It may seem odd at first glance that Venkat Reddy, a chancellor of higher education, earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture in India — a path that would ultimately lead him to the United States. It turns out, however, that instead of growing crops to maturity and sending them into the world to fulfill their intended purpose, Reddy has shifted his focus to the commodities found on campus.
Born in Hyderabad, India, Reddy, chancellor at UCCS, arrived stateside to pursue his master’s in agricultural economics at Penn State before eventually getting his Ph.D. in finance.
“In ’91, I came to UCCS and this is the only place I’ve ever worked for in my life,” he said.
His tenure includes acting as faculty in and dean of the College of Business. Reddy ran the business school for 12½ years before, last year, replacing Pam Shockley-Zalabak as chancellor at one of the state’s fastest-growing universities.
Why did you study agriculture?
In India there are only four professional schools: medical, engineering, veterinary sciences and agriculture.
I was shooting for medical school and lost by a couple of points. Those are all highly competitive. I couldn’t go into engineering because once you’ve chosen biology for your path, you can’t switch. The next one was veterinary science. My dad was a professor of veterinary science at that time and I refused to go to that school because I would be in the spotlight all the time. He would be checking on my grades. Not a good idea.
It’s interesting how we make decisions in life. Agriculture was the last professional degree.
One thing I’ve always done in my life is follow my passion. The way I came to the U.S. — my mother had two dreams for me: Either become a doctor or go to the United States.
That was it — no third choice.
What are your goals as chancellor?
This campus has experienced tremendous growth. I call it aggressive growth. When I started here, there were 5,000 students. Today we are at 12,600. It’s the real deal at this point. When you have a significant number of students, then you can start controlling your own destiny. So I’m beginning to plan for the next 10 years. Who do we want to be instead of just growing and hope that something good happens? I’m saying, ‘Let’s thoughtfully think about this systematically.’
I emphasize increased focus on retention and graduation rates because, for a campus like ours, retention is a difficult thing. Students often drop out because of a lack of finances. So how do we provide scholarships to keep them in school? … The year I came on board, the retention rate was 65 percent. So out of every 100 students 35 are leaving after one year and that’s a problem because they are leaving with nothing to show for it other than a loan.
What we did is consolidated all of the retention and graduation operations into one area and said, ‘Let’s do data analytics on that and study what’s happening to our students.’
That’s been a big focus for me. We need to keep students in school and help them graduate.
We’re also looking at expanding fundraising opportunities. How do we increase fundraising so we can provide more scholarships for our students? We also have several public-private partnerships. [We’ve broken ground] on the William J. Hybl Sport Medicine Performance Center. That’s a massive operation in collaboration with Centura Health.
Any other big things happening on campus?
We’ve also received funding from the state for cybersecurity. We’ll work closely with the [National Cybersecurity Center], Pikes Peak Community College and schools across four states. You’ll see a huge presence from us in cybersecurity.
We’re in the process of hiring faculty and staff will give away $270,000 worth of scholarships to students every year.
And with the Ent Center for the Arts, we’ll make a mark in the arts area. That’s one-of-a-kind. It’s an unbelievable place. It’s there — so now what do we do with it? We need to make sure it’s integrated. These are our differentiators.
We have an opportunity to make an impact on Colorado, so we’re working on collaborations. You’ll also see us increase our presence in online programs. Nineteen percent of our students are military students and we want them to be able to complete [their degree] wherever they go because they get transferred often.
Explain your leadership style.
The way I make all my decisions is I say, ‘OK, how does this impact the students at the end of the day?’
My goal is helping students succeed. And I want to be really clear what I mean by helping students succeed. It’s not just helping them to get a job after they graduate. There’s a lot more to it. How do you prepare them to be good citizens? How do we expose them to the arts? How do we expose them to athletics? How do you … get them internships or to study abroad?
You need to build this complete graduate. … Life is more than a steady job, so how do you learn to enjoy the experiences you get?
My job is to help everyone to think at the higher level and do their tasks at the lower level. I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo. I’m not afraid to take on conflict if we need to so that we come to good decisions. … This isn’t a job; this is a passion. I could find other ways to make money, but you do this because there’s a bigger vision, and I need a lot of help from other people to get there. I can’t do it alone.
Venkat Reddy will share his insights April 11 as part of the 2019 COS CEO Leadership Lessons, presented by iHeartRadio, UCCS, Amnet and the Colorado Springs Business Journal. A portion of the proceeds go to the 2019 Give! Campaign. Sponsors also include Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC. For tickets, visit csbj.com/event/2019-cos-ceo-leadership-lessons-series/