McConnell lends a hand at CSU’s “School is Cool” on Aug. 6. The program provides school supplies to about 2,600 students in need at schools throughout the Poudre School District. | Photo courtesy of CSU Photography.

Hi, I’m Joyce

I like to have fun at work. For me, it’s always wonderful to be able to make people engage in it in a way that is sometimes unexpected. People know that I’m bold and decisive, but they also know I love to laugh and I love the outdoors. Of course I love teaching, but what I love more than anything else in the world is higher education and what it can do to transform people’s lives – and not just the generation that’s getting educated now, but every subsequent generation in that family. That’s very, very important to me.

Such a deal

The funding of public higher education has declined throughout the United States. I know sometimes people think the legislature is saying, “We don’t care about higher education,” but I don’t believe that. I think they care about higher education deeply. But they have to balance so many competing demands on public money. They’re trying to do the very best they can for their states.

With that said, one of my concerns – and this is shared with presidents all over the country, and particularly in public land-grants – is that we’ve shifted the [funding] burden onto students and their families, and they may be afraid to start college because of the expense. Colorado State University undergraduate students take on an average debt of about $20,000. When we buy a car, we typically spend between $20,000 and $25,000. When a student borrows that amount to complete his or her education, it’s actually one of the best investments they’ve ever made, because their earning power will go up somewhere between 1 and 3 million dollars over a lifetime. I encourage families to think about the incredible investment they’re making in their child’s future.

New kid in town

Each campus has its own history, its own traditions, its events that everyone remembers, its own cultural markers that make each place unique. One of the great challenges for a new president is to come in and to learn all of that. On the other hand, some things are very transferable [from one campus to another]. You know what questions to ask. You know what you need to know about your faculty, about operations, IT, your library, your research facilities. Where are the challenges, and where are the opportunities? And so in some ways, as a new president, you’re in this parallel universe where things feel the same, but everything’s different.
I’ve been struck by the warmth and generosity of people that I’ve met here. It’s really an extraordinary place. It’s full of people who want to make the community shine. They appreciate CSU’s presence. That combination of Coloradan warmth, pragmatism, and optimism – those characteristics have made my transition so enjoyable.

Let’s do business

A research institution like CSU can really be an economic engine for Northern Colorado. I think we’re particularly well positioned to put our research through a process of commercialization, so that we’re spinning off contributions that can then be their own contributors to the economy. Some of the work that’s going on here in terms of vaccine research, for example. The work that’s going on in biomedical engineering. Or let me talk about art for a minute – the art that comes out of this institution is huge. And we know that art is very important to economic development. It’s one of the things that offers this very high quality of life. That in itself is an economic engine.

The corridors of power

I want legislators to know we’re very serious about being a lean operation. We don’t talk about it publicly a lot, but we accomplish a lot with the dollars that are allocated to us – probably more than any other land grant in the country. We can actually show that we’re getting a greater return on investment, in terms of faculty productivity and discovery, than other universities. So I would really like to tell them that story. Because I feel that one of the things that comes up often about funding higher education is, “Are they using the money wisely?” I’m actually working on coming up with data points that I can share with [legislators]. I think that’s a very important message.

Storyteller in chief

I have a phenomenal team. My responsibility is to find ways to enable all the people who are doing extraordinary work – to be the person who’s advocating for the campus, for the research, for the education of our students, and finding a way to bring additional resources. I have to tell our story so that we get greater investment, whether that’s from the private sector or from the public sector.