Mary Pedersen is provost and executive vice president at Colorado State University.
When Mary Pedersen began her tenure as Colorado State University’s Provost and Executive Vice President earlier this month, she was keenly aware of the COVID-19 pandemic being the single biggest challenge that anyone in higher education has navigated. Her transition to CSU was no longer about a new job in a new city. She took stock of her more than 35-year career in a university and research setting to draw on all her skills to lead and partner with those across the campus to prepare for the unprecedented fall semester. As she stepped into the role of chief academic officer, she hit the ground running and was already looking ahead at the endless possibilities and strengths that will carry CSU through.
It’s been clear in her first few weeks that Pedersen’s experience and the many leadership roles she held before coming to CSU, including most recently at Cal Poly as interim provost at the onset of the pandemic, positioned her well to help us teach, work and learn in today’s complex climate.
Q: Next week, the Fall 2020 semester begins and it’s going to look and feel different than the start of any academic year we – and other universities – have experienced. As we lead up to the start of the semester, what weighs most heavily for you as provost?
A: Planning and preparing daily, considering the new information we must review every day to meet the changing needs of our students, faculty and staff and supporting them through the unique challenges of COVID-19. Our university leadership, our Pandemic Preparedness Team and countless experts across CSU have been focused on navigating the pandemic to stay on top of the challenges. Continuous planning to lay out the most strategic path forward, constant communication, and a commitment to the health and wellbeing of our community, have positioned us well for the start of the semester. As we move into the semester, it will be important to continue to work together as a coordinated team across the university to deal with our day-to-day needs, communication with our campus community, and be ready to respond to whatever comes next.
Q: COVID-19 has created a lot of change and uncertainty. What are the good changes that have or may come out of this experience, and what might that mean for us as a university in life after the pandemic?
A: The pandemic has created a lot of hardships for people, and some in our community have suffered more deeply. We must continually work to support and lift those who are shouldering the greatest inequities from this crisis. The pandemic has taught many of us the importance of the connections between our personal and professional lives, and how vital it is to focus on addressing those things that are most important to us.
A wonderful thing I have seen emerge is the significance placed in supporting, encouraging, and nurturing our compassion toward one another, realizing the pandemic has created a huge amount of anxiety and uncertainty. As we grow our sympathy and understanding towards one another, we become more aware of the impacts on others that are not always seen or understood. COVID has begun to bring out a more humanistic and empathetic approach in how we care for our fellow Rams.
Q: What have you learned in your career about the importance of leading with integrity?
A: That has quickly become one of my most important priorities, acting and leading with integrity, and I keep it in the forefront of how I lead. I believe in operating with honesty and transparency, doing things for the right reason through keeping the best interests of the entire university and all its members at the forefront. One of my favorite leadership books is Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Dr. Henry Cloud. This book spoke to me because it articulated my philosophy about leadership. Dr. Cloud talks about how integrity is more than simple honesty, it is the key to success. If you lead with integrity it allows you to find the best path forward no matter how difficult the challenges. At the core is doing things for the right reason, not for self-gain. This philosophy continually guides me in how I conduct myself as a leader.
Q: How do you ensure that people come first – students, staff, and faculty – and how will that guide you in your decisions as provost?
A: In putting people first, we consider the needs of the individual, and this single act alone is of deep importance to me. We should encourage people to operate from their strengths and lend support to their vulnerabilities, leading to the success of the whole. In helping individuals thrive, the university thrives. Every single member of the CSU, and our larger Fort Collins, community matter. Through considering the various needs and bolstering everyone’s access to knowledge, resources, and support, we all flourish together.
Q: It’s less than a month into your tenure here at CSU as Provost and Executive Vice President. What most impressed you about CSU that made you say, ‘This is the university, the place for me.’?
A: CSU’s land-grant mission and the focus on access and academic excellence in serving all students in Colorado was a huge draw for me. The mission of access to education fits with my personal and professional values, and what I want to be working hard toward in collaboration with others at CSU. I also was drawn to CSU because of the impactful work being done by CSU to solve the world’s most pressing and complex problems, and to serve the needs of the state through our research, outreach and engagement. Together with all of our campuses we have great impact throughout Colorado, across the nation and around the globe.
I am excited to live in a new environment and explore the Rocky Mountains and beautiful outdoors of Colorado.
Q: As the campus community continues to get to know you and you them, what is something you would want the community to know about you?
A: That’s a hard one, but I’ll share something personal. While I love being in a leadership role because of what it enables me to do for others, I’m actually fairly shy and an introvert. I don’t like the focus being on me. I have used my leadership roles as a way to shine the light on others, their accomplishments, contributions and hard work. I also see leadership as a way to support and advocate for the needs of others and as a way to lift them up. I find great satisfaction in elevating others, and I see this same leadership style in President McConnell. I am excited to be working with her and to support her in her leadership role because I feel our values align so closely. That inspires me and I am so proud and honored to be here at CSU.