Dear Alumni and Friends,
As I wrap up my final three months as CU president, I’ve been reflecting on what makes the University of Colorado such a special place. I would imagine that all of you who have a touchpoint with CU have your own answer – people, places or times in your life – and there would be a lot of overlap. Like many of you, it’s my alma mater, the place that prepared me for a successful career and life.
Yet serving as president for the past 11 years has given me a unique perspective on our university to complement what I came to know over the past several decades as a student, alumnus, donor and volunteer. The sum of my experiences tells me one thing separates great universities from the pack, and that’s great faculty. And at CU, we’re fortunate to have one.
I know what a difference faculty made in my own life. People like Bruce Curtis and Doc Thompson guided me through the geology program at CU Boulder and had a profound impact on my career and life. It was Curtis who told me, after I had completed my bachelor’s degree, that I should forget the master’s thesis and keep drilling. He was right.
I have talked with thousands of alumni and friends of CU over the years and if there is a common thread among them, it’s that a faculty member touched their lives in some way. Whether through classroom instruction, or – in my case – being a mentor, or opening a door you never even knew existed, CU faculty make a difference.
Some of the examples from our four campuses of how they do it are big and visible. Others quietly make a profound impact. Boulder Professor Tom Cech, CU’s first Nobel laureate, taught freshman chemistry for a number of years in addition to leading CU’s BioFrontiers Institute. He once told me few of his students know about his Nobel prize, which is fine with him, but he also told me how important he thinks it is to get students excited about a subject. He’s happy to play a role in that.
I met Margarita Bianco from CU Denver when she earned the Timmerhaus Teaching Ambassador award, a CU honor that allowed her to share her innovative teaching with other faculty inside and outside the university. She founded Pathways2Teaching, an innovative pre-collegiate program that encourages high school students of color to enter the teaching workforce. Bianco channeled her own experience as the first in her family to graduate from high school and college to help address significant needs in our schools.
I learned about Christopher Bell from our Colorado Springs campus by listening to our CU on the Air podcast. Bell, a professor of media studies and director of graduate studies in the Department of Communication, specializes in the study of popular culture, particularly how race, class and gender intersect in children’s toys, books and movies. He gave a TED Talk on the topic that has gotten more than a million views. He also consults with Pixar Animation Studios to help make their movies more inclusive.
My wife, Marcy, and I first met Dr. Hunt Potter of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus after we learned about his work researching Alzheimer’s disease, which our family has had experience with. We were struck not only by his substantial expertise, but also by the passion and humanity he brings to his work. He is making progress in his quest to find a cure for the awful disease.
One of the great parts of my job is interacting with CU’s President’s Teaching Scholars, one of our highest honors for faculty, recognizing a select group of teachers and researchers who exemplify the best of what our faculty have to offer. I admire their achievements, but also their willingness to share their expertise with colleagues for the benefit of students.
We highlight our faculty in a monthly Focus on CU Faculty electronic publication that compiles a few of the many times they are featured in the media. I would invite you to have a look to give you a sampling of the breadth and depth of our faculty’s work.
It’s easy to pluck out a few examples of teaching and research excellence among CU faculty. But it’s also heartening to know there are thousands of women and men on our faculty just like them doing exemplary work every day in our classrooms and research laboratories. There is no doubt that faculty are the heart of the university. And at CU, that heart beats strong.
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