CSU Spur: Bring on the school buses

See everything the Vida building at CSU Spur has to offer.

CSU’s new public-facing campus in Denver is open and ready for K-12 field trips.

Only glass separates visitors from the veterinarian as they begin the surgery to spay Cirilla, a grey 2-year-old pit bull.

That first surgery in the Dumb Friends League Veterinary Hospital at CSU Spur is when it clicked for Daria McKay. She realized the power of what was happening when she saw young students, eyes glued to the surgical procedure, asking thought-provoking questions of the veterinary team, and then heading into the mock clinic to become a veterinarian themselves.

“This really is a unique experience that students can’t get elsewhere!” said McKay, practice manager of the Dumb Friends League Veterinary Hospital at CSU Spur.

Get involved at CSU Spur

Learning hits a new level when students can make a connection with professionals – and be part of solving a problem – noted Kathryn Venzor, director of education for CSU Spur.

“At Spur, we’ve already seen that be really successful in the few days we’ve been open,” she said. “We’re able to have the veterinarians and the vet team talk to students about what they’re seeing, what the issue is, and how they’re solving for it, and then you see students actually doing that when they go into the mock clinic … students are really replaying the situation that they just saw the vet team solve for in the on-show area – it’s hands-on problem solving and hands-on investigation where they’re able to get immersed in this world that we’ve created for them.”

And veterinarians are only the beginning.

Field trips at CSU Spur are custom-built to fit the needs of educators and their classes. In the first CSU Spur building – Vida, which opened Jan. 7 – experiences can include watching therapy with horses that live onsite as part of the Temple Grandin Equine Center, trying virtual reality programming, exploring interactive exhibits, seeing equine athletes walk on underwater treadmills, and more.

As a free-to-the-public educational destination, CSU Spur is a concept that takes the land grant mission of CSU to a new level of outreach, aiming to connect rural and urban audiences and draw attention to the issues of health (in the Vida building, now open), food and agriculture (in the Terra building, opening in April), and water (in the Hydro building opening in November).

The concept of CSU Spur came from a foundation of collaborative conversations with other cultural organizations, which continues today.

Christie Vilsack, a lifelong educator and education advocate, served as an advisor to the CSU Spur project from 2017-2021. She traveled the state to talk with classroom teachers, informal and formal educators, administrators, and nonprofit organizations to understand how CSU Spur could best fit into the educational landscape.

Venzor emphasized the importance of working with other cultural institutions and community partners to purposefully identify gaps and work together to build programs.

“We are so grateful for the expertise and experience our cultural partners have offered us over the years as we work to build new and exciting learning opportunities at this one-of-a-kind facility,” Venzor said, “and we will continue to work with our local communities and those across the state to ensure we’re building programs they need and want for their classrooms.”

Scenes from the Vida building at CSU Spur.

CSU Spur is a place where professionals engage in research and science daily – but it’s built for K-12 audiences to engage with educational opportunities and connections to career paths, to deliver ongoing training opportunities for educators, and to link communities.

“The Spur campus isn’t just a place in Denver, it is a hub for the whole state,” Vilsack said. “We’re planting seeds in these young minds for potential careers where they can really create influence.”

For Vilsack, who spent more than 20 years in the classroom, she feels CSU Spur has something to offer every student who visits.

“Not everybody has to be a scientist, STEM is connected to everything,” she said. “I would have loved to have brought my students to the Spur campus, and said, ‘ok, it’s great if you want to be a veterinarian – we need more – it’s great if you want to be a scientist, but if you’re a journalist – like I am – if you’re a writer, there are also opportunities for you to figure out how it fits with your strengths.’ I see it as an eye-opening and transformative experience.”

And with topics like food, water, and health – the opportunity to make a difference and discuss real-world issues with students and visitors is very real.

“It’s not just a one-off experience,” Vilsack continued. “Coming to Spur really forces you to think ‘what can I do now? What action can I take, now that I’ve been in these buildings and had this experience?’ That next step is not just learning about something, or thinking that this is something I can do when I grow up, but really asking ‘what can I do tomorrow?’ It’s always about the future, it’s about the next generation.”

About CSU Spur

CSU Spur is a new, free educational year-round public destination in Denver focused on engaging K-12 students, families, and visitors around food, water, and health. Vida opened Jan. 7 and was designed by Clark & Enersen and built by JE Dunn; it includes artwork by Priscila De Carvalho, and Norman Lee and Shane Allbritton of RE:site Studio.

CSU Spur is a non-degree granting campus that showcases the work of the CSU System campuses: CSUCSU Pueblo, and CSU Global. Spur is built upon the land-grant mission of access to education and the belief that students can be anything they want to be. To inspire students and visitors to engage in important world issues, CSU Spur will bring together scientists to collaborate, put science on-display, and showcase career paths. The CSU Spur campus provides immersive learning experiences and cutting-edge research across three buildings: Vida, Terra, and Hydro. Learn more at CSUSpur.org.