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SERVING THE LAND-GRANT MISSION IN THE 21st CENTURY
Barb Musslewhite is famous for telling the starfish story.
A man is walking along a beach covered in starfish stranded by the tide. He comes upon a small boy throwing starfish back into the sea, one by one.
“You can’t possibly throw them all back,” he tells the boy. “What does it matter?”
The boy picks up another starfish and throws it into the waves.
“It matters to that one,” he says.
And that, according to Musslewhite, is why she and others have spent their entire careers at Colorado State University improving access to and success in higher education for students from all backgrounds. Aspiring to and completing a degree matters to the lives of individuals, their families, and in some cases, to their entire communities.
As director of the Center for Student Success, Musslewhite’s particular passion is helping first-generation college students, those whose parents never completed an undergraduate degree, to achieve that goal. They are the ones land-grant universities, including Colorado State, were originally envisioned to serve.
Over the years, the mission has evolved, as Colorado State has evolved. Today, CSU is a major research university, nationally ranked in engineering, veterinary medicine, the humanities, and business, participating in research projects with global impact, and attracting internationally renowned faculty and scholars.
The University also attracts students from across the nation and around the world; the 2016-17 academic year promises to set new records for both enrollment numbers and the diversity of the incoming class.
And once again, approximately 25 percent of the incoming students are first-generation. Students without what Musslewhite calls the privilege of educational experience at home – without relatives who can provide guidance and advice on the sometimes overwhelming journey from high school to bachelor’s degree – come to Fort Collins with fewer tools in their learning toolbox. By helping them fill the toolbox and showing them how to use everything in there, over the past decade the University has nearly eliminated the graduation gap between first-generation and students whose parents completed college.
The Student Success Initiatives developed over that period have benefited all CSU students. These include creating expanded opportunities for admission; redesigning courses to keep pace with modern technology and teaching techniques; aligning co-curricular and academic activities for a meaningful campus experience; offering an array of support programs that help students graduate in an affordable and timely manner, and so much more. They all add up to the opportunity for an authentic education for everyone who comes to campus.