When I started thinking about what I wanted my inauguration as president of Colorado College to look like, I knew a community service component was an important element. I wanted to find a way to connect the inauguration not only to the Colorado College community, but also to the larger Colorado Springs community. I also knew that whatever we did, I wanted the students to be involved and the project to be a campus-wide effort that had a visible impact on the community.
When Colorado College’s Greek life leaders approached me about potentially organizing a service project, I immediately said yes. The project began to take form as we decided to concentrate our efforts in a neighborhood park within walking distance of the college. The students contacted Steve Wood ’84 who owns an innovative nonprofit organization that supports collaborative public art projects, and together they began to develop a project that would be both meaningful and have a lasting impact on the neighborhood. Meanwhile, I asked the student leaders to think of ways to involve our entire campus community in the event.
Because the park was close to campus, the student leaders decided we should meet on the quad and walk over to the project site as a group. The walk set the tone for the entire project, as together, on a glorious early fall afternoon, approximately 200 CC students, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni worked alongside neighboring community members on an array of park maintenance projects.
We sanded weathered picnic tables and benches, cleaned and painted a playground area, removed excess vegetation along a stream, and brightened the entire area by painting a series of murals throughout the park.
The event was rewarding on so many levels. The Greek life community sought — and found — a way to show that contrary to so many perceptions, leadership, service, and giving back to the community are essential to their philosophy. I also was astounded by how the afternoon brought our campus community together. The community service project reflects a core CC value: All our incoming students participate in some type of service project as part of their New Student Orientation. Additionally, more than 80 percent of Colorado College students participate in service projects sometime during their college career.
The project also served as a way to unite the campus and local community. Neighbors in the area walked across the bridge where a Colorado College group was working and expressed their appreciation. A retiree who lives adjacent to the park and runs a community agro-forestry project complimented the CC students on their industriousness and commitment, and later got in touch with the college’s Collaborative for Community Engagement to pursue further projects with our students.
Two neighbors who lived nearby mentioned that the creek is “dead” — there are no fish, water skimmers or other life in it. With the college’s strength in biology and environmental programs, this opens a world of possible service projects, providing additional opportunities to apply CC’s considerable academic strengths for tangible community gain.
I firmly believe that part of my duty as president of Colorado College is to ensure that the college helps support and strengthen the local community. A strong local community benefits Colorado College, and vice-versa. In that regard, the role of a president has a lot in common with being a gardener. The seeds already have been planted. My job as president, like a gardener, is to nurture what is growing strong around me.
Jill M. Tiefenthaler was inaugurated as Colorado College’s 13th president on September 22, 2012, at Shove Memorial Chapel. Events throughout the weekend marked the occasion, including musical, dance, and theater performances, a lacrosse scrimmage, and a ball, but
perhaps the defining event was a community service project. President Tiefenthaler writes
about the experience here. This essay originally appeared October 24, 2012 on the Huffington Post.
To view pictures of the inauguration, go to: www.coloradocollege.edu/inauguration/