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Besnette leads Metropolitan State as the college's Vice President of Institutional Advancement. At the school, she works to drive home the power of a college degree and the need for more access to higher education. Besnette says both issues became dear to her heart during her childhood. Both of her parents were educators. "I watched that, and I grew up with that," Besnette said. "To think that every young person wouldn't have a shot or an opportunity to fulfill what they can do, [those concerns] became my calling."

Besnette followed her parents' lead, first with a bachelor's degree at the University of Arizona, then an MA and a PhD at UCLA.

In 1997, Colorado came calling. Carrie spent the next three years working in policy as the Assistant Director of State Relations at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. She worked to legislate greater support for higher education in the west. "At the time, I thought policy was where the change was made," said Besnette. "But then something interesting happened, and a man named Bill Daniels passed away."

In 2000, Besnette moved to Denver where she joined the Daniels Fund, a $1B charitable foundation established by Bill Daniels before his death. Besnette served nearly seven years as Vice President and senior officer of the program, which awards scholarships and opportunity grants to what Daniels termed "diamonds in the rough." "The question is, how do you put things together, the right policy, the right legislation, to help those kids who need a little more," said Besnette.

In the first year of the scholarship program, gifts were awarded to 33 students. 2007's Daniels Scholars totaled 250, bringing the total number of scholars to more than 1000 since the Fund's conception. 250 more scholars will be awarded with gifts for 2008.

"She's deserving of recognition because of her striving to reach out and make better citizens of people in out community," said Daniels Scholar Cinque McKinney. "I speak on behalf of all Daniels Scholars when I say how much I appreciate her support and her always being there for all of us as a guide or as a friend."

That drive led Besnette to Metropolitan State College of Denver, where she continues to push for better access to higher education. "We are about to witness one of the biggest demographic changes we have ever seen, and she saw that very early on," said Dr. Stephen Jordan, president of Metropolitan State College. "To have her as a part of this community and to put her skills to work here, we truly are very fortunate to have a Carrie Besnette here in Denver Colorado."

Colleagues say Besnette's drive is rooted in her love for the Grand Canyon. Besnette leads tours through the canyon along the Colorado River during the summer. "Anybody who does the Grand Canyon trip with her knows the kind of motivation she has," said Maria Garcia Berry, a trustee on the Metropolitan State College of Denver Board. "She's so diverse. Not only does she do all of this great policy stuff, but by God she knows how to navigate the Grand Canyon! And I think that's very important."

9NEWS, TIAACREF and the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation congratulate Carrie Besnette, the 2008 9NEWS Leader of the Year.

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