When Jeannie Ortega arrived at Colorado State University in 1982 for new student orientation, her mother was quick to help her build a sense of community.

“My mother was an adult learner and had gone to school at a later age,” said Ortega, director of Off-Campus Life at CSU. “She said, ‘You need to find a home. You need to find a place where you feel like you belong.’”

So Ortega’s mother walked her into the Lory Student Center’s El Centro office, where she quickly became involved in providing support to the Latinx community. It’s also where she developed a lifelong passion for student affairs, which propelled her into a career at CSU.

Now after 30-plus years, Ortega is retiring from a place she has called home for so long.

Building a community

Jeannie Ortega, Lindsay Mason, Nancy Rhodes, Craig Chesson, Debbie Mayer

Jeannie Ortega (left) with the Off-Campus Life staff in 2018 after being recognized by the Employee Appreciation Board and CSU. Read the story

As director of Off-Campus Life, Ortega leads a team dedicated to building a stronger sense of community between CSU and the City of Fort Collins.

Her office helps students make successful transitions into Fort Collins neighborhoods when they move off campus. The office also provides helpful resources for commuters as well as support to CSU employees considering buying a home in the area. Ortega said the office’s success would not be possible without her team.

“I am so incredibly proud of this team and the students who invest themselves in the work that they do,” said Ortega, who became the director in 2000. “I have great pride in the work that they accomplish here. That’s what brings me in every day.”

“I am so incredibly proud of this team and the students who invest themselves in the work that they do.”

— Jeannie Ortega, director of Off-Campus Life

Nancy Rhodes works as a program assistant in Off-Campus Life, where she supports events such as Ram Welcome, Fall Cleanup and the Housing Fair. For Rhodes, Ortega is more than a supervisor.

“It has been an honor and a joy to work with Jeannie for the past 10 years. She has been more than a supervisor to me,” Rhodes said. “She has become a friend, a strong supporter, a confidant and family. I look forward to another 10-plus years of sharing all the highs and lows and being a part of each other’s lives.”

Lindsay Mason, assistant director of Off-Campus Life who is stepping in as interim director, shared similar sentiments

“I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Jeannie for the past six years,” Mason said. “Jeannie has been an excellent supervisor, mentor, coach and role model. While I am so excited for her, this is also a huge loss to the Off-Campus Life team and CSU. Jeannie’s energy, talent, funny one-liners and big heart will be missed in OCL. I know I have huge shoes to fill as I step into the interim director role.”

‘A role model for many’

Before becoming director of Off-Campus Life, Ortega held other positions in the Division of Student Affairs involving diversity, leadership and commuter student and adult learner support. Looking back at her career, Ortega said she is proud of the work she was able to accomplish with her team and colleagues across CSU.

Ortega pointed to her efforts in helping establish the President’s Leadership Program, which trains students to become active and informed civic leaders. She also said that she took pride in being part of the process that led to the creation of the Adult Learner and Veteran Services office and the Community Liaison Program, which has helped strengthen town-gown relations.

Retirement celebration for Jeannie Ortega

Date and Time: Thursday, Sept. 26, from 3-5 p.m.

Location: Off-Campus Life Room 274 in the Lory Student Center

Hosted by Off-Campus Life. Attendees are encouraged to bring a card or note that shares a story and well wishes.

Ortega also was involved in the successful transition of RamRide, CSU’s safe ride program with the largest fleet in the nation, into Off-Campus Life, vastly improving overall operations.

“I just want to extend my thanks to all the people who have supported me and to the Division of Student Affairs for having the faith in me all of those years ago,” she said.

Arthur Sintas, signature partnerships and university relations manager, has known Ortega for nearly 20 years, first at a student working in what is now the Career Center.

“In those early years, I experienced first-hand the mentorship, dedication and compassion Jeannie brings to every student she meets,” he said. “Fast forward a few years, and Jeannie has expanded her compassion to include not just students, but the entire Northern Colorado community. Her capacity for building community, providing safe spaces, and her unwavering support of CSU have nourished strong community bonds that make our campus and community, a wonderful place to call home.”

Pamela Norris, director of Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement at CSU, has collaborated with Ortega on a variety of projects over the years. She said she has always appreciated Ortega’s work ethic, professionalism and ability to view a situation from multiple perspectives.

“She is a true example of a student affairs professional who has dedicated her career to upholding the Principles of Community and has served as an excellent role model for me and many, many others,” Norris said. “CSU is a much better place because of the contributions Jeannie has made over the years. I will miss her dearly as a colleague and wish her and her family all of the best as she begins to write the next chapter of her life.”

“She is a true example of a student affairs professional who has dedicated her career to upholding the Principles of Community.”

— Pamela Norris, director of Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement

Ortega, whose last official day at CSU is Sept. 30, said she plans to take some time to rest.

However, she’s not going far. She’ll be back soon to work on a variety of special projects.

“I didn’t necessarily come to CSU thinking I would stay for 32 years, but it happened,” she said. “And I am so glad that it did. I’ve grown up on this campus. I met my life partner here. I raised my children here. I’m forever grateful and forever green.”