Lou Swanson is retiring as vice president of engagement and director of Extension and professor of Sociology after 22 years.
Lou Swanson, vice president of engagement and director of Extension and professor of Sociology, is retiring from Colorado State University after 22 years.
Swanson made the trek to CSU in 1997 to serve as chair of the Sociology Department after having been with the University of Kentucky as a faculty member for 17 years. He spent the majority of his teaching career focused on research methods, public policy associated with the sociology of agriculture and rural community studies. Swanson also served as associate dean for research in the College of Liberal Arts.
“Today’s Sociology Department at CSU owes much to Professor Lou Swanson’s vision during his eight years as department chair,” said Peter Taylor, professor and chair of Sociology at CSU. “The key changes he introduced in organizational structure, activities and culture, and the priority he placed on rigorous scholarship, quality teaching and effective outreach set our department on a path toward excellence that continues to shape our contributions to the college, university, and public.”
“Today’s Sociology Department at CSU owes much to Professor Lou Swanson’s vision during his eight years as department chair.”
— Peter Taylor, professor and chair of Sociology
Articulating university engagement for the 21st century
Lou Swanson (middle left) with the Provost’s Council for Engagement.
Under the model developed by Swanson and his staff, the Office of Engagement has a unique structure and mission within the university.
With CSU Extension (CSUE) , CSU Online, the Colorado Water Center, and the Community and Economic Development office housed under Engagement, activities support and achieve the larger university goal to engage with people and communities to address problems, share knowledge, and support progress. A primary focus has been blending the talents of these divisions into collaborative programing.
In 2006, then Provost Tony Frank created the innovative Office of Outreach and Strategic Partnerships designed to coordinate several of CSU’s outreach and engagement units. As CSU president in 2010, Frank changed the division name to the Office of Engagement and moved it to the President’s Office. At the same time, he appointed Swanson as director of CSU Extension.
One of the first initiatives in September 2006 was the creation of CSU Global Campus. Swanson directed a team charged with co-creating the new initiative that included Rick Simpson, Huntington “Hunt” Lambert, and Rick Schweigert. CSUGC became the third campus in the Colorado State University System in 2008. CSUGC was a groundbreaking, new direction in higher education, becoming the first exclusively online public university. Lambert and Swanson applied the lessons learned from establishing CSUGC in transforming CSU’s Division of Continuing Education into the Fort Collins’ CSU Online campus. At the end of the 2019 fiscal yaer, CSU Online grossed $45 million.
In 2010, the second major organizational move by Swanson was “flipping” CSU Extension from a top-down outreach organizational structure to a bottom-up organization driven by community and regional input. This programing structure emphasizes co-creation between CSU, statewide talent, and Colorado’s communities.
“With his own background in the Peace Corps and sociology, Lou came into his VP role with a passion for research-based service that engages and advances communities — and he built a division and a team that align with that passion,” said Frank, chancellor of the CSU System. “His relentless commitment to innovation, to finding better models for delivering learning, and to meeting people where they live have made CSU a better, more responsive, and more effective university.”
“His relentless commitment to innovation, to finding better models for delivering learning, and to meeting people where they live have made CSU a better, more responsive, and more effective university.”
— Tony Frank, chancellor of the CSU System
Other innovations include the coalescing of CSU’s internationally acclaimed water experts with the establishment of the Colorado Water Center (CWC) under the direction of Reagan Waskom. A hallmark example of the Office of Engagement’s blending of its division’s programs is CWC and CSUE’s Climate Smart Agriculture initiative that works with four colleges across campus and statewide Extension staff to address issues of water conservation and agriculture in the state.
“CSU has created a nationally recognized model for campus-wide university engagement and outreach, and I’m proud of the team that worked to situate our university as a leader in this regard,” Swanson said. “The power of Engagement and Extension here at CSU is that they are university-wide and community driven – we focus on the needs of the people we serve first and foremost.”
A personal passion for Swanson has been championing university-based engagement globally. His interest in international work, sparked during his time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tunisia in the early ’70s, led him to create partnerships with higher education and ministry of agriculture Extension colleagues abroad. Swanson, who earned his Ph.D. from Penn State University, leads a group of 12 U.S. Land Grant universities and 15 Chinese agricultural universities in creating university-based Extension in China through the Sino-U.S. Alliance for University-based Extension.
In addition to the work in China, the Office of Engagement is collaborating with three leading Ethiopian universities and the new Ministry of Science and Higher Education to advance the scholarship of engagement abroad.
Recently, Swanson facilitated efforts to establish a new committee on International Extension within the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP), the national representative and governing body for all 79 Cooperative Extension services. He plans to continue this work well into his retirement.
“The land grant university-based Extension Service system in this country is an extraordinary model for outreach at all levels: locally, nationally, and even internationally, and CSU Extension is an exemplar within that system,” said CSU President Joyce McConnell. “We are all deeply grateful to Lou for the role he has played in demonstrating the power of Extension to colleagues around the world and excited for him to continue this important work in the next stage of his career.”
“We are all deeply grateful to Lou for the role he has played in demonstrating the power of Extension to colleagues around the world and excited for him to continue this important work in the next stage of his career.”
— Joyce McConnell, president of Colorado State University
Leaving a legacy
Working across a variety of colleges and departments at CSU, as well as internationally, has given Swanson a unique perspective on the role of land-grant universities within the greater community. From the humbling recognitions of his career, such as his election as president of the Rural Sociological Society in 1999 and recognition as a Distinguished Alumni of Penn State’s College of Agriculture, to the co-creation of the modern engagement model, Swanson has kept his focus on what matters most – the communities he is serving.
“Empowering people, trusting in the staff we hire, and relying on research-based solutions to modern community problems has led us to where we are now,” Swanson said. “This model is the result of a lot of time, energy and team effort, and I hope it continues to advance CSU as a leader in engaged work well into the future.”
McConnell has appointed CWC Director Reagan Waskom as interim vice president for engagement and director of Extension effective September 7, upon Swanson’s retirement. “Dr. Waskom is a expert with a tremendous amount of wisdom,” she said. “I am grateful to him for stepping into this key leadership role for CSU this fall.” The Office of the President is in the final stages of a national search to fill Swanson’s role permanently, and McConnell expects to announce the new leader later this fall.