Marshall plan: New CMU president affirms commitment to students — and businesses, too

Phil Castle, The Business Times

John Marshall was selected as the next president of Colorado Mesa University. Marshall expects CMU to remain focused on the why of serving students as well as a larger community that includes businesses. (Photo courtesy Colorado Mesa University)

John Marshall expects to draw upon his varied experiences in his latest role as president of Colorado Mesa University.

That will include his work in government and politics as well as his service as a vice president at CMU. That also will include his years as a student at the Grand Junction-based institution.

“I had an amazing, transformational experience here,” Marshall says, one shaped by people who took an interest in him and his future.

It’s part of the culture at CMU — the why, he calls it — Marshall intends to sustain as president. “That’s the commitment I want to see moving forward.”

The commitment also extends to businesses that rely on CMU to develop the work force and in an even broader sense to the regional economy to which the university contributes, he says. “That’s a responsibility we take seriously.”

The CMU Board of Trustees voted unanimously to enter into negotiations with Marshall to serve as president. He’ll succeed Tim Foster, who plans to retire in June after 17 years.

Marshall was one of three finalists for the position along with Abel Chavez, a vice president at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, and Mirta Martin, president of Fairmount State University in West Virginia.

In addition to his role as vice president at CMU, Marshall also led the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to bring students back to campus for the 2020-2021 academic year.

“It’s pretty rare what we’ve pulled off,” Marshall says of the in-person instruction and college life offered at CMU in the midst of a pandemic.

He previously served as vice president for student services and director of development as well as a political science instructor.

Before joining CMU in 2007, he worked as an assistant director at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and policy advisor to then Colorado Gov. Bill Owens. Marshall also managed gubernatorial and congressional election campaigns for Bob Beauprez and Greg Walcher, respectively.

Marshall holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from CMU and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado at Denver.

He’s served on the board of directors of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and Business Incubator Center as well as a co-chair of the United Way of Mesa County fund-raising campaign.

As president at CMU, Marshall says he intends to remain focused on the why — why the university provides the kind of experiences he enjoyed as a student. That means maintaining both an educational and nuturing environment.

He also sees his role as helping others at CMU excel in their jobs by providing direction, resources and encouragement.

The university boasts remarkable faculty and staff, but they direct their individual talents to a collective effort to help students, he says. “There’s not a lot of ego here.”

Financial resources likely will remain an ongoing challenge for CMU and other public universities and colleges in Colorado, especially given diminishing state support, Marshall says.

But CMU can take advantage of what he says is its more entrepreneurial approach and partnerships. He cites as one example the Hotel Maverick, a boutique hotel constructed on the Grand Junction campus that meets a need and produces revenue, but also serves as a teaching facility for students in the hospitality management program.

While student enrollment in colleges has declined in the aftermath of a pandemic, he says CMU is well-positioned to change that trend — but not just to attract more students. “It’s not growth for growth sake. It’s growth for a purpose.”

CMU remains flexible in offering instruction and degree programs that prepare students not only for current workplace needs, but also the careers of the future, he says.

A new health sciences center is scheduled to open this fall at CMU to house degree programs in the physician assistant studies and occupational and physical therapy. A master of social work degree program will help in meeting the mental health needs of Western Colorado, he says.

In an even larger sense, CMU has become an increasingly important economic driver in the region, he says. 

According to the latest results of a regional impact study, the economic effects of CMU in a 14-county region of Western Colorado grew to $539 million for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Nearly $129 million in spending by students accounted for almost half of all direct spending.

Without CMU, there wouldn’t have been the largest urban development between Denver and Salt Lake City or the programs and activities that have diversified the economy, he says.

Maintaining that role as a substantial economic driver constitutes yet another priority, Marshall says.

CMU is poised for continued success and growth, he says, because of the efforts of Tim Foster and others. “I am coming into this amazing opportunity standing on the shoulders of some people who’ve done some amazing things.”