Prior to Thursday, March 28, Joyce McConnell had never seen Fort Collins. And she certainly had never set foot on the Colorado State University campus.
And yet, not long after making the long trek from Morgantown, West Virginia, with her husband and daughter, McConnell agreed to become the first female president in CSU’s 149-year history.
McConnell, the provost and vice president for academic affairs at West Virginia University, readily admits that it might seem a bit, well, unorthodox to accept a job at a place you’ve never visited. But when you’ve got an opportunity to lead one of the nation’s premier land-grant universities, located in a city that is often recognized as one of the nation’s best places to live, you don’t hesitate. You leap.
“A person who has a great sense of adventure does that – and I do,” McConnell said Friday after the Board of Governors of the Colorado State University System voted unanimously to hire her to succeed Tony Frank.
Checking all the boxes
McConnell comes to CSU with impeccable credentials. After earning degrees from Evergreen State College and the Antioch School of Law, she became a graduate teaching fellow at Georgetown University. Teaching stints at City University of New York School of Law and the University of Maryland School of Law preceded a job at the WVU School of Law, launching a 20-year career at West Virginia’s land-grant university.
She served as dean of the law school prior to being named provost and vice president of academic affairs in 2014 by WVU President Gordon Gee. She has served in multiple roles since then, overseeing university budgets; building partnerships with political, governmental, business and nonprofit leaders at the state, national and international levels; and being directly involved in WVU’s recently completed $1.2 billion fundraising campaign. She worked directly with faculty to boost salaries and promote excellence in research and graduate education, and tirelessly promoted diversity and inclusion at all levels of the university.
Her place in history is not lost on McConnell, who introduced her husband, Vince Trivelli, and daughter, Alexandra McConnell-Trivelli, during Friday’s BOG meeting.
“I’m here because both women and men believed in me and supported me, and when they opened doors I walked through them,” she said. “Being a female presents some different issues but, in the end, what we all do as leaders is learn to navigate very complicated situations. Women are powerful, and women are smart, and they can navigate those situations. That is the most important message for me to deliver as a female president.”
McConnell’s passion for higher education is profound; she is excited by the possibilities presented at CSU and its standing as a top research university with rising enrollment and a campus that is rising to new heights thanks to $1.5 billion in recent infrastructure additions and improvements. Mostly, though, she looks forward to providing students with opportunities.
“I really believe that people deserve a high quality of life, and I want to give them an opportunity to build better lives in a way that they earn it,” she said. “Through their hard work and dedication, they make their lives better. They can make their parents’ lives better, their children’s lives better, their extended family’s lives better. In the end, it makes us all stronger as a state, as a nation and throughout the world.”
Rising to the top
McConnell was chosen from a pool of more than 80 applicants from across the country. In the end, however, there was no doubt for the search committee or the BOG – which approved her appointment unanimously – that she is the right person to lead CSU.
“She rose to the top of the pool for me and pretty much the entire committee very early in the process,” said Margarita Lenk, associate professor of accounting and computer information systems and the faculty representative to the BOG. “She has a common-sense, transparent style, and her history of thoughtful communication is impressive. She came across as a very thoughtful decision-maker – and everyone she has worked with absolutely adores her. That was very important to me.”
As for catching up on introducing herself to CSU and the community, she and her family spent the weekend touring campus and getting to know Fort Collins – with Frank as their personal tour guide. She knows she faces a tough task following Frank, whose presidency has been marked by unprecedented growth of not only the CSU campus but the CSU brand.
McConnell, though, plans to bring along a secret weapon: her sense of humor.
“Chancellor Frank leaves an unparalleled legacy upon which to build,” she said. “Someone said I was going to have big shoes to fill at last night’s meeting with students. I said, ‘Well, my shoes are prettier.’ ”
McConnell agreed to a five-year contract with the Board of Governors and will officially take the helm July 1 as Frank transitions to full-time chancellor from the dual roles he currently serves as chancellor and president.