DSF Scholar Derek Dash: Governor Hickenlooper’s shadow

When you meet Derek Dash, it’s impossible not to think “this guy is going places.”

And you’d be right. In fact he’s already been places — lots of them. He has served as a White House intern and member of the President’s advance team, work that took him all across the U.S. and overseas as well. He’s met President Obama “a couple of times,” he says modestly.

And now, as Governor John Hickenlooper’s ‘body man’ he goes everywhere the governor goes, be it in a private plane, a car, a bus, or on foot. Hickenlooper seldom takes days off, and as a result, Derek works constantly as well. He’s a one-man department.

But he’s happy for the experience and the connections he’s making. And when he looks back at how far he has come since his childhood in City Park South, he remains grateful for the opportunities he has had.

“Denver Scholarship Foundation gave me the chance to go to college,” Derek says. “The thing I appreciate the most about DSF is that they gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted. There were no strings attached to the scholarship.”

Governor John Hickenlooper with DSF Scholar Derek Dash, his "body man"

Neither Derek nor his teachers ever doubted his capacity to succeed in college. As a student at Dora Moore Elementary School in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, a middle-schooler at Odyssey, an expeditionary learning charter, and as a member of the inaugural graduating class of the Denver School of Science and Technology high school in 2008, Derek was always a strong student.

But college was never a given, because his family had financial challenges that put even in-state tuition out of reach without substantial financial help. “I come from a lower-middle income family. I always had what I needed, but there were no French ski vacations in my childhood,” he says.

His parents never married or attended college. “I’m the first person in three generations not to have a kid before I was 21. So every day I set a new record,” he says with a grin.

One of Derek’s grandparents was a lawyer and judge, another a college professor. So college-going and professional success runs in his blood. It’s just that the college-going part skipped a generation.

Derek cobbled together Pell Grants,scholarships from DSF and the University of Colorado, and attended CU-Boulder. He worked food services jobs and tended bar once he turned 21 to make ends meet.

While in college he worked internships at ABC News in Washington, D.C. He performed his share of unglamorous intern-like tasks —“answering phones, organizing filing cabinets.” But he also got to tag along on assignments to the State Department and the Pentagon.

“I garnered a pretty good understanding of how news is gathered,” he said. He also had an internship at Channel 4, Denver’s CBS news affiliate.

After graduating from CU in 2013 with a degree in political science (he took a year off during college to deal with some family issues), Derek mulled going into the news business, where he had already gained some valuable experience. Ultimately, however, he decided “I’m less into reporting than being someone who makes the news.”

In February of 2013, with graduation looming, Derek started firing off internship applications, including one to the White House. “I knew it was a long-shot but I figured I might as well,” he said. Over the course of the spring he received rejection after rejection. Then, one day in the late spring he got a call from the White House. Could he be there in a week to start a summer internship in the office of scheduling and advance?

He said yes.

Once the internship wrapped up, he returned to Boulder to fulfill the terms of his lease. He stayed through the end of 2013. Then, in January the White House called with a job offer, as an “advance associate.” He jumped at the chance. The job, while exciting, was also “ very stressful, with long hours,” essentially doing event planning for the President.

Derek left the White House in mid-2014 to work on U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s unsuccessful reelection campaign. A week after election day, Hickenlooper hired him.

“What I do is very observational rather than hands-on,” Derek says. “It’s an inch deep and a mile wide.” He’s outgoing by nature, so he takes advantage of his access to forge connections, ask people about their work, file away contacts.

Down the road, Derek would like to do more campaign work. He’s intrigued by the idea of working for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s reelection campaign, or possiblly for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

He’d also like to do policy work some day, focused on public education.

“It’s the opportunity aspect of education that interests me,” he says. “Some schools have resources, others don’t, and those things have lifelong impacts on kids.”

Derek pays forward his DSF scholarships by playing an active role on the Alumni Advisory Committee. He and other alums want to extend DSF services to Scholars who have graduated from college and need some help choosing a career path and getting that often elusive first job.

“People need help knowing what to wear to an interview, how to write a resume, understanding what body language communicates.”