University of Denver

IAALS Advances Justice with Sam Walker

Founding Executive Director

IAALS simply would not be what it is without the support of our partners and friends. They are essential to our efforts and hail from a wide range of backgrounds, viewpoints, and sectors. Every month, IAALS will shine the spotlight on one such person and take you behind the scenes for a lighthearted glimpse into those upon whose guidance and support we rely. Together we are advancing justice.

Sam Walker, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment

As Sam relates below, I came to know him first through his interest in pursuing a judgeship. I think Sam would make an extraordinary judge. But, I have seen him grow in his own goals and vision through the process of considering a judgeship. He is a listener—not just to other people, but also to his own spirit and to his beliefs. Many of us lock on to a particular objective, and do not listen to life’s lessons along the way—some of which may be suggesting other paths. Sam is precisely the opposite. He goes through life with his finger on the pulse of life’s rhythms. 

He is one of the most genuine, committed people I know. He looks for ways to advance humanity—with humility and grace. The message he is trying to send in his interview responses below is that we all face adversity of one kind or another, and the measure of our humanity is how we respond to that adversity. Helping hands, opening doors, caring about the world beyond our personal borders is what gives life purpose. He fits right into our mission here at IAALS, and we all benefit greatly from his contributions.

Earlier this month, we caught up with Sam to bring you our latest Partner Profile.

How did you initially get involved with IAALS? Becky and I have a shared friend. Five years ago I was evaluating whether to pursue appointment as a judicial officer. Our shared friend suggested that I get together with Becky over coffee. Besides offering me some great advice, Becky told me about IAALS. The more I learned, the more I understood just how important our work is. Not only has IAALS remained an important part of my landscape personally, but my wife, Cynthia, also supports the mission and vision of the organization. It’s an important part of our philanthropy. Initially I was involved in the Business Leadership Network and eventually I joined the board. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Driving over Kenosha Pass in late September—the colors and the wide expanse of South Park sprawling like a poem. It’s something you cannot see anywhere else in the world.

What is the trait you admire most in others? What I admire most is people who experience hardship and take that as life’s instructions to them of what they should do next. Francis Perkins is a hero of mine and that is something that characterized her life.

What historical figure do you admire most? I love America. To me, to understand America requires an understanding of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. I suppose for this conversation, I’d focus in on Abraham Lincoln. He was transformed from pragmatist to idealist, and later to icon. I especially admire how he adapted to his times and the way he used words. To go from the first inaugural address to the second I think reflects an amazing growth in intellect and spirit. 

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you have and why? My wife Cynthia, our new puppy, and puppy food.

If you could do anything for one year, what would you do? I would do exactly what I am doing now. I am in the middle of a one-year appointment as the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. My mandate is to cultivate the intersection of work-based learning and skills-based practice, which I now accept as a bit of government jargon, but an important mandate nonetheless. What I really do is trace the arc of the American dream. We have to believe in our country that our children can and will do better than us. Right now, in our evolving economy, this ideal is at risk. At the Department of Labor and Employment, we are creating more opportunity—opening doors, creating more doors, and working on the keys to open those doors. The cool thing about the limited timeframe is that we have to be razor focused on a few initiatives. It’s fun and we’re progressing!

If I had to decide on something for recreation, I would go to Wimbledon and the Australian Open. 

What inspires your continued involvement and support of IAALS? Out constitutional democracy has several pillars. The rule of law is one of those pillars, and it needs some deferred maintenance. IAALS is doing that work. I support it and I’m proud to be part of it.