June 23, 2024

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MSU receives $10M gift for healthcare education | Education

5 min read

Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) accepted a $10 million donation from local philanthropists Gina and Frank Day for the expansion of its Health Institute, a significant move in a time when Colorado is facing a gap in its healthcare workforce.

The Days’ donation, announced Monday, marks the largest philanthropic gift in the university’s history and will go toward new facilities and technology for training students to prepare for in-demand fields like nursing, nutrition, behavioral health, speech-language pathology and social work. 

A major part of the university’s expansion includes the Health Institute Tower, a 70,000 square-foot, six-story facility that is expected to increase enrollment in health programs by 25% over the next year, according to a news release.

It will also connect to new health simulation laboratories under construction at the Auraria Campus’ West Classroom building. The labs are scheduled to open this fall.

MSU Denver’s Health Institute was established in 2018 and will now be named after the donors, becoming the Gina and Frank Day Health Institute. 

It is a collaboration of 10 departments across the university that serve students going into health-related fields, according to Emily Matuszewicz, MSU Denver’s Health Institute director.

The donation comes during a time when Colorado is in need of more healthcare workers. Of the state’s 64 counties, 59 have regions federally named “health-professional shortage areas,” according to the news release. 

The shortage existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, which only heightened the need for healthcare workers, Matuszewicz told The Denver Gazette.

In an effort to fill the healthcare gap, Colorado state leaders recently unveiled an infrastructure bill that would fund construction of health-education facilities at higher education institutions statewide, including at MSU Denver.

The pending legislation creates a certificates of participation to fund infrastructure projects at Colorado State University, University of Northern Colorado, MSU Denver, and Trinidad State College.

While the university will likely get money from the bill, that funding won’t cover the entire cost of their institute’s expansion, which is where the Days’ contribution comes in. 

The expansion will build on the university’s goal to give students a wealth of hands-on experience as part of their education, Matuszewicz said.

“We want to make the pathways for students as easy as possible for them to make their way into health-related fields,” Matuszewicz said. “We want them to come to our institution and have the support that they need.”

A large portion of MSU Denver’s student population is “unconventional,” meaning the average student age is about 25 and many of them are first-generation college students, transfer students and students working full-time, Matuszewicz said.

The growth in the university’s programs is expected to produce an additional 4,000 healthcare providers of color by 2030, she said. 

“We know that our institution matches the demographics of Colorado and its growth,” she said. “We also know the difference it makes when you have a practitioner who might look like you or have some of the same lived experience as you do.”

Currently, they have to turn away about 150 qualified applicants each year due to capacity constraints, Matuszewicz said. The expansion will mean they can bring in more qualified students and “really build a diverse healthcare workforce going forward.”

This is not the first time the Days have donated to the university. In 2014, the pair gifted $1.5 million to MSU Denver’s School of Hospitality, helping them establish a Hospitality Industry Leadership major and the Day Leadership Academy.

Gina Day has a history in healthcare, holding a degree in medical technology and having worked for Boulder Community Health and the Boulder People’s Clinic, now CLINICA. 

Frank Day’s tie to healthcare dates back a decade, when he was diagnosed with stage-4 bladder cancer. Day was treated at the Arizona Mayo Clinic and says “the chemo killed everything except me.”

Frank Day is the founder of Concept Restaurants and restauranteur of over 80 properties, including Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom and Rock Bottom Brewery. 

He said the students at MSU Denver have a “different attitude toward education and work.”

“They go there because they want to, not because they’re sent there,” he told The Denver Gazette Friday.

Their tuition is low, meaning they have students who generally can’t afford other large universities, but that does not mean the quality of their education is poor, Day said. 

“I’ve hired dozens of Metro students and, by and large, they stand out,” he said. “Some of our best employees have been people who have gone to Metro.”

Gina Day agreed, saying MSU Denver students have “work ethic and grit.”

It makes the Days proud to know they’re helping students go into the health field and bettering their community that has given a lot to them, Gina Day said.

The contribution from the Days “means a lot” to the university, Matuszewicz said. 

“It really speaks to what everyone sees right now in terms of the critical nature of shortages in the health workforce,” she said. “For the state to know that there are donors out there willing to support this effort as well is huge.”

Frank Day hopes their gift will make it easier for the legislature to continue to boost contributions to MSU Denver and attract more private donors, he said.

Looking toward the future, the university hopes to break ground on the tower in another 18 months, Matuszewicz said. After construction, ideally the facility would open in 2027.

“The impact that this gift will have is truly enormous,” Matuszewicz said. “We make a lot happen here and for people to support that means a lot.”

Colorado Politics reporter Marissa Ventrelli contributed to this report.

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