President McConnell: ‘Spur is the realization of a big dream’

CSU Spur opening

Photo by John Eisele/CSU Photography

Editor’s note: The following is a guest column by CSU President Joyce McConnell.

Superfans. You know them when you see them. They’re the ones dressed head to toe in their team’s gear, wearing team-color face paint and sipping hot chocolate from a team-logoed cup. They know all the words to the theme song and they’re cheering louder and longer than anyone else. They’re not embarrassed by their fandom, because they believe in their team with a passion that you just have to admire.

Well, I’m proud to declare myself a CSU Spur superfan — and I invite you all to join me, face painting optional.

What makes CSU Spur worth superfandom?

Let’s start with how it came to be.

Colorado State University System Chancellor Tony Frank tells the whole story of Spur in an op-ed that appeared in the Colorado Sun on Sunday, offering up eloquent thanks to everyone who helped take Spur from an idea to a real place. It’s an inspiring story, because it’s characterized by repeated instances of individuals from across the state coming together to overcome obstacles. It’s also been the story of the incredible people — including many of our own faculty and staff — looking past the apparently impossible to see possibilities, and offering their expertise help build CSU Spur.

And of course, the through line of the story is Chancellor Frank’s own leadership vision, which was wonderfully realized last week as we celebrated Spur’s grand opening.

What exactly is CSU Spur?

Spur is the realization of a big dream that the Colorado State University System has nurtured for nearly 15 years. In Chancellor Frank’s words, it’s a “one-of-a-kind public campus that doesn’t grant degrees but instead throws open its doors and invites the community to come inside and explore learning about food, water, and human and animal health.”

Specifically, Spur is a beautiful new urban campus in Denver that will indeed be open to the public, and especially focused on being open and inviting to K-12 students from across the state. Clustered around an outdoor plaza are three buildings, one for each of the campus’s three focal areas. There’s the Vida building, which is now open. In this building, human and animal health interventions will be actively ongoing and on display. Visitors will be able to see dogs and cats in surgery, watch horses walk on underwater treadmills, and witness the horse-human connection at the Temple Grandin Equine Center’s equine-assisted services. Then there’s the Terra building, opening later this spring, where kids and adults can get their hands dirty in working gardens and experience interactive exhibits, including a growing green roof and rooftop garden. Finally, there’s the Hydro building, opening in November, which will house Denver Water’s water quality laboratory, a connection to the South Platte River, event space, artist studios, and a farm-to-table café (featuring food grown in gardens next door at Terra).

This is going to be a unique and extraordinary place, one that will inspire plenty of fans without any urging from me. But I’m a CSU Spur superfan for a very special reason — because I am also President of Colorado State University.

You see, I became President of Colorado State University in the summer of 2019, and over the past two and a half years, I’ve come to know the students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and friends who make up our Ram Family. Colorado State was already a vibrant, creative, brilliant university when I arrived, and I knew we could weather any storm—including, as it turns out, a global pandemic. The strength, courage, and ingenuity that our people have demonstrated during COVID has refined CSU into a truly extraordinary exemplar of what a 21st century land grant can be, should be — and I would argue must be — if we are to fulfill our mission of educating the next generation and of solving the toughest problems facing our state and our world.

During these same challenging months, if I could have wished one thing for CSU, I would have wished for a place and an opportunity to share all that we have to offer, from our world-class research and our innovative, interactive teaching to our hands-on, compassion-driven engagement across the state. I would have wished for a way to throw open the doors on the work we are doing in fields from veterinary medicine to water conservation, from food scarcity to translational medical solutions that are helping both animals and humans.

CSU Spur is my wish come true. This new campus will, as Chancellor Frank says, “make hands-on learning and inspiration available to everyone, for free.” It is a gift to the people of this big, beautiful state, and that resonates with all of us at CSU. We’re in the business of giving; it’s why we work so hard and aim so high. Indeed, the whole point of a land grant university is that we do our work for others — for our communities, for Colorado, and for the world.

So, I’m in full superfan mode as CSU Spur welcomes visitors into the Vida building this week, this month, and year-round moving forward. I’m excited to see the people of Colorado experiencing all that this one-of-a-kind campus has to offer. Later this year — and in the years to come — I look forward to watching people go into Vida, Terra and Hydro as visitors and come out superfans. Check CSU Spur out yourselves — and maybe have your face paint ready!