With more than 12,000 students, funded partnership with the National Cybersecurity Center, and the state-of-the-art William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center opening next year, Chancellor Venkat Reddy talks about the goals and future of the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (better known as UCCS), one of Colorado’s fastest-growing universities.
Springs: What are the most exciting changes you’ve seen during your 28 years at UCCS?
Chancellor Venkat Reddy: We have grown dramatically, and we have been known for building a lot of buildings. The growth in buildings is fantastic, but what’s happening inside the buildings is more important: a very high-quality faculty and staff who have huge hearts for their students. They’re doing great work in the classroom teaching our students. They’re doing creative work, research, as well as a lot of service activities, both for the campus and for the community.
What are your goals as the university continues to grow?
My job is to make sure that we not only continue the momentum, but make sure we build a sustainable organization over time. For me, the most important thing is culture: a culture of respect, compassion, safety and excellence. The other piece I have stressed a lot is retention and graduation rates for the students—because a third of our students are first-generation students. About a third are low-income students. Twenty percent are military: active military, veterans, military families. So when you have such a unique student population, it is imperative that not just the university, but we as a community, work hard to help them stay in school and graduate. We want to make sure we stay focused on what our core mission is: helping our students succeed.
How do you describe UCCS’ relationship with Colorado Springs?
I want people to know UCCS has real people making a real difference in their students’ lives and in the lives of our community. We are there for the community to help our community succeed as we experience success. And it has to be mutual. If we help one first-generation student graduate—the first in their family to go to college—we help their entire future generations go to college.
This is why I say to the community, all we’re doing is keeping your future employees with us for four to six years. The rest of their lives, they’re going to spend with you. They’re going to help your organization succeed. So partner with us, help us make that happen because it’s going to impact your organizations. We’re all in this together.
How will the William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center impact local residents when it opens next spring?
Think of it in three ways. One is student education. There will be about 1,400 students taking classes in this building on sports medicine, performance, meeting the doctors, working in the clinics. Part two is the clinics that are run by Centura Penrose-St. Francis: orthopedics, physical therapy, athletic training, those kinds of things. And the third part is a little of both; it’s sports performance and wellness. So picture tactical medicine, para-athletes, first responders, military. You and I can do a class to get better at our basketball game or mountain biking or running or whatever we do. All the research done there is going to impact laymen. We’re also thinking about how we can connect arts and health, for example. The building is right next to the Ent Center, so we want to experiment with that.
What do you envision for UCCS in the next few years?
First we need to make sure we strengthen the activities we’ve already taken on. These things will keep us pretty busy for the next three to five years.
New CU President Mark Kennedy talks about the fourth industrial revolution: Probably 50% of the jobs have not been invented yet that are going to come. So how do we prepare our students for that? I think that’s going to be fascinating work we’ll be doing in terms of preparing our students for the unknown. They still need critical thinking skills, analytical thinking skills, problem-solving skills. Those are the fundamentals.
You’ll also see continued strong partnerships with community colleges. We’re going to take students graduating with cybersecurity associates degrees, and we are creating a B.A. in computer science so those students can complete their four year degree with us. We are working with high schools, so students can enter the precollegiate programs.
The challenge that keeps me up in the night is student mental health. This is a growing problem among universities around the nation and that will need tremendous help from all sectors, from K-12 to the university to the community. We need to solve that problem.
You say you are often asked, “Do you want to be bigger than Boulder?” How do you respond?
We are very different institutions serving different student populations, so we have different missions. I hope we will continue to provide access and affordability for the students who are seeking a higher education. If we fail at that, my heart would break.
On the other extreme, I want to see this university be known for high tech. We’ll be good at artificial intelligence; we’ll be good at cybersecurity; we will lead the way in supporting our community in health and wellness. So there are a lot of dreams on that side, but I don’t want to forget the fundamentals as to why we exist as a public university. If more students stay in school and graduate, I’ll be very happy with that because we need more of them to go to college, so our society, our community can prosper.