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GUEST COLUMN: The Quad Program - a space for learning, creativity and independent thinking

February 8, 2017 Updated: February 8, 2017 at 4:11 pm
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One of my favorite views of Colorado Springs over recent years probably isn't available on a postcard; but it's a wonderful sign of the energy and dynamism of the Springs: Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak's forest of construction cranes at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS). Under Pam's bold vision and leadership, UCCS has blossomed from a small commuter-based campus to one of the top Western regional universities according to U.S. News & World Report. While Pam's visible, tangible legacy at UCCS is remarkable, I am even more impressed - and grateful for - her impact on our community.

In 2015 the leaders of four major Colorado Springs institutions of higher education sat down to dinner together to discuss how we could work together to help our graduates' innovative ideas take root in the Pike's Peak region. President Jill Tiefenthaler of Colorado College, President Lance Bolton of Pikes Peak Community College, Chancellor Shockley of UCCS and myself, Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, may have different funding models and charters; but, we all appreciate the power of innovation in the lives of our graduates and our community. The four of us agreed to align our efforts, and perhaps predictably, came with the name Quad Innovation Partnership. Our explicit purpose was to create and coordinate initiatives to assist the transition from college to the Colorado Springs marketplace for the region's most talented graduates. Like other institutions across our country, we are re-examining how to stay relevant in the 21st century marketplace, where technology, the economy and even the profession of arms, are evolving at an unprecedented pace. Colleges and universities are redesigning their undergraduate curricula to deliver more integrated experiences wherein students have the space to blend and try out theoretical concepts as well as practical problem-solving skills from art, design, technology, business and marketing in interdisciplinary programs. With this in mind, the Quad launched a four-week summer course of study.

The Quad Program is an extension of this hands-on approach to build upon the concepts and ideas learned in the classroom: to provide students with opportunities to explore and apply innovative thinking locally in Colorado Springs, and to develop the attitudes and aptitudes necessary for success in the marketplace, or other important arenas.

Dr. Pam Shockley-Zalabak's vision, leadership and support of the Quad Program has been vital to its success. She, Bolton, Tiefenthaler and their staffs were directly responsible for raising the funds and facility support needed to turn the vision into reality in UCCS learning spaces. Pam leveraged her relationships to attract guest speakers from across academe, industry and government to enrich the Quad experience. And, the faculties from our four schools, including I'm glad to say our USAFA Department of Management, have worked together to develop syllabi, classroom presentations and projects.

The impact of the program has been striking. Students appreciate the entrepreneurial curriculum and design thinking coupled with off-site visits where they engage with community leaders, Colorado Springs business ecosystem resources like Catalyst Campus, Elevated Insights, and other students from the four institutions. The program offers our Air Force cadets a chance to problem-solve with their peers in a unique environment that enhances their Academy experience. Local businesses have an opportunity to recruit and retain the region's exceptional graduates. Though still in its infancy, the foundational work of Dr. Shockley-Zalabak with our Quad colleagues is already becoming an asset to Colorado Springs' growth as a hub of innovation.

At the heart of it all, is Pam Shockley Zalabak - a woman of intellect, tenacity, and humility. Perhaps what I admire most about this farmer, entrepreneur, educator and leader is how she has transformed UCCS into a thriving, innovative, modern, world-class institution and energized our community. Her university, through its rich academic programs, its partnerships with local businesses, health care providers, schools and government fuels the growth of graduates into the leaders who will drive the economic vitality of the region and lead our community with caring insight.

Thank you, Pam, for your bold foresight and inclusive collaboration. You and your cranes have changed your corner of the world for the better and lifted us all to new heights.

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Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson is the Air Force Academy superintendent.

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