On Nov. 5, 2020, Chancellor Venkat Reddy announced via email to all faculty, staff and students that Michelle Neely had passed away.
Neely was an assistant professor, attendant rank and director of Writing Across the Curriculum in the English department. She held a doctoral degree in Education Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.
According to the email from Reddy, Neely had worked at UCCS for 10 years. “Through her work in Writing Across the Curriculum, the Teaching Circles she founded, and the many Faculty Resource Center workshops and sessions she presented, Michelle contributed to excellence in teaching and learning at UCCS. She was an alumna of the CU Excellence in Leadership Program.”
Although officially working within the English department, her work and involvement spanned the entire university, showcasing the true breadth of her dedication to the improvement of the campus.
Her coworkers consistently described how committed she was to her work and especially to her students.
Kirsten Ortega, chair and associate professor in the English department, said via email that Neely “kept her office door open and welcomed colleagues’ and students’ questions. She was always able to provide guidance that was supported with research. If she didn’t have sources at her fingertips, she would provide them in an email shortly after you left her office. Michelle always listened. She made students and faculty alike feel seen, heard and taken seriously.”
Ortega shared two instances that exemplified Neely’s dedication to her students. The first was when Neely drove a student to the hospital after going into labor during her class; the second was when she called the residence administration to help a student who was homeless.
Abby Jadali, a former editor for the Scribe who graduated from UCCS in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in English, did not take a class with Neely but recalls working with her at the Undergraduate Research Journal (URJ).
Jadali said via email how Neely gave her the opportunity to implement new ideas to the URJ, despite being a new hire.
“Dr. Neely also gave me the opportunity to do [the URJ’s] marketing,” Jadali said, “and I was so appreciative that she gave me that chance. She was my boss at the URJ, and she was so supportive of the different initiatives I wanted to make when it came to editing and marketing for the journal.
“I ended up starting my own marketing company, and she gave me the opportunity to stay on the URJ for one semester after I graduated so I could continue to learn new things about marketing and create a better portfolio for myself.”
Unknown to some, Neely also had an active position at the Faculty Resource Center (FRC).
Sharon Steven, faculty development coordinator for the Faculty Resource Center, shared, “Dr. Neely and I started collaborating on different teaching committees, including the Teaching and Learning Conference. Her leadership role in Teaching Circles and Writing Across the Curriculum provided an opportunity to collaborate on the programs and events coordinated by the FRC. Throughout her tenure, she shared her passion and expertise in teaching and writing with other faculty.”
Steven added, “As with my FRC colleagues, it was a privilege to work with her in the planning of various programs and events offered through the FRC.”
Other members of the community also noticed Neely’s dedication to her work, like Patrick McGuire and Tabatha Farney.
McGuire, an associate professor in the department of curriculum who worked closely with Neely at the FRC, said that they had met four years ago through a passion for teaching and learning. McGuire and Neely were co-chairs of the UCCS Teaching and Learning Conference planning committee.
“Michelle was an instrumental member of both initiatives and helped to conceptualize and implement the Teaching and Learning Conference (now entering its 3rd year),” McGuire said in an email.
Farney, co-interim dean, director and associate professor of Web Services and Emerging Technologies, credited Neely for bringing “new life and energy to the journal [URJ],” echoing the same remarks made by Jadali.
“She was always willing to try new ideas and encouraged creativity,” Farney said via email.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education and Academic Planning Susan Taylor forged a strong connection with Neely, dating back to 2010, and saw her intensity for inciting change as indicative of her true character.
Taylor believes that “it is fitting that Dr. Neely was selected for the CU Excellence in Leadership Program. Dr. Neely was someone who would identify a need and step up to lead, in collaborative and creative ways.”
Rose Johnson, an administrative contact in the English department, became particularly close with Neely over their 10-year relationship, claiming that they became more like family than coworkers.
Johnson described how her goal was to make Neely laugh. She said, “Michelle was a dear friend with a loving and caring spirit.”
In conducting interviews with various students and faculty, it has become clear that Neely had an aptitude for developing lasting relationships with whoever she met, wherever she met them.
These faculty members and students had known Neely for multiple years and described that, though she was a quiet woman, she was motivated by a drive for change that pushed UCCS to be its absolute best.
Although Michelle Neely is no longer with us, her legacy and work inspire each of us to strive for excellence through hard work and, more importantly, compassion.