Attorney and activist Dawn Bookhardt, J.D., is dedicated to helping Metropolitan State University of Denver educate a diverse health care workforce in the fields of speech, language and hearing.

The chair of the MSU Denver Foundation board of directors recently made a transformational $1 million gift toward the construction of a new 70,000-square-foot health education building that will allow the University to bring its health-related academic programs under one roof.

In 2018, the University created its Health Institute, a collaboration among 10 academic departments focused on health and wellness. While the academic institute has been in place for five years, centralized physical space to make cross-department collaboration possible has been harder to come by. So MSU Denver is pursuing state funding and fundraising opportunities to support the University’s integrative approach and to increase its capacity to serve students.

That includes students in MSU Denver’s Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences program, an area of health care near and dear to Bookhardt. Her gift will also help support the Bookhardt Family Speech and Language Clinic within the Health Institute Facility. The clinic was recently renamed in Bookhardt’s honor.

“I want to change the dynamics of speech, hearing and language education and careers — for people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds to know they can be part of it,” said Bookhardt, a longtime MSU Denver supporter. “I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”

Dawn Bookhardt speaks at commencement during the spring 2023 ceremony.

What does that mean for patient health?

Mounting evidence suggests that patients prefer health care providers who can understand their background and cultural norms. Yet a 2019 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association report revealed that 92% of its members who were speech-language pathologists identified as white. In contrast, racially minoritized groups comprise about 40% of the U.S. population, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

The Speech, Language, Hearing Sciences program and newly built clinic at MSU Denver will aid in closing that gap by attracting and educating students who diversify the field and provide patients with an experience that improves overall health outcomes.

“At MSU Denver, we can be part of the solution by getting students in the door,” Bookhardt said, “then getting them trained and out the door with their feet on the ground.”

Bookhardt encourages others to step up and make a gift to the University, which she considers a worthy organization with students who deserve the support.

“Whatever you give, you’ll get back multifold — that’s just the way the universe works,” she said. “I’ve been given so much from MSU Denver in terms of knowledge, experience, love and student engagement.

“It’s a gift of the heart — the best gift I’ve ever made.”