Matt Makley, Ph.D., professor of history

Matthew Makley, professor of History

“Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” –Bruce Lee

Secret poet, water buffalo, and perennial jock Matt Makley, PhD. claims he wasn’t a very good student in school but is now a popular professor of history. These days he spends his time while off campus with his family road-tripping, camping, visiting hot springs and finding outdoor adventures in wild places.

Makley is familiar with wild places as he was born and raised in the Lake Tahoe region, and his heart has remained true to the land and people there. He’s dedicated to preserving the culture in Tahoe and the indigenous Washoe tribe that have lived in Tahoe for thousands of generations; so much that he has written two books about the Washoe people.

When he’s not mountain biking or snowboarding with his wife and sons, he’s teaching multi-cultural and Native American History at MSU Denver. Check out Makley’s personal museum of Native American culture in his office in Central.

  1. This photo of Sarah Winnemucca brings me inspiration. She was a Northern Paiute woman who lived in Tahoe and was a fierce advocate for the rights of her people and the first native woman to publish an autobiography. Being from the same region as Sarah I feel a connection. I admire her strength and fearlessness. 
  2. The Eagle was given to me by Dr. Stephen Leonard, long time chair of the History Department.  The eagle is an iconic American symbol but to me it is a gift from one of the most outstanding, living historians of the American West.  The corn that sits with the eagle was given to me by a student from MSU Denver’s Journey Through our Heritage cultural program, and represents the connectivity between native people and Hispanic people on this campus. (The corn is) a symbol of American Indian history and native people’s use of maize and the deep cultural associations it has for them. These two (artifacts) together help ground me and remind me of both my responsibilities to both my students and mentors.
  3. The book covers for my books, The Small Shall be Strong (about the Washoe people) was published in 2018, and Cave Rock which I co-authored with my father, Michael J. Makley. (Cave Rock) is a book about a Washoe Indian sacred site on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, which became the center of a monumental legal struggle and resulted in the first time in American history when an Indian communities’ concern over a sacred site resulted in mandated protections on federal lands.
  4. A photograph of the West Fork of the Carson River as it carves its way out of Hope Valley, was taken by a dear family friend of a place deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  I love Hope Valley—that is a place my family has visited for almost 100 years, we camp there often– it is a place of strength and beauty for me.
  5. Keep Tahoe Blue and Keep Tahoe Washo stickers anchor me to home. The Keep Tahoe Blue sticker is pretty popular around the American West.  The Keep Tahoe Washo sticker is a play-off of that, to remind people that Washoes were at Tahoe first. The Washoe have lived in the Tahoe region for 10,000 years, despite that they own very little property at their ancestral lake. It is important for us “newcomers” to understand and respect their long tenure and deep associations with Tahoe. 
  6. This graphic of Colorado State’s divestment in higher education is something everyone on campus should have in their office.  It demonstrates the steady decline in state funding for higher education in Colorado.  If we continue on this current trajectory, the state will stop funding higher education all together.  I don’t think people fully understand what is happening to higher education here in Colorado. The costs, then, are left to be covered by student tuition and fees. So that is something all of us who believe in higher education need to be deeply concerned with. I like to look at that to remind myself that we do more with less, and our students deserve more.

Dolce Vita: Italy’s culture and history teaches MSU students

Metropolitan State University’s One World, One Water program is a collaboration with Denver Botanic Gardens to create joint initiatives on key water issues in Colorado.

Across a span of over a 3,000 year history, Italy has become a highly developed culture by creating water infrastructure to move water across the countryside to residents. Generations of record keeping contribute to understanding water issues in the west by comparing historical data in Italy with water use in Colorado. The two regions share a similar arid climate and have grappled with water quality, and security.

MSU Denver students now have an opportunity to visit Italy to learn about Italian culture, science, and water. The study abroad program focuses on understanding water related issues using a historical and cultural context to learn new skills. Students who attend the program should be able to identify and discuss key watershed issues and challenges that Italy has faced, and how that understanding is applicable to Colorado water issues.

OWOW students who have completed the program, can compare historical water usage to current water usage, and that valuable data can help current and future decision makers in environmental and policy planning.

Biology major Stephanie Schmidt, attended the Italy study abroad program in 2018 and took a class which sparked an interest in Geography Information Science (GIS) upon her return to Denver. The GIS class taught her that maps can be used to tell stories, and it helped her learn a new skill that landed her an internship at a local city municipality.

Understanding the similarities between cultures that seem so different, can benefit students long term. Travelling and getting to experience another culture, helps people to feel the confidence to navigate in foreign countries.

“To see how another country manages their water, in a different culture and their value of water compared to our view in the United States is valuable.” Said Schmidt “Colorado is a headwater state and I want to be a part of water and being a part of water quality is important to me.”

Interdisciplinary connections to the Italy study abroad program could include students of Environmental Science, Geography Information Science, Communications, Political Science, International Studies, Hospitality Events and Tourism, Anthropology, History and more.

“The partnership with Italy gives students a unique opportunity to study outside of their own field of expertise and collaborate with Italian water experts on ways to meet our changing and growing water needs.” Said Co-Director of OWOW, Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd.

Visiting water expert Dr. Nardi, came to the Auraria Campus in June to tour the facilities and services available to MSU Denver students. His visit served a dual purpose of being the ambassador from the Italian Study Abroad program, and he also attended the Watershed Summit co-hosted by OWOW and held at the Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG).

“People come from all over the world to learn at the University of Perugia,” said Nardi, “and value the natural and human resources of a region, and get value from the historical information.” Dr. Nardi stated. International collaborations with leaders like Dr. Nardi, strengthen the universal bonds in learning by sharing ideas and information.

“Water is the main component between us, we value water, science and culture at the base of our civilization. This is the reason we come together to share ideas.”  Said Nardi.

The Watershed Summit which was held June 27 at the Denver Botanic Gardens and was one of the events that brought people involved in sustainable conservation efforts together.

The Watershed Summit is a conference held for regional water leaders to meet and share ideas. It also allowed online water studies certificate students to come and listen to guest speakers discuss critical local issues such as the health of Colorado’s watershed, long term planning, emerging technologies, and water storage and conservation ideas.

The summit was attended by guests from International partnerships, and brought together water leaders from many regional communities including Boulder, Denver, Aurora, Phoenix, and Colorado Springs. This event is an important networking opportunity for online students to meet people in the water field, and also for Professors, faculty, and staff of MSU Denver to share ideas with other innovators.

This event is a partnership hosted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Botanic Gardens, OWOW, Aurora Water, Denver Water, and Resource Central.