Campus growth draws faculty views as part of 50th celebration

David Havlick served as moderator for a discussion of campus growth.

The growth of UCCS was personal for speakers at a College of Letter Arts and Sciences-sponsored 50th anniversary event this week.

Susan Szpyrka, vice chancellor, Administration and Finance, Robert Wonnett, assistant professor, School of Public Affairs, joined with Minette Church, associate professor, Anthropology Department, Daphne Greenwood, professor, Department of Economics, and John Harner, professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, in a panel discussion Feb. 17 at the Kraemer Family Library.

The group discussed campus growth, its pros, cons and challenges. David Havlick, associate professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, moderated the session titled “If You Build it, Will they Come?”

Susan Szpyrka shared stories about early years at UCCS.

“I was the first person in my family – the granddaughter of a coal miner – to attend college,” Szpyrka said. “If it weren’t for UCCS, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity.”

Szpyrka recounted writing a $184 check – twice. The $184 paid for her first semester of classes in the late 1970s. Later, she wrote another $5 check to park on campus.

“I had never written a check for that much money,” Szpyrka said of her tuition bill. “I had to do it twice – I messed up the first one I was so nervous.”

Szpyrka shared her family’s history that included her mother who wanted to become a school teacher but who was unable to afford Colorado College. Later, Szpyrka, her siblings, a niece and son attended UCCS.

“When I think of growth, I think of the tens of thousands of students who had the opportunity to go to college when previous generations didn’t,” Szpyrka said. “Access is life-changing.”

For Wonnett, growth brought back memories of being a 17-year-old Harrison High School student who had acceptance letters to both CU-Boulder and UCCS.

Robert Wonnett jots notes while preparing to speak at a forum on campus growth.

“I begged my folks not to make me go to UCCS,” Wonnett said. “At that time, UCCS was only for old people.”

Wonnett attended CU-Boulder but would later return to Colorado Springs and hold various campus positions including police officer, director of public safety, dean of students and vice chancellor for student affairs.

“Don’t think of a university as a place that builds buildings,” Wonnett said. “Think of it as a place that builds experiences.”

Greenwood shared her recollections when arriving at UCCS in 1980 to find what she described as a “mom and pop” operation, contrasting it to her previous employment at a corporate office in Chicago and having watched the University of Houston grow rapidly. Later, Greenwood served two terms in the Colorado General Assembly.

“I think UCCS added one building in ten years (1980 to 1990),” Greenwood said. “I could see the growth opportunities but thought I could get more done in the legislature than at UCCS.”

Greenwood complimented the progress campus has made in recent years.

“Things that people said could never be done have been done,” Greenwood said. “That’s impressive. We shouldn’t view growth as only physical because we are providing services to students.”

Harner said he was ambivalent about campus growth, citing such positives as additional collaboration with colleagues, new programs and improvements in academic reputation. At the same time, he is concerned that campus growth might mean a loss of focus on the undergraduate teaching mission.

“I don’t have an answer,” Harner said. “But I think always needing to grow is dangerous. We don’t want to become addicted to growth.”

Church echoed similar sentiments, reminding the audience of the rich archaeological history of the campus property as well as matriarchs such as Dr. Virginia Trembly, an early dentist whose property is now part of campus, and Dorothy Heller whose home is now the Heller Center for the Arts and Humanities.

“We have to balance our growth with maintaining a historic sense of place,” Church said.

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