McConnell joined a distinguished group of leaders who have shaped Colorado’s land-grant university from humble beginnings to became the highly respected, world-renowned research powerhouse it is today.
It was seven years after Territorial Gov. Edward McCook signed a bill establishing the State Agricultural College as part of the Morrill Act before Edwards became CSU’s first president. Two faculty members and three students were present on the first day of classes – and two of the students were Edwards’ children. Also included was George Glover, who would later become dean of veterinary medicine. All faculty and students lived in one campus building: Old Main.
When Ingersoll became president, he took over a fledgling school in a fledgling town. Fort Collins had no electricity and no water system, and there were three campus buildings. CSU’s first graduating class – three students – in 1884 included a woman: Libbie Coy. Among faculty members was Elwood Mead, who established the first irrigation engineering instructional program in the country. Lake Mead is named in his honor. In 1891, the first issue of the Rocky Mountain Collegian was published – it has been published regularly since that time.
Enrollment more than doubled during Ellis’ tenure, from 146 to 344, as the state fell into an economic depression. Eliza Pickrell Routt, wife of Colorado’s first governor, becomes the first woman appointed to the State Board of Agriculture, CSU’s governing body. CSU played its first football game in 1893.
An ordained minister, Aylesworth brought his warm personality to replace the dour nature of Ellis. He reinstated football (Ellis had banned the sport) and encouraged extracurricular activities for both male and female students. The first fraternities and sororities opened during this time, a music program was instituted and a veterinary curriculum was established.
Lory is one of the true giants who guided CSU’s history, with his 31-year tenure the longest in the university’s history. He shepherded CSU through the horrors or World War I until World War II was about to break out. He greatly expanded the campus – the historic Oval and the iconic buildings that surround it were built under his watch – while boosting CSU’s academic profile, leading the school to be renamed Colorado A&M in 1935. He also enthusiastically endorsed the addition of the Mountain Campus, CSU’s one-of-a-kind mountain classroom. His talented faculty included Ralph Parschall, who invented the Parschall Flume and revolutionized irrigation with a simple devise still in use around the world today. And The Home Economics High Altitude Laboratory opened, changing high-altitude baking forever. He also hired legendary football coach Harry Hughes, who won 126 games in 31 seasons and produced CSU’s only perfect season – 7-0 in 1915. Glenn Morris became CSU’s only male Olympic gold medalist, winning the decathlon at the 1936 Berlin Games. And, yes, the iconic “A” on a hillside west of Fort Collins, first appeared during Lory’s tenure.
Green had the unenviable task of following Lory, and his tenure began as World War II was beginning. In 1941, female students outnumbered males. Much of the campus mission was realigned to facilitate military training, and CSU became one of the first institutions in the country to train active military personnel. When the war ended, the new GI Bill gave veterans the opportunity to get a college education, and CSU’s enrollment swelled. Green hired Bob Davis to lead the football program, and he brought in future Ram legends Jack Christiansen – CSU’s only member of the Prof Football Hall of Fame – and Thurman “Fum” McGraw, a College Football Hall of Fame inductee.
Another giant in CSU’s history, Morgan guided some of the most important moments in the school’s history. In 1957, Colorado A&M officially became Colorado State University, and during that same decade one of the great building booms in campus history took place, adding 12 residence halls and a veterinary teaching hospital. In the 1960s, Morgan approved construction of Hughes Stadium and Moby Arena, and CSU joined the Western Athletic Conference. A.R. Chamberlain, who would go on to succeed Morgan as president, earned CSU’s first doctoral degree (in engineering) in 1955. And in 1961, a paper prepared by faculty members Maurice Albertson and Pauline Birky-Kreutzer laid the foundation for the Peace Corps. Morgan also steered the campus through a turbulent time of rising student unrest in the 1960s
Chamberlain, who had established himself as an effective administrator under Morgan, took over at a tumultuous time of campus unrest. Just one year into his tenure, Old Main – the iconic original campus building – burned to the ground. CSU’s academic reputation continued to blossom, as first the North Central Association awarded mature university status in 1974 and the school achieved Carnegie Foundation Research I University Status in 1976. Title IX begins to positively impact the campus, and women’s sports teams emerge and begin to thrive.
Christoffersen was CSU’s first president who leaned toward the liberal arts in training and philosophy; he even sang in local opera productions. CSU’s women’s sports programs joined the High Country Athletic Conference. Budgetary difficulties led to Christoffersen’s demise less than three years into his tenure.
Austin, a Vietnam veteran who earned a Bronze Star, had an acute business acumen and an ability to unite different factions – much-needed traits at the time of his arrival. During his tenure, the CSU System was established, with Austin serving as the first chancellor of a triumvirate that included Fort Lewis College and the University of Southern Colorado (currently CSU-Pueblo). Alumnus Boyd Grant was hired as basketball coach and led the Rams to their first conference titles in decades; physiology professor Robert Phillips served on a 1985 Space Shuttle mission, becoming the first of several astronauts with ties to CSU. Professor William Gray became the nation’s foremost expert on hurricane forecasting, establishing a CSU legacy that remains in place.
Many of the most impactful moments in modern CSU history took place during Yates’ tenure. He orchestrated the recovery from the devastating 1997 flood, which caused more than $100 million damage on campus, and he celebrated with the rest of the community the return of professor Tom Sutherland, who had been a political prisoner in Lebanon for six years. Local philanthropist Pat Stryker donated $20.1 million in 2003 – largest in CSU’s history at the time – to renovate Hughes Stadium and help create the University Center for the Arts. In athletics, Yates hired legendary Rams football coach Sonny Lubick, future pioneer Becky Hammon became the greatest female basketball player in school history, and alumna Amy Van Dyken electrified the 1996 Atlanta Olympics by winning four swimming gold medals. Yates also showed remarkable vision when he led seven other schools to break away from the Western Athletic Conference to form the Mountain West.
Penley helped bring in a $30 million gift from alumnus Ed Warner to create the Warner College of Natural Resources – CSU’s first named college. That gift launched the university’s first comprehensive campaign, which sought $500 million. CSU-Global Campus became an online presence in 2008, and CloudSat, the world’s most sensitive cloud-profiling radar, was developed by CSU and NASA and launched into orbit in 2006. CSU’s first LEED compliant structure was built in 2006, and the ground-breaking Academic Village residence halls opened in 2007.
Frank prioritized a land-grant educational heritage that embodied, as he called it, America’s “independent spirit and entrepreneurial character” and “the value of merit over social status and economic class.” He expertly managed concerns of faculty, students and alumni for more than a decade, and positioned CSU to address the current and future needs of teaching, research, and outreach mission of the university. Under Frank’s tenure, CSU emphasized science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, while concurrently promoting the values of international understanding and responsible community involvement. Frank managed to successfully close CSU’s first comprehensive campaign, surpassing the $500 million goal, before launching the ambitious $1 billion State Your Purpose campaign – and successfully surpassing that goal more than 18 months early. That campaign included $50 million from alumnus Walter Scott, establishing the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. Frank oversaw a period of unprecedented growth in both campus infrastructure (more than $1.5 billion in new buildings and renovations) and record student enrollment year after year, helping make CSU Colorado’s school of choice. He also worked to make a more inclusive environment for students, faculty and staff, and handed off a vibrant, thriving campus to McConnell.