When I recently asked a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs benefactor why he and his wife have contributed more than $1 million to the university, he answered in both a surprising and illuminating way.
The response from former City Councilman Bruce Shepard, as he looked around a room brimming with young people representing the future of southern Colorado, was that “he liked the odds.”
In those three words, Shepard captured what I, and many others at UCCS, have spent our lives doing, helping people secure their place in the future of our region, our state and our nation.
We have a mission statement approved by the General Assembly and a vision statement that talks about our march to preeminence as a regional comprehensive research university. But, at the end of the day, ensuring others will succeed long after our time has passed is the reason we exist.
This year, we welcomed back a member of the UCCS Class of 1983, John Herrington, who served as a U.S. Navy officer and aviator before becoming the first American Indian to fly in space. Herrington leads the university’s Space Education Center, sharing his knowledge and passion with the next generation of aeronautical pioneers.
In his return to the university, Herrington joins more than 200,000 people who have earned UCCS degrees and who serve as leaders in industry, in the military and in the public sector.
From his UCCS degree, Herrington continued to the space shuttle. And while he may have not reached the literal heights of Herrington, Yosuf Komanyaka’s place as the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry has roots at UCCS. The same is true of UCCS graduate and former engineering dean Ron Sega, undersecretary of the Air Force.
UCCS prepares its students with skills that I believe are timeless – how to think and how to solve problems.
Of course, many of our goals are far more immediate. We seek to create citizens educated in the importance of a pluralistic society, prepared to compete in a global economy and to both recognize their abilities and to share those talents with those who are less fortunate.
In many cases, the university leads by example.
I am proud that the University of Colorado was among the first employers in Colorado to prohibit discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, marital and veteran status, as well as sexual orientation.
I am proud that the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was the first university in the state to dedicate a position to environmental sustainability and that we will expand the campus while exercising care with our environment.
I am proud that the university has added new degrees in response to the needs of southern Colorado, degrees such as a doctorate of nursing practice that will help alleviate shortages of health care professionals as well as a bachelor of innovation degree where students combine coursework in engineering and business in a truly unique way.
I am proud of the 514 faculty, 392 staff and more than 7,500 students who combine to create in excess of $200 million in annual economic impact on this community. I am proud that for every $1 in state general fund support, CU adds $16.64 to the state’s economy. I am proud that UCCS faculty, staff and students have joined with me to set goals of 20,000 students and an economic impact of $750 million annually.
I am proud to partner with the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corp. to serve the needs of current employers and to join in the quest to attract more businesses to our region. It is an honor to be named by the EDC as an economic anchor of this community.
I am appreciative that the Colorado Springs City Council responded to calls to assist in the redevelopment of North Nevada Avenue near the campus, an area that had fallen victim to urban blight. I appreciate the longstanding support of leaders from both political parties for this campus, support most recently visible in Gov. Bill Ritter’s recommendation for funding a portion of our new science and engineering building.
This support of our efforts is indicative of yet another leadership tenet. Effective leaders work cooperatively to accomplish goals that benefit our larger community and those who will succeed us.
I like the odds.
Pam Shockley-Zalabak is chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.