's from Metropolitan State University and her master's from the University of Colorado Denver. Lola taught in Jefferson County for eight years, and then decided it was time to be with her family full time.

In 1999, after the Columbine High School tragedy, Lola and Rob founded the Salazar Family Foundation. Since that time Lola has served as the Salazar Family Foundation Board President and continues to support education throughout Colorado.

Salazar Family Foundation’s core mission is to provide support to deserving nonprofit organizations in the areas of education, low-income housing assistance, and other community unmet needs. The foundation has provided grants of over $20,000,000 since its inception. 

Lola still dreams, sets goals, and works hard in the same way she did as a teenager. She often says, “If you believe you can achieve. Dream big, set goals, work hard, and remember to give back.”

CU Denver celebrates first named building.