Dashon King had difficulties in school because of autism.

“I’m a slow learner,” he said. “I need time to understand things. As a kid I had trouble with that — I got picked on.”

At CSU-Pueblo, he found a diverse community where people were accepted regardless of backgrounds or disabilities, and he was able to get help to succeed as a student.

At the Library and Academic Resources Center, King can get assistance such as tutoring if he’s having trouble mastering a subject or studying for a test.

King is on track to graduate from CSU-Pueblo in the fall of 2018 with a degree in mass communications. After graduation, he hopes to become a radio broadcaster and actor.

Benjamin Buckland enlisted in the Army in 2003 at age 23 and served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. On his last tour, he suffered multiple combat injuries.

- Advertisement -

“My ears have been damaged,” he said. “My balance is somewhat affected, and I have migraines sometimes.”

He also suffers from PTSD. After he was medically discharged in 2013, Buckland found the transition to civilian life very difficult.

“I was completely unemployable,” he said. “I didn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with the stresses of an office environment.”

But he managed to complete a general education program at Pueblo Community College and then transferred to CSU-Pueblo, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management in fall 2017 and now is studying for a master’s degree.

“I found CSU-Pueblo to be an environment very conducive to my issues,” he said. “It’s a small campus with an intimate setting, and I feel comfortable bringing my service dog with me.”

Buckland said the university’s Military and Veterans Success Center was a great help — a place where he could relax with other vets and get academic assistance and other resources that helped smooth his transition.

“I probably wouldn’t have made it through the undergraduate program without this office,” he said.

Now Buckland is on track to become an educator himself and wants to remain within the academic environment.

King and Buckland are representative of the nontraditional students CSU-Pueblo has been serving successfully. The two, along with several other students, are appearing in ads and videos that aim to demonstrate the university’s commitment to nontraditional and aspirational students who are determined, driven and passionate.

Responding to needs

The ad campaign grew out of a process called Vision 2028 that aims to differentiate CSU-Pueblo and set its course for the next decade.

“We’ve been giving thought to where our students are and how we can meet their needs, as well as the needs of Pueblo and Southern Colorado,” CSU-Pueblo President Tim Mottet said. “Since we’re looking at that particular marketplace, we’re looking at nontraditional students — older students who want to return to college, but high school students as well, a group that has demonstrated ability but for various reasons have underperformed.”

About 50 percent of CSU-Pueblo’s students come from underrepresented groups, Mottet said, including Hispanic, African-American, first-generation and older students.

“The approach in our advertising is to mirror who we have at the university,” Mottet said. “We found that our students from Pueblo are hungry, they have endurance, and they’re unlike much of what you hear about students today.”

Those students come from a community that is tough, has endured and is in transition.

“We’re trying to tap into those qualities,” Mottet said. “A big issue with higher education is that it’s not approachable. A lot of first-generation families don’t see higher education as friendly. We want people in the community to know we are already a place for them.”

Responding to the needs of the business community is a big piece of the visioning process, and business leaders have been engaged in the process since it began.

“I sometimes think the business community may not think that we have heard them,” Mottet said. “I want them to know that we have, and that we’re acting on what they have shared with us.

“What I hear from them is focused around preparing young people for the modern workplace — developing a work ethic, problem solving, communication skills, data management skills, teamwork, leadership and how you solve conflicts and work with different populations.”

The university is not yet teaching those social and professional skills, but “our responsibility is to fold this into our curriculum,” Mottet said. “We’re going to begin addressing that in a more formal manner.”

In the next decade, colleges across the country are going to rethink outdated demographics and look at students in a different way, said Donna Souder Hodge, executive director of CSU-Pueblo’s Center for Teaching and Learning, who is coordinating the visioning process.

“There are going to be new jobs that will need a skilled, educated workforce,” she said. “We need to get as much feedback as possible about where the growth opportunities are, and also prepare our students to be agile and adapt.”

In a rapidly changing jobs landscape, the majority of those jobs will require certifications or advanced degrees.

“We’ve got to be agile to serve students who need hands-on learning experience, a solid foundation of liberal arts education, but at the same time, need the knowledge that certificates and other types of training can give them. We’re uniquely positioned to give them that,” Hodge said.

The visioning process is bringing together people inside and outside the university to capture the richness of the campus and its goals for 2028, Hodge said.

Those insights will be distilled into short, powerful vision statements that will be drafted by August and taken to the university’s Board of Governors in spring 2019.

“As a regional, comprehensive, Hispanic-serving institution, we are making sure that we are working at the same pace as industries and professional leaders,” Hodge said. “Our biggest goal is to be an educational innovator. That’s where we want to be in the next decade.”