Founders and Key Leaders
Louise Chawla is Professor Emerita in the Program in Environmental Design at the University of Colorado Boulder, former Co-Editor of the journal Children, Youth and Environments, and former International Coordinator of the Growing Up in Cities program of UNESCO. She currently serves as a Research Fellow with the Community Engagement, Design and Research Center in the Program in Environmental Design and as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Children and Nature Network. She publishes widely on the subjects of child and youth participation in design and planning and the development of active care for the natural world, including serving as co-author of the book, Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices for Planning Sustainable Communities.
Children need to feel that they can have a positive effect on the world. From their earliest years, they are part of communities, and Growing Up Boulder. enables them to learn how to work with others to leave a positive mark on their city. It is an active way to learn democracy.”
Debra Cushing served as the first Co-Coordinator of Growing Up Boulder; she is currently a senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia, where she lectures on Landscape Architecture and also serves and the higher degree research coordinator for the School of Design. Previously, Dr. Cushing was an instructor at The University of Colorado where she was also a member of the Steering Committee for the Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement. During her time at The University of Colorado she received the Marinus Smith Staff/ Faculty Recognition Award from The University of Colorado Boulder Parents Association and also acquired over eighteen thousand dollars in class development and delivery grants. The research she is doing now primarily focuses on the participation of youth in community design and planning, park design, intergenerational community engagement, and design pedagogy. She has published some of her research on these topics in various journals, such as in Pedagogy and community engagement in environmental design courses and Developing cultural responsiveness in environmental design students through digital storytelling and photovoice.
Tori Derr, an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at California State University Monterey Bay, served as GUB Co-Coordinator from January 2012-June 2016. During these years, she was also a Senior Instructor in the Program in Environmental Design at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She is interested in intersections of people and place, and how engagement of children and youth can contribute to more resilient, vibrant, and sustainable places, especially among under-represented communities. Her research includes how children use biophilic spaces, participatory planning of urban and natural spaces, and people's values and relationships to the natural world. She is the lead author on the book, Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices for Planning Sustainable Communities and lead editor of the book, Latin American Transnational Children and Youth: Experiences of Nature and Place, Culture and Care Across the Americas. Tori has worked with children and youth in planning and education for more than 20 years. She has worked with diverse populations in The Gambia, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Florida, and Colorado. Tori received her Ph.D. from Yale University in 2001.
David Driskell helped launch Growing Up Boulder while serving as Executive Director of Planning, Housing and Sustainability for the City of Boulder from 2009 to 2017. He subsequently served as Deputy Director for Planning and Community Development for the City of Seattle, before rejoining Baird+Driskell Community Planning, where he leads participatory planning and policy initiatives. David is the former UNESCO Chair for “Growing Up in Cities” at Cornell University, and author of Creating Better Cities with Children and Youth (UNESCO/Earthscan, 2002) as well as numerous articles. He has taught courses on community-based planning and action research at Cornell, Stanford and UC Berkeley; led training programs in Canada, The Netherlands, Jordan, India and Kenya; and directed child and youth action research initiatives in Bangalore, New York, and Nairobi.
Mara Mintzer, current Executive Director of Growing Up Boulder (GUB), helped found the organization in 2009 and served as one of its Co-Coordinators. A passionate advocate for child-friendly cities, Mara presents and writes internationally on the topic of engaging young people in inclusive community planning and development. Her expertise in engaging children and youth in meaningful ways to shape their own cities is requested by government and community organizations around the world. In 2017, Mara delivered one of the most successful TEDx Talks on the importance of urban planning with kids, accumulating more than 2.3 million views. She served as a co-author of the book, Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices for Planning Sustainable Communities along with lead author Tori Derr and co-author Louise Chawla. She continues to be inspired by seeing the positive impact that planning equitable communities has on everyone. Mara also loves creating innovative community resources, like the nation’s first child and teen friendly city map. Prior to GUB, Mara was Director of Belle Haven Community School in California, where she oversaw child and family support services families on an underresourced school campus. She has designed and implemented a wide variety of programs for underrepresented children, families and neighborhoods in New York and California. Mara received her B.A. in Psychology from Brown University and her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Currently serving as the superintendent of Greeley-Evans School District 6, Dr. Deirdre Pilch represented Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) during the founding of Growing Up Boulder. In her role as BVSD deputy superintendent and assistant superintendent, Dr. Pilch served as a collaborator and champion of GUB's work in the schools. Dr. Pilch's career in education is marked by her leadership at the classroom, school, and district level. She is devoted to ensuring every student graduates on time with the skills they need to enter college or a career.
During her tenure in District 6, Dr. Pilch led the adoption of a new strategic plan and introduced a shared-decision making model of leadership which led to a restored relationship with the Greeley Education Association. Dr. Pilch has helped lead two successful campaigns to secure additional revenues from voters for District 6.
Dr. Pilch completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Wyoming and holds a Master’s degree and an Educational Specialist degree in secondary school administration from the University of Central Missouri. Her Doctorate of Education is in Educational Policy and Leadership from the University of Kansas.
The Honorable Dorothy Rupert, local leader and former Colorado State Senator, helped found Growing Up Boulder in 2009. Dorothy served 35 years as a public high school teacher and counselor, 14 more years in the Colorado House and Senate, and decades in the peace and women’s rights/human rights movements. She has consistently supported education, relentlessly and courageously tackled difficult legislative issues, and traveled the globe for peace. Dorothy embodies commitment, passion, vitality, caring, sincerity, never-give-up determination, and joy.She was among the 1000 women nominated by the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2005.
Willem van Vliet
Willem van Vliet, professor emeritus, CU Boulder, initiated Denver’s Child- and Youth Friendly Initiative (2004-07). Based on this experience, in late 2008 as Director of the then Children, Youth and Environments Center, he proposed to David Driskell, long-time friend and newly hired Boulder’s Director of Planning, a partnership between the City, the University, and the local school district to develop a rights-based approach that would make Boulder the first child-friendly city in the U.S. Its goal was to carry out place-based projects as precedents enhancing and demonstrating the competence of children and youth in making valuable community contributions. Willem envisioned an eventual culture change that would support children’s participation in local planning as routine. To that end, Growing Up Boulder sought to create synergies with existing community organizations, especially to incorporate underrepresented voices. After retiring in 2014, Willem remained an interested observer and occasional advisor.