I’m looking forward to visiting southwestern Colorado next week for a number of reasons. Since taking over as the president of the University of Colorado just over a month ago, I’ve been getting to know our four-campus system, its people, programs and impact.
I’ve also been getting to know Colorado a bit during my first month on the job, with trips to Grand Junction, Fort Morgan and Pueblo. Yet several people have told me that southwestern Colorado is one of the most beautiful parts of this spectacular state, and that’s saying something.
While the scenery is always a draw, I also enjoy getting to know communities that CU serves.
Meeting the needs of the state is a critical part of what we do at CU. The most obvious area where that manifests itself is educating students and preparing them to be productive members of society and the workforce. The CU Celebration in Durango this Thursday allows us to shine a spotlight on area students who will study at CU in the fall. We’ll welcome some of the 70 new students from La Plata County who will join the 170 from the area already studying at a CU campus.
CU also serves Durango and the region in a variety of ways beyond educating students.
We have some 300 outreach programs around the state, ranging from water quality testing on the Western Slope to rural education programs to workshops on the Constitution that CU Law students and faculty conduct in high schools across Colorado.
Our economists have done detailed work on the economic outlook and business climate in southwestern Colorado and have made well-received presentations to the business community.
CU trained physicians and other health professionals work in hundreds of clinical sites around Colorado, including the Durango Cancer Center, Pediatric Partners of the Southwest and Mercy Regional Medical Center.
CU is a partner in the Southwestern Colorado Area Health Education Center in Durango, 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.
Wildfires are obviously a concern in the area after last summer’s 416 Fire, so CU researchers have joined their colleagues at Fort Lewis College to study a range of related issues, from public policy to environmental factors that fuel fires to the health and safety of firefighters. Leveraging expertise and partnerships among educational institutions is an important way we serve the state. We are having more conversations with Fort Lewis about a range of potential partnerships that will benefit both institutions and the community.
Given the importance of archeology to the Southwest, it is a focal point of our work in Durango and the area. The CU Boulder Museum of Natural History has distributed fossil kits to 15 area schools to give students and teachers hands-on experience, allowing them to discover the history, science and geography of Colorado through archaeological materials. The museum’s senior educator, Jim Hakala, will lead teacher training in Durango in the fall.
Throughout the summer, teams of CU students working with our scientists are mapping Mesa Verde’s diverse life forms, ranging from single-cell algae to rodents. CU Boulder received a federal grant in the spring to update exhibits at the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum at the park to make them more interactive.
These are a small sampling of CU’s work in your community and the area. You can get a more complete picture by visiting CU for Colorado, an interactive map at CU.edu that details all the programs and services in La Plata County and the surrounding area.
Part of my visit next week is to learn how we’re doing with these programs and what else we can and should do. We serve communities best by engaging them in discussions about their needs and how we may be able to meet them. I’m looking forward to these discussions, next week and beyond. I’m also looking forward to seeing another beautiful part of our state and its grandeur.
I appreciate the opportunity to listen and to learn about the community. This will be my first visit to Durango and southwestern Colorado, but I can assure you it won’t be my last.
Mark Kennedy became the 23rd president of the University of Colorado on July 1.