Interim chancellor Jennifer Sobanet wrote in an email to The Scribe about what she plans to achieve while in her role and what she has done since starting work as chancellor on July 1.
Interim chancellor Sobanet said she’s been focusing on how to meet the needs of students, faculty and staff while looking at how to improve communication across campus.
What do you want to achieve as the interim chancellor?
When I accepted this position of interim chancellor, I worked closely with CU system President Todd Saliman to create three areas of focus that align with the CU system strategic plan as well as the UCCS 2030 strategic plan. We didn’t make up these priorities ourselves; they came directly from listening session[s] at UCCS to find out the needs of the community, from the community.
Those three areas are:
1. Increase enrollment through intentional strategies by enrolling more new students and further supporting our continuing students so they persist and graduate.
2. Actively include shared governance through information sharing and consultation in decision-making.
3. Create transparency around the university budget and finances of the university.
I added a fourth goal as this is something I strive for everywhere that I work:
4. Foster an open, collaborative and inclusive environment for faculty, staff and students.
According to your UCCS contact page, you served as the senior vice chancellor for finance and administration and chief financial officer and helped establish the new incentive-based budget model [at CU Denver]. What will your role in working with that [type of] model be now that you have switched positions?
It was a different budget model there than the model proposed here at UCCS, and my role here is different from my role at CU Denver. So, I’ll focus my comments on the UCCS budget model efforts.
Starting in November 2022, UCCS began developing a new budget model. The Budget Redesign Team, led by Provost Nancy Marchand-Martella, created a 3-pool hybrid model that is partially historical and partially incentive-based. I thank the team for their extraordinary efforts — both creative and thoughtful — and recognize the incredible work by so many additional people across the campus who provided feedback. In the past few months, the Budget Redesign Team has added a co-chair, our new vice chancellor of administration and finance and CFO Kathy Kaoudis.
Because of the change in campus leadership and the need to ensure the quality and consistency of data used in the new budget model, the Budget Redesign Team has recommended to me that we pause the implementation of this new model. Given this recommendation, the co-chairs of the Budget Redesign Team are consulting with shared governance groups including Faculty Assembly, Staff Association and Student Government Association as well as [University Budget Advisory Committee] about the proposal to pause the new budget model. Before we propose next year’s budget to the Board of Regents, we will need to decide our path forward on the budget model choice. My role is to ensure that we have consulted with our cabinet, deans, shared governance leaders and UBAC on this decision and then take that feedback into consideration as I decide which model we will use to develop the FY 2024-25 budget.
We know that you started this position at the beginning of July. What are some initial plans that you have either completed or will be completing in your first few months as interim chancellor?
The Cabinet and I have already taken some specific actions around the focus areas listed above and I’ve included a few examples below. Additionally, there is a much larger list of actions that we have taken or will be taking in the recap of our most recent Town Hall. Please see Communique for more specific details.
We recently announced our Active-Duty Tuition Assistance Grant which will allow more active-duty military to pursue their education here at UCCS.
We are working on a strategic enrollment management plan that should be completed by February. This plan will focus our energy and financial resources on strategies to increase the number of new students enrolling at UCCS and the ways in which we can improve persistence and graduation rates of our continuing students. An incredibly important part of this plan is to create a sense of belonging for our students who are here and who want to study at UCCS. To do this, we need to better understand what is working well and what is not working well for our students so we can improve. We will include current and prospective students in the development of this plan as the student voice is key to understanding how we can improve.
What are you doing to make sure the needs of the students are being met?
We are dedicated to student success in everything we [Sobanet and her team] do, and that means meeting student needs where they are. I’d love to share three ways that we provide resources for students:
Academic resources: As an institution of higher education, the academic success of our students is a top priority. Our Office of Academic Advising offers help with degree planning, academic policies and requirements and exploring majors. Our Languages, Mathematics, Multiliteracy and Science Excel Centers provide tutoring and unique programs for academic support.
Wellness and mental health: We know that academic success is just one part of creating a culture where students thrive. Meeting the mental and physical health and wellness needs of our students is important. The Wellness Center has medical visits available for both physical and mental health needs, including nutrition, acute illness or injuries, birth control consults, STI testing, gender affirming health, vaccines/flu shots/tuberculosis screening and more. In-person and telehealth appointments are available for individual, couples and family counseling as well.
Support services: We cultivate a diverse student body at UCCS with different backgrounds and circumstances. We want to make sure that every student has what they need to thrive here at UCCS. Clyde’s Cupboard is a donation based and non-need-based food pantry on campus providing free food and toiletries for all enrolled UCCS students. The T. Rowe Price Career and Innovation Center provides 1:1 career coaching to students along with resume and cover letter assistance, job search resources and pre-health coaching. The career center also houses Clyde’s Closet, a free clothing resource for students and alumni. The MOSAIC and LGBTQ+ Resource Center cultivates the holistic development of marginalized students, and the Veteran and Military Affairs McCord Herbst Student Veteran Center provides academic, social and transition support to our military affiliated community.
Remember, if you are in need of help, please reach out to any of these resources. Compassionate people are waiting to meet you where you are.
How will you ensure there will be a smooth transition for the future chancellor?
I have received incredible support from faculty, staff and students across campus, as well as the CU system office, our sister campuses and our community partners and supporters as I have transitioned into this interim role. I know that the future chancellor will receive the same. I would personally support the future chancellor with all I have learned through my time here.
In addition, I want to say how thankful I am to those who created UCCS’ robust strategic plan and the CU system strategic plan. These two plans have given me the ability to stay focused on the goals the campus community created and have allowed me to create a consistent, solid foundation for the permanent chancellor to continue to build upon. Those areas include learning, engagement and belonging; enrollment, retention and graduation; financial strength; research and creative excellence from the UCCS strategic plan; affordability and student success; discovery and impact; diversity, inclusion, equity and access and fiscal strength from the CU system strategic plan.
Why did you want to be the interim chancellor?
There are moments in each one of our lives that change the trajectory of what we thought our life’s journey would be. While I have had many smaller moments that have changed my career direction, two significant experiences stand out that led me to this moment.
In 2003, I chose to leave a private sector career for mission-driven work. I began working at the Colorado Community College system and experienced the powerful impact of higher education on the learner, their family and their community. I became passionate about higher education’s role in changing individual lives and the impact on communities through workforce development and economic development of research institutions like ours. Then, in 2013, while working for then Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper at the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE), I was part of a team who elevated closing the state’s attainment gap (now called the opportunity gap) to CDHE’s number one priority. Now, I want to focus on what I can do to make a difference for all students who want to pursue higher education. Higher education changes lives.
I believe that higher education should be and can be accessible to all. I believe that we need to create diverse and inclusive environments in which all our students can see themselves and can thrive. I care passionately about the role that UCCS plays in providing this opportunity to our students and the impact we have on our city, region and state. So, when President Saliman asked me to step into this interim role, I was honored to accept and have enjoyed every day here on campus and in the community.
What are you looking forward to doing the most during your time as the interim chancellor?
I have so enjoyed my first two months on campus getting to know the amazing people in this community. My plan is to continue to meet as many people as possible, listen and understand more about the things we do well and where we need to improve, and to do all I can to make UCCS a place where our students feel they belong and can reach their goals in and outside the classroom. I find joy in meeting new people, creating new relationships and learning new things.
Photo of Interim chancellor Jennifer Sobanet, from uccs.edu.