You could say Venkat Reddy has a tough act to follow as UCCS chancellor, and nobody in the local business community would argue.
He’s replacing Pam Shockley-Zalabak, who served a remarkable 15 years as the University of Colorado’s leader at the local campus. Not only that, but Shockley-Zalabak worked 40 years in all phases of the branch’s operation.
Last December, with no advance indication, she announced her retirement effective Feb. 15, sending shock waves through the university’s 12,000-plus students and 3,200 staff members.
Reddy, the dean of UCCS’ College of Business since 2004, was the logical choice as interim successor while the CU hierarchy conducted a search. But in the end, Reddy was still standing as the new permanent chancellor. Shockley-Zalabak’s totally appropriate title now is “chancellor emerita” — which hopefully means she’ll still be around. The general conclusion is that her timing in stepping aside was the result of hoping to have an influence on who would take her place.
How does the 55-year-old Reddy add to Shockley-Zalabak’s monstrous achievements, building enrollment and academics as well as sparkling new facilities to house them? Admittedly, part of Chancellor Reddy’s immediate task is making sure those latest new construction projects continue to completion.
But if you think Reddy’s task is impossible — like following a true legend in sports — you’re wrong. Overseeing any university involves such a variety of departments that the new chancellor will have no trouble identifying areas worthy of fresh emphasis.
He’s surely far ahead of us in making those assessments, but he’s also been diplomatic in holding off on sharing specific plans. The best part is that Reddy has followed a path remarkably similar to that of Shockley-Zalabak — spending more than 25 years at UCCS, moving up through the faculty ranks and then as an administrator. Nobody has to give him an orientation or history lesson on what has worked well and what hasn’t over the past quarter-century.
Actually, Reddy has played a role in UCCS’ growth. In 2005, when Reddy became permanent dean of the College of Business, UCCS had about 7,800 students with 800 undergraduates and 275 grad students in the College of Business. Today, UCCS has more than 12,000 enrolled, including 1,282 undergrads and more than 300 grad students in business. Also, the percentage of business students reaching graduation has stayed high.
In other words, there’s no reason to wonder about Reddy’s academic prowess. It’s also safe to assume his business and finance expertise now will come into play — from what we hear, it already has — with preparing future UCCS budgets. He’s also indicated he wants more improvements in athletic facilities.
As for other priorities, three stand out for the CU system’s fastest-growing campus. Again, none of this will come as a surprise to Reddy or top staff.
• Community partnerships. This was one of Shockley-Zalabak’s hallmarks, building relationships throughout the community among businesses, nonprofits and donors. It’s safe to say Reddy will make sure those partnerships stay on track (particularly in the cybersecurity realm), as he has done in the College of Business with internships and other programs benefiting students and local companies. Obviously this is a broad umbrella, but it’s an example of how much Colorado Springs has embraced “our” university.
• Keeping graduates here. UCCS and Reddy are nurturing a partnership with the intent of convincing more graduates to remain (or return later, for the Air Force Academy) and pursue their careers in the Pikes Peak region. Other cities, such as Nashville, Tenn., and Columbus, Ohio, have made this a priority with positive results, starting when students are freshmen. UCCS is proud that about two-thirds of its graduates already settle here, but given the concerns about insufficient local workforce numbers, Reddy will want even more graduates to stay.
• Transportation. We know the city and UCCS want to develop more and better transit options for students being able to reach the campus, and for residents to attend events (especially with the Ent Center for the Arts nearing completion). This need might require more creativity than money, but it also has to be important for all sides.
Rest assured, this in no way is telling Venkat Reddy how to tackle his new job. His personal expectations are probably higher than anyone’s.
But the more he can achieve, the better the future will be — for UCCS and Colorado Springs.