I've been traveling around the 3rd Congressional District recently to hear from community and business leaders, as well as residents, about how the University of Colorado is serving the region's needs. The listening tours help me in my role on the CU Board of Regents, which governs the university's four campuses. I've been getting a lot of positive responses about the value and impact of CU on our state and nation, but I've also gained good insight into the university's role in communities.

Most people understand that CU's four campuses — Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver and the Anschutz Medical Campus — play a vital role in the health of our state. They serve about 65,000 students, some 15,000 of whom graduate annually and provide the foundation for Colorado's economy, health and communities.

As regent, I've been impressed by all CU does, but also surprised that many people around the state are unaware of its activities. Last year, faculty attracted more than $1 billion in research funding, which not only improves lives, saves lives and advances knowledge, but also has a significant ripple effect on the economy. CU's annual economic impact is $12.8 billion each year, making it a powerhouse driver of Colorado's economic prosperity. The effects can be felt in communities around the state.

But the thing I've been most heartened to hear is how CU partners with communities large and small throughout Colorado. The most visible example here in Grand Junction is the partnership with Colorado Mesa University to offer engineering programs. The mechanical and electrical engineering programs allow CMU and CU to leverage faculty talent, resources and serve students in our community. The partnership has been such a success that we are looking at expanding it to include computer engineering and perhaps others. It also has attracted the attention of companies like Lockheed Martin, which is looking to cultivate the next generation of engineers and possibly establish a presence in Grand Junction.

There are many more ways CU serves communities on the Western Slope. One of the more effective partnerships, which positively affects communities and people in rural and mountain areas, are Area Health Education Centers (AHEC). Four of the state's six AHEC centers are in the Third District. They partner with CU's schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy, as well as the Physical Therapy and Physician Assistant programs, to address health-care and health workforce needs. They provide services and education programs in partnership with CU and other agencies and organizations. Bottom line is they improve Coloradans' health.

The CU Cancer Center also has established vital relationships with three hospitals (including St. Mary's Regional Cancer Center) to provide oncology care and clinical trials. Importantly, CU doctors partner with local physicians to provide leading-edge care to cancer patients who may not be able to travel to Denver.

CU physicians served some 5,650 patients in northwest Colorado (including Grand Junction) in 2017.

Other partnerships cover a broad spectrum in their scope and impact. In one, CU scientists and students are integral to the West Central Public Health Partnership, which studies the risk to drinking water wells in six Western Slope counties. In another, the CU Boulder Dance Outreach offers workshops, technique classes and performance opportunities to K-12 schools and retirement communities. CU also provides hands-on teaching kits that include classroom lessons, fossils and casts that address the state's science standards.

One of CU's more valuable partnerships is pre-collegiate programs. They give students — some as early as middle school, but particularly in high school — insight into college application, readiness and success. The programs shows students what is possible in higher education and helps them get there. The goal is to get them in college, any college, and the program has a successful track record. Pre-collegiate programs in the Roaring Fork Valley, Lake County and Summit County serve Western Slope students extremely well.

More than 2,000 students from the 3rd Congressional District attend CU campuses, with an average of 400-plus new freshmen and more than 100 community college transfers.

Many other CU programs serve Western Slope communities. As I traveled the 3rd Congressional District, people consistently told me they appreciated the value and impact CU has on our state, but they also are excited about the possibilities of working together locally. I'm happy with CU's progress. We can always do better and do more, but we have a solid foundation and willing partners in communities, colleges and at CU that are moving our citizens and our state forward.

Glen Gallegos of Grand Junction represents the 3rd Congressional District on the University of Colorado Board of Regents.