One of the great things about taking a new job in a new place is that there is so much to discover. If you’re a curious person, as I am, and the new place is Colorado and the new job is as president of the University of Colorado, it’s a double bonus.
I’m visiting Pueblo for the first time on Tuesday, a few short weeks after assuming my new job. I’m interested to learn more about your community and excited to be part of an event to welcome students from Southern Colorado who will study at one of CU’s four campuses in the fall. Some 50 students will join us, part of the more than 600 new CU students from the area. Many of our nearly 2,000 alumni will join.
I have been doing a lot of listening and learning since the CU Board of Regents named me president in early May. CU is a great university and its work in teaching, learning, research and service is exceptional. On my first day on the job, July 1, I visited all four CU campuses to get a sampling of the impressive work done by our students, faculty and staff. It ranged from preparing a workforce to address the critical issue of cybersecurity to developing more effective cancer treatments for children to exploring the far reaches of space to delivering rural teacher education programs.
I barely scratched the surface on Day 1, but CU has such breadth and depth that I suspect I’ll never stop learning new things. I’ve also been reading some histories of the university and am impressed with its track record of serving the state since both were founded in 1876. It’s a mission I intend to advance, which is one of the reasons I’m visiting Pueblo.
You can’t meet the needs of the state if you don’t know what those needs are. The best way to discover them is to visit communities and talk with people about how the university can help.
Obviously, educating people is the primary way, but there are plenty of others as well. CU is a partner in the Area Health Education Center in Pueblo, part of a statewide network that partners with CU’s schools of medicine, pharmacy, dental medicine and nursing, as well as our physical therapy and physician’s assistant programs to address health care and health workforce needs. The AHEC provides services and educational programs in partnership with CU and other agencies and organizations.
The majority of physicians at Parkview Medical Center and St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center were educated at the CU School of Medicine. We’re the only public university in the state that educates doctors, dentists and pharmacists. They practice at sites throughout Southern Colorado. All told, the health care workforce CU prepared is in more than 500 hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers and other sites around the state.
CU also has a strong focus on K-12 schools, whether by making resources available to teachers or providing programs that visit schools to address particular topics. We received funding from the Colorado Legislature two years ago to foster “grow your own” teacher education programs in rural school districts. They will meet a critical need. When I received an overview of the program on my first day, I learned that some rural districts have gone long periods without math and science teachers who are subject-matter experts. This should alarm anyone who understands the expertise needed in those areas in the workforce.
Our campuses also deliver programs directly to schools. For instance, students and faculty from the CU Law School provide programs centered on teaching the Constitution. CU’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Schools uses his plays in schools as a vehicle for understanding issues such as bullying.
We also get area students involved in our campuses. Pueblo Central High School students annually visit CU-Boulder to get a taste of the campus experience. High school students from Trinidad recently joined CU students and faculty in making a climate change film. CU also needs to build strong partnerships with area community colleges on transfer agreements and programs.
While we have plenty to offer, we also have plenty to learn. I look forward to hearing from Puebloans about how we’re doing and what we can do better. Tuesday will be my first visit to Pueblo, but it won’t be my last.
Mark Kennedy is president of the University of Colorado.