Q&A: Pamela Shockley-Zalabak’s reflection on time as Chancellor

February 14, 2017

Audrey Jensen

[email protected]

     After being a part of the UCCS community as a faculty member for over 40 years and Chancellor for 15, Pamela Shockley-Zalabak has made a significant impact on the campus in and in the Colorado Springs community.

     The Scribe had the opportunity to interview Shockley-Zalabak and ask her questions reflecting on her role as Chancellor and what her thoughts are on the campus as she prepares to retire from her position on Feb. 15.

Q: Can you give me an overview of your leadership roles since you started working at UCCS?

A: I started as the first person hired into what has become the communication department. So you could say that my first leadership role was really heading that program as it developed, then it became a department, and then I was the department chair for 12 years.

     I also worked with what was then the Media Center and CUNet while being a professor of communication.

     We began to experience many years ago, an enrollment decline. The Chancellor back then asked me, because of my communication and marketing background, to take the role of looking at how we would launch a marketing recruitment effort to attract students to UCCS.

     And that morphed into… the Student Success division. I was the first vice chancellor for Student Success on campus.

     It wasn’t just a position that was created and I went into it; it was a process of trying to understand how we could actually cause enrollment declines to be reversed and how it could better support our students.

     Then our Chancellor resigned to take a job with very little notice, because it was a job she very much wanted.

     I had determined that year that I was going to return to full time teaching, but 9/11 happened and our budget began to go into free fall, so I agreed to become interim chancellor and then subsequently the permanent chancellor.

     It’s what needs to be done and who is there to try to do it, and I think that would perhaps describe it as a career better than ‘I aspired to be something.’ I never aspired to be Chancellor. Never. But there were real needs on the campus and I was convinced by others that I should apply for the position and I did.

Q: What do you think is the most important contribution you made to UCCS students?

A: With all the external pressures, I hope that we have created an environment where students are central to the success of the environment, and putting students first and I think we have.

     Personally, my most important contribution is that I have been able to be part of developing some very important scholarship programs that have increased our ability of our students to afford to be here. And that is meaningful to me.

Q: Why did you decide to retire now?

A: Because we are through the Higher Learning Commission accreditation process, because retiring in February allows the campus to search quickly for a permanent replacement and that gives people an opportunity to have a new chancellor in place.

     The timing just fits, because I’m not going to stay for another 10 years to go through another accreditation cycle, and the sooner we get a permanent new chancellor in here…the Ent Center is going to be completed, the City for Champions project is in good shape.

     Our students are doing quite well, so it’s just a good time to leave.

Q: What is the most impactful event that has happened at UCCS while you were chancellor?

A: We’ve had a number of high profile events, the first presidential candidate to visit was Barack Obama and the second one was Donald Trump.

     Both of those high profile events had a major impact on campus. We have also had a variety of international delegations over the years that have had major impact on campus and been positive for our students.

     It provides students an opportunity to interact with people that they would not, without extensive travel, have the opportunity to interacted with.

Q: What advice would you give to the next chancellor?

A: You’re coming to a very special place. Take time to understand the faculty, staff and students.

     It will be a reward in and of itself, just to see the life changing opportunities we have at UCCS.

     So I would say, take plenty of time to get to know people, go to events. Be accessible to people and it will be rewarding in every respect.

Q: For students who will enroll at UCCS after you retire, what is your hope for UCCS as a campus?

A: My hope it that we will continue to be the educational force that Southern Colorado needs. Because We’re the only regional comprehensive public institution that has undergraduate, master and doctorate programs in one half of Colorado. My hope is that we’ll continue to have that very strong responsibility to our community and our region.

     My hope it that we will grow moderately because our region needs more people having access to higher education. And I hope that we will be seen as one of the leaders in access and excellence for all of Southern Colorado.

Q: What do you want students to know about your time here as chancellor?

A: I want students to know that I cared about them, that I really cared.

     And that that translated into trying to have really top notch educational opportunities and growing engagement opportunities outside the classroom.

     That it translated to trying to keep our costs as moderate as possible and trying to provide financial aid and work opportunities on campus. And I would want them to know that I really thought the vast majority have enormous potential, more than some of them know.

Q: What part of your life do you attribute the most to your success as Chancellor?

A: My perspective. I grew up in a tiny town with 297 people. I have always had a work ethic, because when you grow up in a farming community, everyone, more or less, has that kind of work ethic that really has contributed to my belief in what can happen here.

     And I think probably that experience of being a small town, rural Oklahoma kid is the most influential in who I am today.

Q: What will you miss the most about UCCS?

A: The students. By far. I will miss the activities I engage with students, I will miss mentoring and teaching and just seeing students succeed.

     Many of us, not just me, on graduation day, say it’s the best day of the year, because we see people really achieving something that many didn’t know that they could, so that’s always exciting.

     What I will miss as chancellor is so many of the faculty, staff and community who truly believe in this place and just pour their heart and soul to making good things happen.