On Dec. 16, 2022, following confirmation from the Colorado State University Board of Governors, Amy Parsons (B.A. ’95) took to the podium to introduce herself to students, faculty, and staff as the 16th President of Colorado State University. But considering Parsons is a proud alumna who has spent the majority of her working career at CSU, the event felt more like a homecoming than an inauguration.
“I am, after all, a student,” Parsons said during her remarks. “That was my first role at Colorado State University when I arrived at 17 years old, and I will always be a student at Colorado State University. That is part of my commitment to all of you today.”
There’s something special about having a Ram leading Rams. But despite how many former students end up working for the University (of the 7,741 CSU faculty and staff, 2,626 are alumni), Parsons is only the third CSU alumnus to lead the University.
“As my predecessors in the president’s office would tell you, there are always advantages and disadvantages to being an ‘internal’ candidate, just as there are for people coming in as president with no history at the institution. But I view my experience as an alumna and my deep commitment to this university as great strengths I can bring to the table,” President Parsons told AlumLine. “I can speak from experience about the profound difference our faculty and staff members make in the lives of their students. As a liberal arts major, I know firsthand why we need to renovate the Clark Building. The long-term success and progress of CSU really matter to me, and I’m in a position to lead and fight for the university now because of the education I earned here.”
The first alumnus to serve as University President was Isaac E. Newsom (D.V.M., 1904), who became the first dean of the Graduate School in 1941 before assuming the role of president in 1948 after the unexpected death of President Roy M. Green. According to CSU research guides and documents, Newsom “provided a reassuring sense of continuity during a time of uncertainty and flux, and established himself as a gifted administrator,” during his yearlong tenure as president.
Twenty years and two presidents later, CSU would see its second alumnus president in the form of Adrian R. Chamberlain (Ph.D., ’55) – the very first student to receive a Ph.D. from CSU (Colorado A&M at the time) – who became president in 1969. During his 10-year tenure, Chamberlain was able to guide the University through such challenges as the burning of the Old Main Building in 1970, double-digit inflation, and economic uncertainty. He also led the University to achieve Carnegie Foundation Research I University status in 1976.
Similar to Newsom and Chamberlain, President Parsons comes with a deep knowledge and understanding of CSU having served in both administrative and teaching capacities. Parsons was executive vice chancellor of the CSU System from 2015-2020; vice president for university operations at CSU from 2009-2015; and deputy general counsel and associate legal counsel at CSU Fort Collins from 2004-2009. While working on campus, she taught courses for eight years in the Student Affairs in Higher Education master’s degree program.
But beyond being able to get across campus without having to ask for directions and knowing what those louds booms on game day are, there’s something much more meaningful about having an alumna as president.
“I’m absolutely certain that President Parsons’ perspective as an alumna will inform her leadership in a way that will not only benefit the University, but our entire CSU community,” CSU Alumni Association Executive Director Kristi Bohlender said. “Seeing the authentic way she connected with fellow Rams and a few Aggies during CSU Day events at the National Western Stock Show a full two weeks before she officially begins her tenure on Feb. 1 reinforced that belief. Every alum should be excited about the future of their alma mater.”
This is especially true considering one of President Parsons’ main focuses will be setting the standard for what a modern land-grant university can and should be. It’s time for a renaissance of the land-grant mission, she said, where access to excellence, opportunity, and knowledge flows freely between CSU and the community. One of the ways to ensure that happens, is through the insight of alumni like herself.
“Connecting with our CSU alumni in new and meaningful ways is one of the really exciting opportunities for me coming in as president,” President Parsons said. “I’ve worked closely with groups like the Green and Gold Foundation over the years on various projects, and the energy and vision alumni bring to the table are uniquely inspiring. Our graduates know what the University does well, and where we can do better, and they’re not afraid to say so! We have a diverse, international alumni community around the world whose perspectives and experiences can help move CSU forward, and we need to make everyone feel welcome to come back and get engaged with their alma mater – we have a lot to learn from them.”