As a self-described “military brat,” Philip Denman was given a tour of the country, and though the 26-year-old claims Seattle as his hometown, he hangs his hat at UCCS in Colorado Springs. Denman began his stint in the Springs as a UCCS grad student in 2010 and soon was hired on as a social media and communications specialist for University Advancement. He now works as assistant director of the recently created University Communications and Media Relations department. Denman spoke to the Business Journal this week about his fiancée Megan, his dogs Finn and Dexter, his love of the outdoors and his unexpected discovery of a career for which he has found a passion.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I lived in Seattle for a number of years — I was a military brat, so I grew up all over — but I really put my roots down and went to college there. I went to Washington State University in Pullman, which is about five hours from Seattle. I got my BA in Communication with a minor in history. … After I graduated, I had the opportunity to go to Seattle and work at a public relations firm, but realized that wasn’t the route I wanted to go. I didn’t want to work in a client-based area where I wasn’t really invested in the companies I was working with. I really wanted to be on the internal side of an organization that I could really get invested in and be passionate about. During college I did an internship with the Coast Guard and realized that a lot of the people I worked with who worked as civil servants really enjoyed what they did and were really invested in it. … That’s when I decided to get my master’s in public administration, which brought me to Colorado. … I started here in 2010 and for part of that program I had to do a couple of internships. So I did my first one in the University Communications office in 2011 here with Tom Hutton as a graduate assistant. After that I worked for the City of Phoenix as a public information officer intern.
How and when did you begin working full-time for UCCS?
When I came back here [from Phoenix in 2012], Tom asked me if I wanted to come on full-time for University Communications. That is when I started with the university as a social media and communications specialist. With that, I helped manage the university’s social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, but I also did a lot of the internal communications work for the faculty/staff newsletter, as well as external communications with local media.
What do you enjoy about working in a university setting?
One of the nicest things about working at UCCS is the variety. We are a small shop that is asked to do a whole lot. Right now, my title is assistant director of University Communication and Media Relations. With that, I split my time between social media and internal and external communications. The social media side is great because you have a real one-on-one relationship with students. They may not see my face, but when someone is asking questions … we’re able to help them. So there is a real sense of being an actual part of the system, and not just being a background player. There is also the opportunity to do photography and video stuff, and I also still write daily. … But it’s still very much something that changes day to day.
I started off really surprised to be working for a university, but after working for a year I found that I really enjoyed it. Education is something that I believe in and that it is something that we as a nation need to invest in. … I’ve really enjoyed it and really like that we have a direct impact on helping students assimilate into the UCCS community, learn their way around campus and answer questions that to some might seem repetitive or unimportant, but it is in the research that if a student feels connected … they are more likely to succeed.
What do you do in your spare time?
I just got engaged a couple of weeks ago, so we’re in the process of starting to plan a wedding that will be next July. … I’m a big outdoor guy. When weather is permitting, I try to camp as much as possible. We’ve got a couple dogs, so we go hiking a lot and take them swimming and camping. In the winter, pretty much every weekend I am at either Breckenridge or Keystone. … I also volunteer on the advertising and marketing committee for the CASA of the Pikes Peak Region board of directors.
How do you see the creation of the new department and your changing role affecting your work and the campus?
It’s not a major change in job duties or assignments, but I think it naturally reflects what it is that we’re doing. As such a small office, we all wear a lot of hats. So as a social media and communications specialist, that really conveyed only one aspect of what my job was. So now I think there is a better understanding there with our colleagues and faculty on campus. One of the big changes we’re seeing at UCCS is that we’re seeing people visit the social media pages even more than the website. If somebody Googled UCCS and we didn’t have a Facebook page, that would reflect on us as a university. So really that is becoming an image builder, as much as the engagement tool that it originally was. So having it up-to-date, posting photos and videos, showing off events — those sorts of things I think will continue to grow both for us and probably industrywide.
How has social media’s presence in university affairs evolved?
One of the biggest changes that really surprised me when I stepped into this role is that social media, Twitter especially, has really become the new customer service outlet — the 1-800 number that students dial when they need to ask any question, or when they want to leave feedback, or complain, or compliment. … But we are a lot of times able to provide close-to-real-time service that way. So it really provides an immediate service for our audience, which was there before but probably not as easy for everyone involved.