From left are College of Liberal Arts Dean Ben Withers, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs Kelly Long and College of Natural Sciences Dean Jan Nerger. Photo by John Eisele
Citing their extraordinary leadership, tireless efforts on behalf of Colorado State University students, faculty and staff, and a deep understanding of the complexities of higher education, Provost and Executive Vice President Mary Pedersen is announcing the reappointments of Dean Jan Nerger of the College of Natural Sciences, Dean Ben Withers of the College of Liberal Arts, and Kelly Long, vice provost for undergraduate affairs. All will serve extended five-year terms.
“I am very proud Kelly, Jan and Ben have agreed to continue in their leadership roles,” said Pedersen. “They have made significant contributions to CSU during their tenure, and I have relied on each of them to provide not only the required leadership for their areas of oversight, but also to make major contributions across the entire University. They have done that with deep intellect, passion and commitment, as I know they will keep doing in the future.”
This will be Long’s second term as vice provost for undergraduate affairs, where she has worked to enhance the quality of academic programs, student success and curricular innovation.
Long’s accomplishments have included overseeing implementation of General Education Transfer Pathway learning outcomes, required by the state, in all courses in the All University Core Curriculum. This work will serve as a foundation on which to build curricular programs, alignments and innovations, along with the needed assessments.Long has also helped to form, guide and support student success initiatives, and has worked closely with associate deans, student affairs leaders, the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and The Institute for Learning and Teaching in advancing equity and opportunity for all students, and addressing the professional development needs of faculty and staff.
“I look forward to continuing service on local, state and national committees supporting curricular transformation, student success and pedagogical growth,” Long said. “And I am eager to work with deans and associate deans to anchor student success initiatives more fully across CSU and within college units, and to ensure the undergraduate curriculum is providing our students with the grasp of learning outcomes embedded within the general education curriculum as well as those that serve as exit learning objectives for the university.”
Long said she has a passion for student learning and remains committed to helping advance programs and tools that support success for all students who come to CSU with different experiences, identities and learning dispositions. She said the VPUA role requires her to see a larger picture and to form networks among units and colleges as everyone works together to serve students, the Provost’s goals and the campus mission.
“The VPUA assists the provost in guiding the academic and student success missions of the institution, and helps to assure that units are working together to address the academic and other success needs of our students,” she said. “That’s the essential purpose of the role and one I am deeply proud to serve.”
Nerger has served as dean of the College of Natural Sciences since 2010 and says she considers herself a servant leader, and believes her job is to serve the college and its faculty, staff and students.
“I look for opportunities where I can help and elevate the extraordinary faculty, staff and students in the College of Natural Sciences,” Nerger said. “I am proud to see others succeed, and I hope that my leadership and mentorship have helped in their journey. I measure my success as a leader by looking at the many successes in our college.”
Nerger led the successful proposals and construction of two new state-of-the-art science facilities: Biology and the Chemistry Research Building, both LEED Gold-certified and part of what is known as CSU’s Science Quad. In addition, highlights of her accomplishments as dean include:
- Establishing a CNS Office of Diversity and Inclusion
- Creating a college equity map for continuing, contract and adjunct faculty
- Co-founding Women in Natural Sciences (WINS)
- Providing scientific vision and strategic investments to increase the college’s research expenditures to $33 million and more than doubling its endowment to $25 million
- Investing in a college-wide undergraduate research program
- Overseeing the development of several new undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including two new interdisciplinary B.S. degrees in data science and neuroscience, bolstered by a strategic hiring plan for STEM and cluster-hire initiatives
Nerger said science is the foundation upon which the world relies in solving practical and pressing problems, and she is excited for the opportunity to continue to advance that foundation as dean.
“Science improves how people think and create new information, and it responds to societal needs and global challenges,” Nerger said. “The COVID vaccine is a good example of this. Scientists around the world were able to quickly develop a remarkable vaccine because of all of the research that already existed. The disciplines we study in the College of Natural Sciences create foundational knowledge that has applications in every field of study. Foundational sciences exist to look beyond the challenges that we are currently facing and creating knowledge that can apply to our world far into the future.”
Withers will serve a second, five-year term as dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and has worked to increase understanding about the inherent power of a liberal arts education to prepare students for meaningful work and a meaningful life through the skills of lifelong learning, critical thinking and problem-solving. He said just as those in the hard sciences have seen appreciation for their disciplines grow during the pandemic, so has liberal arts.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we are seeing an increased understanding of the cultural, social and historical components of the challenges we face,” Withers said. “They are challenges about people and how we communicate, engage and interact with each other. We add unique and important aspects to a top-tier research university and land-grant institution, and for CSU to achieve its goals we need a college of liberal arts of the highest standards.”
That message of real-world relevance has paid off. The college has dramatically increased its fundraising efforts, going from an average of $3 million to $4 million per year to a record-setting $20 million last year under Withers’ leadership. CLA also has seen the number of majors increase significantly in recent years, and is drawing top candidates for faculty positions. With an emphasis on increasing diversity, the 100 faculty hires in the past five years have been 50% women and 30% multicultural faculty.
In addition, Withers has been relentless in his efforts to prioritize the status of the Clark Building, and with success. Clark has gone from no presence or conversation about renovations to becoming a top priority, which Withers says is a testament to campus leaders recognizing the importance of the college to CSU and its mission.
“I would point to President McConnell’s goal to create an ‘idea corridor,’” Withers said. “The corridor would link together Engineering on the north, Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences on the south, and Liberal Arts in the center. The president’s idea corridor is anchored in the belief that as important as advances are in animal health, biomedical sciences and engineering, without the understanding of how we communicate those developments and create better knowledge of how society and institutions function, the contributions of those other two areas would be incomplete.”
Leading in challenging times
Pedersen said Long, Nerger and Withers represent the great strength good leaders can bring to a university during the most difficult, unanticipated hardships. She noted it was fitting that the three were up for reappointments at the same time after working closely together for more than a year on the Teaching and Continuity Recovery Team (TRCT). Long, Nerger and Withers worked alongside numerous campus partners to build a broad collaboration in groundbreaking ways to mitigate the impacts of COVID on CSU’s academic enterprise.
“These past 15 months have been challenging for all CSU employees and our students, but it has been especially trying for those whose leadership roles required them to help manage the university’s COVID response to ensure we met the needs of our students, faculty and staff,” Pedersen said. “Kelly, Jan and Ben worked together with other deans and campus leaders to build a remarkably strategic and successful collaboration effort involving multiple units.”
They were deeply involved together on TRCT from the beginning of the pandemic, and determined early on they had to quickly expand their focus to serve far more than undergraduate affairs and academic programs.
“I think the work on the TCRT was one of the most intense and rewarding endeavors each of us has undertaken in our roles,” Long said. “And it served far more than the undergraduate world as we worked to respond to the evolving pandemic. This makes it a nice coherence to have Ben, Jan and I go up for reappointment together. We’ve been through a lot, and now we continue in our reappointments to help CSU move through this next stage: the start of the fall semester in a few weeks.”
The extensions of Long, Nerger and Withers were approved by President Joyce McConnell, acting under the authority delegated to her by the Board of Governors, Colorado State University’s governing board.
Charging forward. That’s what Rams do, and that’s the theme as Colorado State University prepares for a Fall 2021 semester that will feature in-person experiences and a vibrant college life in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.