Move In 2019: Q&A with President Joyce McConnell

Joyce McConnell portrait
Photo by Mary Neiberg Photography

If you’re a student new to Colorado State University this year, or even the parent of a new Ram, Joyce McConnell understands what you’re going through.

McConnell, CSU’s 15th president, once hopped in a car and drove the length of the country from her Maryland home to Washington State to attend Evergreen College. And years later, she watched as her own daughter embarked on her own university adventure.

So, as Ram Welcome ensues and parents must part ways with their kids, it’s important to know that the university president has your back. And if you haven’t met our first female president, you can hear her speak at Convocation on Thursday afternoon, and may even spot her at the family welcome picnic that follows.

Until then, here are some words of wisdom from McConnell as we head into the 2019-20 academic year:

Q. Do you remember what it felt like when you were about to start your college career?

A. I remember it very well. I remember wondering what the heck I was doing. I traveled across the country to start my college experience and it was a tremendous, wonderful adventure – both getting there and getting started.

Q. What advice do you have for first-year students at CSU?

A. First, I would say, in your residence hall, leave your door open as much as possible, so you can meet other people and they can poke their heads in and introduce themselves – and you can introduce yourself. A lot of fun things happen in the hallway, so keep your doors open when you can. My second word of advice is there’s never enough space in a residence hall room, particularly the closet. So, spend a lot of time with friends with great special abilities to figure out how to fit everything in. Third, enjoy eating great food and don’t rely on granola bars. They’re full of sugar.

Q. What advice do you have for students who are returning to campus this fall?

A. Returning means you’re often not living on campus, you’re finding a place on your own, so making your space and making it feel good is really important. I know from my own experience that when you move into your own space you often don’t have very much money to make a place your own. If you had walked into my first place you would have seen lots of small postcards of famous paintings from museums that I bought really cheaply and put all over my walls. So, my advice is to make your space your own – plus, every household needs a salad spinner.

Q. You started as CSU president on July 1. Are you nervous at all heading into your first academic year here?

A. I am extraordinarily excited! I am so hungry to have students back on campus! Although it’s been wonderful to arrive here on campus six or seven weeks before the students arrive, it also seems so lonely. I love the energy that students bring with them to campus. I can’t wait for them to get here.

Q. Do you remember any challenges you had when you were in college? If so, what helped you get through them?

A. I often ran out of money, and this was before the days of ATMs, so figuring out how to make my money last from week to week, from check to check, was a skill I had to learn. I remember my second year, when I was no longer on the meal plan, I remember buying brown rice in large quantities. I discovered early that rice and beans are a complete protein. I wanted to stay healthy, and that was one way to do it. But I also learned about the wonderful kindness of people who stepped up to help me. There was a wonderful grocer who knew that I didn’t have a lot of money. At the end of every week he would put all of the bruised and damaged produce in a paper bag for me, and no matter what was in it, he would mark it for 50 cents. It would have all kinds of wonderful things, like cantaloupe and watermelon and artichokes and avocados – things I never would have been able to afford. I really remember that kindness.

Q. What’s something you’ve learned about campus that you hope all students experience before graduating?

A. Our campus is beautiful. And I hope that every student has a moment on the Oval under the elms to reflect on what an extraordinary gift it is to be able to go to such a great institution.

Q. You’ve been through this experience as a parent too. What advice would you offer to parents dropping off a student for the first time?

A. Tell them how much you love them. Don’t ever stop telling your son or daughter that you love them more than anything in the world. That helps build their resilience to face whatever they have to face. And help them stay in touch with you – but don’t hover. Let them hit some rough patches and don’t come to their aid every time. It will help them build problem-solving abilities, and that will help them feel so much stronger and better about the world.

“Tell them how much you love them. Don’t ever stop telling your son or daughter that you love them more than anything in the world.”

— CSU President Joyce McConnell

Q. What’s the one thing you want students to know about you?

A. I love learning. I’ve spent my entire career in higher education because I couldn’t bear to be off a university campus. So, when I see them and know the incredible experiences they are having, I want them to share those experiences with me. I want them to stop me and tell me what’s going well – and what’s not going well. I want to know about their excitement, their sadness, their challenges. I want them to know that I’m accessible.

President Joyce McConnell
President Joyce McConnell gives a high five at School Is Cool.

Q. So, when students see you walking around on campus, how do you feel about high fives, hugs or selfies with the prez?

A. For me those are “ands,” not “ors”! I want hugs, I want high fives AND definitely want selfies! I want to accumulate enough selfies to post on Instagram that we can bust the totals for every other university and every other president in the United States. There’s a high bar out there, but we can beat it!

Q. What’s your top goal for your first year at CSU?

A. My No. 1 goal is to make sure that everyone on campus, in Colorado and beyond, understands what an extraordinary institution this is, in terms of education, in terms of research, in terms of outreach. And I want all of us to be able to walk around with an enormous sense of pride in what gets accomplished here every day.

Q. Have you already developed a love for CAM the Ram and a healthy dislike for Ralphie the Buffalo?

A. I love CAM, both four-legged and two-legged – we are buds. And four-legged CAM and I have had the Vulcan mind meld, where looking into each other’s eyes we have come to understand Ram spirit. Ralphie, you know, I’ve written him off. The worst form of punishment is to ignore him.