Each weekday across Strategic Resources and Support, thousands of people wake up, grab a cup of coffee, drive to campus or log onto their computers at home and perform the many tasks necessary to keep the University of Colorado Boulder running.
The varying types and complexity of those tasks are staggering to think about, and when people ask me about CU Boulder and what SRS does, I often explain that most of us are not the faculty who are teaching in classrooms or performing research in labs. Rather, we are the people who support the university’s educational and research endeavors.
Think about CU Boulder. It’s a society of 38,669 students and 10,204 faculty and staff. We provide medical care for students, mental health resources across our community, and food and housing for thousands of students who call the campus home. Each member of our community has an email account and accesses our IT systems. We have a police force that protects the campus––a small city that includes classrooms, labs, libraries, rec centers and residence halls in more than 200 buildings. We communicate with more than 450,000 people who are connected to CU Boulder as students, parents and alumni and contribute more than $4.2 billion to Colorado’s economy.
With so much going on each day, it’s easy to get lost in what’s immediately in front of us, what’s in our inbox and getting to the next meeting. It sometimes helps to take a step back and ask the question, “Why are we here?”
It’s been a little bit easier for me to answer that question over the past few weeks. Students are back on campus, and you can see them walking to classes, dining in the C4C, and filling Folsom Field for football games. In addition, I’m teaching an in-person class––and it feels good to be in the classroom interacting with students. In my mind, the ultimate answer to the question, “Why are we here?” should be the same for all of us: We are here to help students succeed.
It doesn’t matter what buildings we work in, what our job titles are or what we do each day. Support people at the IT help desk help students get loaner laptops when their computers break down; financial aid counselors help students get emergency grants that enable them to stay in school; licensed social workers at Wardenburg help students who have lost a friend or a family member; facilities management staff who clear sidewalks after a snowstorm make it possible for students to get to class safely; and campus safety officers escort students to their cars after they leave the library in the evening.
Everyone, in some way, makes it possible for our students to work toward degrees that will change their lives. Yet, as much as we’re doing, we need to do more.
If you look at CU Boulder’s six-year retention and graduation rates, we don’t do as well as most of our Association of American Universities (AAU) peers, and, even more concerning, the rates haven’t improved much in the past few years. It’s not because we haven’t invested in student success, as we know that we’ve often invested as much or more in student success measures than other universities. We’re going to be talking more in the weeks ahead about what we need to do as a campus to address this challenge.
If students leave without degrees because they don’t feel welcome at CU Boulder or we haven’t been able to meet their academic needs, they are not just statistics who end up in our graduation rate numbers. They represent lost opportunities. We’ve lost the opportunity to make their futures brighter, lost the opportunity to have them be a part of our community, and lost the opportunity to have them share positive CU experiences with others as Forever Buffs. And these losses are compounded because we know that more of our diverse students leave CU without a degree. If we truly care about having a diverse and inclusive campus, we must do a better job of retaining and graduating our diverse students.
So, what am I asking of each person in SRS?
Please do two things:
Reflect on what you do and how it relates to the student experience. Every person in SRS should be able to tell a student or a parent how their work helps a student succeed. It keeps us grounded in our mission, and I consider myself lucky to work in an organization filled with talented, passionate and caring people who bring their skills to bear for our students’ benefit.
Interact with a student: Some of us interact with students all the time. Others may go a long time without interacting with a student. If you have a chance, spend a moment talking with a student. Find out where they’re from. Ask what they’re studying. Thank them for being a part of our community. We can help create a sense of belonging.
Finally, today I’ve focused on students, but I need to thank you for all that you’ve done as we’ve returned to campus. I’m immensely grateful.
Thanks for all you do,