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Creating Career Pathways in One of Colorado’s Fastest-Growing Sectors

Grantee Leader Spotlight: Therese Ivancovich, Executive Director, Denver Education Attainment Network

July 30, 2020

by Julie Bos, ECMC Foundation Contributing Writer

Therese Ivancovich (left) presents at a conference. She is the Executive Director of the Denver Education Attainment Network.

In Therese Ivancovich’s life journey, one common thread is the importance of vision—seeing a clear path from where you are to where you want to be.

Therese’s own vision began when she was young. She was raised on her parent’s small organic apple farm in Northern California, long before organic crops were popular or lucrative.

“Growing up, my parents didn’t have much money,” said Therese. “Our parents said, ‘Take a look around; if this is not the life you want, you’ll need to work very hard and get good grades. We’ll support you the best we can, but you’ll need to figure out how to navigate and fund your own education.’”

“Small town farming wasn’t the life I wanted to live,” she said. “My parents wanted us to see the world—to understand that the world was bigger than Watsonville, California.”

To see just how big, Therese needed only to step out her door.

“On a clear day, we could see all the way from our Santa Cruz foothills across the [San Francisco] Bay to Monterey. It was a vision that showed me there were bigger horizons out there,” said Therese. “Even today, I hold on to that vision as I think about what I do, where I want to go, and how I want to help others get to where they want to go, too.”

After high school, Therese attended Santa Clara University where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and served in student government. Intrigued to further explore politics, she moved to Indiana to work on statewide and congressional campaigns, which led to opportunities to work on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Later, she moved back to California, where she focused on partnership development and marketing for companies including Compaq and a high-tech lobbying group called Technology Network.

Seeking to round out her public policy and political experience, Therese decided to fulfill her original plan for graduate school and went on to earn her MBA from UCLA. She applied her new skills to support public policy work for the largest industrial trade association in the U.S.; later, she branched out on her own as a consultant, helping nonprofit organizations create their mission, vision and strategy, and ensure program alignment to support it.

“I absolutely loved the strategic vision and planning work, but felt frustrated when the plan wasn’t implemented with fidelity.”

When Therese learned about a leadership opportunity at the Denver Education Attainment Network (DEAN) in 2015, she knew it was her chance to lead a start-up nonprofit organization, create a strategic vision and be fully responsible for its implementation. She was excited to build something that delivers impact.

“I fundamentally believe in education as a game-changer for people—it worked for me,” said Therese. “So my mission at DEAN is to open opportunities for many more people from disadvantaged backgrounds like mine, so they can realize their potential and be ready for career opportunities.”

Like many fast-growing cities, Denver has no trouble importing college graduates, yet it struggles to develop local talent. Colorado faces a healthcare and health services talent pipeline crisis: Today, the healthcare and social assistance sector provides employment to 11% (1 in 9) of Colorado employees and is projected to grow 30 percent by 2028, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Yet, the American Hospital Association’s Healthcare Talent Scan Report cites Colorado as second for states where it’s hardest to fill healthcare positions.

DEAN is a collective impact initiative focused on increasing educational attainment, closing equity gaps and creating connections to better workforce opportunities for low-income, first-generation and students of color in Denver. DEAN’s signature strategy is Denver Direct Pathways: structured academic and career pathways that create a college completion system that’s easier to navigate and strategically supports students across systems and institutions.

In 2019, with support from ECMC Foundation, DEAN expanded its Health Pathways work to develop a roadmap for building stackable, workforce-relevant certifications, certificates and degrees in the healthcare sector.  

Health Pathways is specifically focused on entry-level and typically “static” entry-level healthcare roles like home health aid, certified nursing assistant, medical assistant, pharmacy technician and surgical technician - jobs that are in high demand but don’t typically lead to career advancement. Through this work, DEAN is exploring robust pathways to help people more easily advance from these roles into higher-paying jobs that provide family-sustaining wages.   

Therese sees how critical it is to develop clear pathways for healthcare professionals, especially with the demands of COVID-19. As she leads this work, she is pushing partners to align programming, provide credit for work experience and offer stackable up-skilling programs that lead to advancement within the healthcare system. “Through these pathways, we’re helping people see a clear vision for themselves—where they can start their careers today, and more importantly, how they can advance their careers down the road.” 

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