Summarizing the long and successful career of a decidedly humble leader can seem like a daunting task – that is, until speaking to the people who have come to know and love her.
College of Liberal Arts Dean Ann Gill recently announced her retirement, effective July 1, 2016, after nearly 36 years of teaching, mentoring, and leadership at Colorado State University. While Gill might not be one for self-aggrandizement, the people who have built deep and lasting relationships with her over the years are unreserved in their praise. From her generous, selfless, caring nature to her quick wit, brilliant mind, and strategic insight, it is clear that Gill is a special person.
A voice for change
Gill’s down-to-earth, hardworking personality can be traced back to her roots growing up on a farm in Merino, Colo. It was there that she developed her strong work ethic as well as an enduring love of athletics, always showing up to cheer for the home team. Gill excelled at public speaking from the time she was a young girl, displaying a unique ability to connect with others through her skill in weaving words and imagery into a captivating story.
She has often used this voice to advocate for those who need it most. Gill was deeply impacted by the 1960s era of the civil rights movement.
“There’s a recognition she has of systemic inequalities and a real effort on her part to address that,” says Greg Dickinson, chair of the Department of Communication Studies. “She thinks about it on a global scale, but on a more personal level, she knows she can reach out to a student or a young faculty member and can help create a shift for them. If you look at her scholarship, it all has to do with social justice and people who want to make a change in the world.”
Gill has certainly impacted the many students she has mentored over the years. During her years as a speech communication faculty member, she coached the forensics team, driving students across the country in a van to attend tournaments. One of those students, Joe Bohling (speech communication, ’90), recalls the deep impact she had on the trajectory of his life.
“There was a point in time when I thought I was actually going to leave school because of the financial burden,” he recalls. “Ann helped me navigate through that to the point that she kept me in school and allowed me to fulfill my dreams of being the first in my family to get a college degree. It is the reason that I created the Bohling-Gill scholarship with her, so that we might be able to help others in the way she helped me. For those who have the privilege and the honor to get to know Ann, she was more than just a college professor or dean. She was someone who became not only your friend, but someone who you would cherish and consider part of your family.”
Talk to anyone who knows Gill well, and countless stories like this will emerge. Gill has a particular love of working with student-athletes and has continued mentoring them throughout her time as dean. Albert Bimper, senior associate athletics director for diversity and inclusion and professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies, says Gill is an invaluable resource to CSU athletics.
“One of her greatest qualities is she takes that time or goes that extra mile to understand our student-athletes, to understand their stories, and then really help build an opportunity for them to be successful academically,” he says. “Some of them live in the CSU limelight, they live under a microscope, but Ann breaks down that mystique. She isn’t enthralled with who they are as athletes, but gets to know who they are as people.”
Kim Tobin, associate vice president for University advancement and former director of development in the College of Liberal Arts, saw the depth of these relationships firsthand. Gill and Tobin would often travel together to connect with college alumni across the country. Tobin described a time when Gill was devastated to have to back out of a trip to San Diego.
“We had an alumni breakfast and a fellow came in, a former football player, and immediately asked for her,” Tobin recalls. “When I explained that she wasn’t able to make the trip, his face fell. From behind his back, he pulled out a corsage he’d brought to thank her for all she had done for him and to represent the impact she had on the many football players she’d helped over the years. He traveled a long distance and left his home at 4 a.m. so he could have breakfast with her. To have a dean that has made that kind of impact is pretty extraordinary.”
But that’s just who Gill is. Her favorite part of the job, the piece she is most passionate about and where she finds “great joy,” is working with students. For her, crafting these deep, genuine relationships comes down to being a good listener. Underlying this is a real belief in her students’ ability to succeed – a belief that “you can do this; and not only can you do this, I expect you to do this.”
Champion for the liberal arts
While Gill has made an impact on numerous students’ lives through her dedicated mentorship, she has also had a profound impact on the College of Liberal Arts. At CSU, the name Ann Gill has become synonymous with liberal arts. Gill works tirelessly on behalf of the college as well as the University, and those around her have taken notice. According to Tobin, the College of Liberal Arts has begun to be “recognized as a fundamental component of CSU,” and Gill played a large role in leading that transformation.
“Under Ann’s tenure, the department became an increasingly active scholarly community,” Dickinson adds. “Ann recognized that if liberal arts and communication studies were going to get on equal footing with the other colleges and departments in the University, we really needed to step up our game as scholars.”
This commitment to scholarship has not replaced excellent teaching, but rather complemented it. As liberal arts faculty have produced a steady increase in publications, research, and grants, they have continued to win awards for teaching. This has resulted in what Dickinson refers to as a “transformation [to a] profoundly different place. Ann’s ability to maintain a personal touch while overseeing the transition to a more scholarly department is really remarkable and irreplaceable.”
Behind the transition of the college is a knowledge within Ann that the fate of liberal arts lies in not only talking the talk but walking the walk in terms of real-world impact. “What I think is a priority is continuing to find ways to make the liberal arts relevant, in terms of change that people want to see in the world, in terms of people’s individual lives, in terms of how people work with and improve their communities, however community is defined,” Gill says. “I think that’s the biggest thing we do for our students: give them the skills in all parts of their lives to be everything that they can be. And I see that happening in wonderful ways.”
Near the heart of the University, there is a statue with a quote from Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Liberal Arts Development Council member and scholarship donor Thad Smith (sociology, ’74) refers to this campus landmark when talking about what Gill has accomplished in her tenure.
“I would put her in that category; we will be standing on her shoulders for what she accomplished for the college and all the people involved,” he says. “Ann has muscled her way to making this college very relevant – it’s very much a part of the University and very much a part of its reputation. Whoever comes in behind her will get to build on what she did.”
Events planned for Homecoming & Family Weekend
There will be many opportunities to connect with Gill this year. During Homecoming & Family Weekend she will be at Festival on the Oval giving away free hugs at the Ann Gill Hugging Booth. This will take place Friday, Oct. 16, from 3:30-6 p.m., and the College of Liberal Arts will be on hand to take photos of individuals with Gill.
Gill is also the featured guest at the Tailgate Tribute to Dr. Ann Gill sponsored by the Department of Communication Studies and the Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts program on Oct. 17 from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at RamTown outside Hughes Stadium.
If you would like to contact Gill, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1701 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523.