A former structural engineer, Sue Moore Fenske moved to Colorado Springs in June from Paducah, Kentucky, to become executive director of the Pikes Peak Community College Foundation. She left engineering and entered the nonprofit world after giving birth to two sons with her husband Thomas Fenske. Their sons are Taylor, 22, a Navy pilot stationed in Pensacola, Fla., and Tucker, 19, a junior at Western Kentucky University.
How is working as a structural engineer different from a college foundation?
Actually, I find them to be remarkably similar. In both roles, I regularly juggle multiple projects and priorities, and both require a lot of interaction with colleagues and external partners and clients. In fact, two of the most valuable things I learned in engineering school were how to think logically and how to take very large, complex problems and break them down into solvable parts. I use those skills every day. The biggest difference is the joy I get from helping people match their interests and passions with opportunities to realize their philanthropic goals.
What are the shining stars of PPCC?
The quality of instruction is the “shining star” that is many times overlooked. PPCC just completed its reaccreditation process. While we’re still waiting for the official report, the feedback from our reviewers was outstanding. Many people don’t realize that PPCC is accredited by the same organization that accredits UCCS and Colorado College, which means we must meet the same standards for quality as those institutions. Another “shining star” in the planning phase involves our plans for expansion of our downtown campus. We are planning investment in the range of $15 to $20 million in the next five years to increase the number of classrooms and expand performance space for our fine arts and performing arts programs.
What does the PPCC Foundation do?
The role of the foundation is to match the needs of the college with people who have an interest in helping the college continue its mission to educate students and provide a highly qualified workforce for employers in the Pikes Peak region. We work with individuals, businesses and foundations to support scholarships for our students, to advance new programs and initiatives with the potential to impact regional challenges, and to improve and enhance PPCC’s learning infrastructure. Colorado has reduced its support for higher education by nearly 70 percent since 1980; in order for the college to maintain the excellent level of education it provides to students, the college must rely on investment from the community to fill the gap left by budget reductions.
What is your role in that?
I work with our president, Lance Bolton, and other members of the leadership team to identify the priority projects and initiatives of the college. I also work with the team in the foundation office to develop and execute an effective strategy to access the resources needed to move them forward.
Who benefits from the foundation?
Most directly, our students benefit … through scholarship assistance and by having access to the best possible learning resources. Indirectly, the entire community benefits. When we can make it easier for students to access higher education and when we can provide the most up-to-date equipment and technology for the learning process, employers in the community have access to a larger pool of prospective employees who are well trained and ready to work. That leads to more businesses starting and growing here or relocating and growing here, which means a better quality of life for everyone. For this reason, I was drawn to this position: There are few organizations in a community that have the power to truly change lives, not only those of individuals, but of entire communities. … PPCC in particular is one such organization.
What do you like most about Colorado Springs?
This is a very “livable” city. By that, I mean it’s not so big that commutes to work are long or that it takes forever to get anywhere, but not so small that it is without nice amenities. I love the fact that, almost any given night of the week, there is live music to enjoy of just about any genre. I also love the parks and trails that connect all through town. I particularly appreciate that this is a community that welcomes newcomers. I have been here a relatively short time, not quite a year, and I have fallen in love with Colorado Springs.
What do you do in your off time?
Since I arrived in Colorado Springs, a lot of my time has been spent at work, getting acclimated to the organization and the community. But, more recently, I have picked up my tennis racket again (my serve is always the first to go), and I had the chance to get back on skis this season for the first time in about five years. This is a great place to get outdoors and be active.