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Denver Publishing Institute Alumna Helps Unlock Possibilities for Students

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Susan Dugan


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Denver Publishing Institue



Benita Flucker

Denver Publishing Institute (DPI) alumna Benita Flucker, who will give the program’s commencement address on Aug. 4, has first-hand experience in the ways in which books transform lives for the better.

Growing up in Detroit, Mich., she would read “anything I could get my hands on,” from “The Chronicles of Narnia” to “Nancy Drew,” thanks to an aunt who kindled her life-long passion for books. 

“She took a real interest in me and my twin sister and we spent a lot of time talking about current events, fiction and nonfiction,” Flucker said.

A middle-school teacher likewise “saw things in me that I certainly didn’t see and my family didn’t see.”

That teacher encouraged Flucker to apply to Cass Technical High School, a competitive, magnet, college-prep institution, where she focused on pre-med classes and was later accepted into the pre-med program at the University of Michigan.

“People came from all kinds of colleges and universities to interview inner-city students from Cass Tech,” she said. “Frankly, a lot of us got into schools we never otherwise would have because we were given the opportunity to sell ourselves and talk about what we brought to the table.”

But mid-way through her pre-med track in college, Flucker found herself ill-suited for the major and decided to switch to psychology, a subject that played to her strong research, studying and writing skills.

Pivoting Toward a Publishing Career

In 1989, Flucker planned to take a semester off to work before returning to school, but the library customer-service position she took at Gale Research, an academic and reference publishing company, altered her trajectory.

She fell in love with the work and the people and never looked back.

By 1991, she’d been promoted at Gale Research three times and applied for and landed a company-funded scholarship to DPI that summer.

The intimate, four-week program immerses students in the ever-evolving world of book publishing through graduate-level lectures, special sessions and field trips. It also provides access to industry leaders and a nationwide network of publishing professionals through workshops and small-group discussions.

“The opportunity to spend that kind of time with other people from different backgrounds and upbringings outside my normal environment was super stimulating,” Flucker said.

“I was familiar with operations but it exposed me to all of the intricacies of publishing. To learn about marketing, authorship and editing in an environment that allowed you to focus on that was transformational,” she added.

DPI Founder and then Director Elizabeth Geiser encouraged Flucker to find and own her voice as a Black woman, thereby shaping the arc of her future publishing career. Flucker still vividly recalls walking into pre-registration and meeting Geiser.

“This woman who was so revered as a steward of education and publishing knew every single one of our names and took the time to know each of us,” Flucker said. “It was a lesson I carry with me today and apply to everyone I work with.”

As just one of a few Black women participating that summer, Flucker at first struggled to fit in but Geiser “told me to stop that. She said people would like and respect me for just being myself.”

Flucker still gets emotional recalling those discussions. “To have been in one-on-one conversations with her about the importance of being a strong, Black woman, owning your place in the world and not needing to apologize for that — it was a blessing.”

Empowering Other Diverse Voices

Geiser’s message helped Flucker find her true calling: to empower others representing a diversity of backgrounds to find their own voices in publishing. That core passion energized a variety of the increasingly influential, subsequent roles she played at Gale Research through its many acquisitions over the next 20 years.

In her most recent position at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), an education and learning technology company where she has worked since 2010, Flucker serves as chief equity and inclusion officer and senior vice president of enterprise development strategy.

She held the latter position for the last three years and assumed the title of chief equity and inclusion officer when she was approached last year by the company’s CEO.

“He wanted me to make sure we were not only bringing diverse voices into the education space but making sure educators can create equitable classroom environments that make children feel like they’re seen, included and belong,” she said.

Flucker’s work also embraces inspiring employees to embody the same values.

“It’s one thing to make sure that the work is about equity and inclusion and another to make sure that people are living it,” said Flucker, who is also a co-founding member of Innovation for Equity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “improving life outcomes for Black learners of all ages.”

Paying It Forward

Active as a DPI alumna, Flucker returned to campus last summer to deliver the commencement speech. While talking with DPI Director Jill Smith about the challenges associated with access to the kind of education DPI offers, Flucker learned about the DPI Community Scholarship Fund.

It was too late to get her company to sponsor a scholarship through its internal scholarship program, but Flucker reached out to two fellow alumni she keeps in touch with — Neil Walker and Wendy Van De Sande.

Together they’ve expanded the alumni fundraising network to provide additional access to DPI through the Community Scholarship program.

“Knowing that I was one of two or three people of color back in 1991 and here in 2023 being able to actually sit down and do mock interviews with a dozen people of color and have lunch with people from all walks of life who represent the BIPOC community is thrilling,” Flucker said.

She hopes to continue to help build and strengthen DPI’s alumni network.

“We have a responsibility to people just coming into the profession to preserve free speech and protect lifelong learners from the adverse effects of legislative actions that limit authentic, real-world American and Black history,” Flucker said. 

“DPI has been cultivating a network for decades. We need to make sure that classes stay connected to share opportunities and successes and support each other as we come up against these kinds of challenges so we don’t feel alone in this work.”

Flucker will give the address at DPI’s commencement at 2 p.m. on Aug. 4 in the Tuscan Ballroom, Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality.

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