Adding to the Community Wood Pile

There are four words emblazoned on the seal of Colorado State University – extension, research, education, and service – and each one is emblematic of the values CSU uses to guide its land-grant mission. But for Alumni Association Lifetime Member Neil Cowan (B.A., ’94), the CSU principle that has stuck with him most since he first stepped onto campus is undoubtedly “service.”

“If I were to speak to graduating seniors, I would tell them that service is now a part of you and you are a part of it,” he explained. “It’s your duty as a Ram.”

Neil Cowan and his daughter pose in front of their Oval brick
Volunteering is all in the family for Neil Cowan. His work with the Urban Farm in Denver has helped him reconnect with his family’s agricultural roots.

With his father, brother, cousins, and uncles all claiming CSU as their alma mater, Cowan was well aware of the opportunities that would be available to him once he became a Ram and he dove right in. He was one of the first students to participate in a study abroad exchange program with the University of Leicester in England, served as a teaching assistant, and graduated with a degree in History with the intent to head to law school.

“If I could go back and talk to 18-year-old Neil, I’d tell him you’re going to an amazing place with incredible things to do and amazing opportunities. Do more. I’d also tell him to add another degree to his studies,” Cowan said with a laugh.

Law school wasn’t as appealing to Cowan after graduation, so he returned to his hometown of Denver to earn an M.B.A. from the University of Colorado Denver. That degree helped get him into his current career of regulatory work for Xcel Energy.

In the mid-2010s, Cowan began participating in Ram Meetups down in Denver. It was great to reconnect with his fellow Rams, he said, and getting back into the CSU mindset reminded him of that word on the University seal. When the Alumni Association asked if he’d ever thought about volunteering, Cowan jumped at the chance.

Neil Cowan poses with his fellow Rams during a volunteer event.
Service, one of the words emblazoned on the CSU seal, is a reminder of what Ram Pride really means.

“Volunteering gives you an opportunity to do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do and help you express the skills and strengths you have,” he said. “There’s a personal satisfaction, but you’re also contributing something, so it’s a win-win.”

As a city kid growing up in Denver, Cowan was unable to connect with his family’s agricultural roots. That led him to start volunteering with CSU during the National Western Stock Show, before getting involved with the Urban Farm – a community farm in the heart of Denver focused on animal husbandry and horticulture.

“I never really experienced or appreciated agriculture until I got to CSU,” Cowan said. “Now, through my volunteer work, I have the opportunity to see how it functions, be a part of it, and understand the value it provides to the community.”

Being introduced to a natural setting in the middle of the city helped Cowan understand just how important greenspaces are to the community, and it prompted him to take a position on the Sand Creek Regional Greenway board of directors. The greenway is a 14-mile path stretching from Commerce City, through northeast Denver and on to Aurora. It gives the urban community a way to escape the man-made city environment and get into nature.

“These are assets to our community, and it’s our job to keep them in good working order so more and more communities can use it and enjoy the outdoors,” he said.

When it comes to how to get involved in volunteering, Cowan’s advice was simple – find an organization doing something you admire and volunteer with them.

“There’s a lot of organizations out there that really rely on volunteer help, and that’s your way of adding wood to the community wood pile to make the community better,” he said.

When it comes to why volunteering is important, Cowan recommends taking a global look at the CSU motto of “Rams take care of Rams.”

“I’m always going to help out a fellow Ram, but also the larger community as well,” he said. “I’ve heard it from people more than once that they’ve always liked people from CSU, and I think that’s because we’re good, genuine people. It’s never about us vs. them, it’s about us. That idea of service is a part of our Ram community fabric.”

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When you join the Colorado State University Alumni Association, you become part of something bigger – a global community of green and gold that keeps alumni connected to the University and each other. Lifetime member Neil Cowan is making an impact on current students and future Rams by funding youth programs; providing support for alumni programming, outreach, and engagement across the nation; and preserving time-honored traditions that bind us together as Rams. You can make a difference too, and gain access to benefits such as exclusive invites, bookstore savings, career services, and more. Become a member today!