Brett Garman’s story of coming to work for UCCS is similar to those of many of the university’s employees.
They went to college there and, “just fell in love with the school,” the Pagosa Springs native said. “The staff, the students, the campus — what isn’t there to love about UCCS?”
Garman moved to Colorado Springs after high school to attend the university, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in English and communications as well as a master’s in communications. While getting her degree, she worked in the student employment office, coordinating the AmeriCorps program. Upon graduation, Garman took a job with the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region and peakradar.com.
“I was the coordinator there and stayed for a long time before I decided to try something new,” she said.
Until about a year ago, Garman was the development director for a community theater in Michigan.
She spoke with the Business Journal this week about coming back to work for her alma mater, along with how she combines her passion for nonprofits and the arts in her current position.
What were you doing before moving back to the Springs?
I was the development director for Kalamazoo Civic Theatre. It’s an arts organization but very focused on community theater. It’s all volunteer actors and a lot of our crews were as well, but we did have a small staff. I was the only development person. I did all of our annual giving and helped run our foundation that we started while I was there.
Has that job helped prepare you for your current position?
Absolutely. That actually was my first development-focused job. Prior to that at COPPeR, I was working with the website and doing a lot of marketing as well as some fundraising. We were, at the time, a two-person to a two-and-a-half person shop. I learned a lot when I went to Kalamazoo, specifically, with fundraising. I think when you’re meeting with fundraisers, you’ll often hear they just kind of fell into this work. And if you really love it, I think it’s something that people stick with. It wasn’t something I thought when I went to school, ‘Oh, I want to be a fundraiser.’ But it really works for me.
Talk about what you do now.
I have taken my passion for nonprofits and the arts and focused it in the fundraising development side of working with those groups. I’m the assistant director of development at UCCS and I focus a lot on fundraising for arts programs, as well as other programs, and a couple of scholarships. At UCCS, we strive to keep tuition costs as low as possible, providing lots of scholarships, and that requires community support, supportive donors and alumni volunteers. The development office really focuses on helping our campus and our students be successful by working with our community partners to make sure that the students are able to attend school and find success.
What was your plan for post-college life?
I originally was going to work in TV, or make movies and music videos. I concentrated a lot on media management when I was in school and writing, but I definitely think it translates to what I’m doing now because I have to use the skills I learned at UCCS to listen and communicate back what is happening on campus, and answer questions. I also do a little bit of writing work, which is wonderful and uses my degree a lot.
Do you ever regret not pursuing a career in TV or the movies?
There are days that I wish I was making music videos for famous artists because I love watching them, but I really love what I do and working for UCCS.
Why do you enjoy working with nonprofits?
I just grew up being really active in my community because Pagosa Springs is kind of a smaller town. I volunteered a lot as I was growing up and just recognize that in order for us to live life to the fullest, we need the work of a lot of nonprofit agencies, so that our society is as awesome as it possibly can be. It’s just something I grew up really being excited about and continued to love when I came to this school.
Any particular local nonprofits you are interested in?
I love the arts. So groups like COPPeR are just a passion of mine. But I also really love working with people and helping provide resources for unmet needs. Groups like TESSA [of Colorado Springs] also are something really important to me and my heart. It’s helping those folks who have overcome adversity or rise through challenges.
What is it about the arts that appeals to you?
This is another instance where I grew up acting, singing and playing music. I have other interests too, but I just see art as being a wonderful way for people to express themselves and bring joy to our lives. When things get tough or you’re stressed with work or there’s just so many other things going on, it’s nice to find some release — and for a lot of people that’s creating art. I think there is a lot to be said for consuming art as well, which is what I do more of. I just think it adds so much to our lives.
Why do you think it’s important to have a vibrant arts community?
I think art attracts residents and visitors, and it can attract businesses. It’s a huge economic driver in that way. I think it adds so much to do in a city. In Colorado Springs, for instance, I think you’ll find you could go to a different concert or play or gallery opening every night of the week, which is a blessing and a curse because sometimes you have to miss things. I think the arts community in Colorado Springs is just absolutely fantastic. And that’s crucial to making our residents and visitors happy. You can find art everywhere here. I think things like the Art on the Streets program through the Downtown Partnership [of Colorado Springs] is great. It’s wonderful to just be driving to work with some great music on my radio and pass by beautiful sculptures like the one right outside The Antlers [hotel].
What’s a challenge you face in your position?
That’s hard because I really love my job, and we have such an awesome team. The school is exceptional, which makes it easy to fundraise for and work with donors because they’re just as passionate as me. I guess if I had to say something — I think one of the biggest challenges is our team is growing. It needs to because a lot of us are extremely busy. There are not enough hours in the day to really do all of the things that we want to be doing. The university is so wildly successful and it’s growing, and we want so much to provide exceptional opportunities to our students. So keeping up with that growth is kind of challenging, but we really do a great job and have some wonderful support systems. We are absolutely working through it and still find success.
How important is networking to your job?
I think it’s extremely important. I love meeting new people. And there is so much going on in Colorado Springs that a lot of people may not be aware of some of the resources that are offered — that UCCS has to offer. Networking is crucial in learning the passions of other people in our community and just connecting with new people.
What advice do you have for other young professionals?
Don’t be afraid to take risks. To be honest, I came to Colorado Springs and went to UCCS because I didn’t know hardly anyone here. I wanted to try something brand new and kind of just threw myself into something. Hopefully, eventually you find your thing that gives you meaning. Sometimes jumping in with both feet, not knowing what is going to happen, can work out and open up new possibilities.