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Red Cross Hometown Hero: UCCS chancellor vision for campus, community earns award

March 18, 2015 Updated: March 18, 2015 at 4:10 am
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photo - University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Chancellor Pam Shockley Zalabak attends a meeting on campus Tuesday afternoon, March 17, 2015, after rushing back early Tuesday morning from the school women's basketball NCAA Division II playoff game in Texas late Monday night. Zalabak earned the humanitarian award for the Red Cross Hometown Heros for her leadership at the unversity and her efforts to improve the lives of the elderly in our community.  (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Chancellor Pam Shockley Zalabak attends a meeting on campus Tuesday afternoon, March 17, 2015, after rushing back early Tuesday morning from the school women's basketball NCAA Division II playoff game in Texas late Monday night. Zalabak earned the humanitarian award for the Red Cross Hometown Heros for her leadership at the unversity and her efforts to improve the lives of the elderly in our community. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

"Lifelong cheerleader" would have been a fitting caption under Pam Shockley-Zalabak's senior picture in her high school yearbook.

The chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has been a tireless champion, a strong supporter and what many call a visionary leader of the campus.

"I'm absolutely convinced there is nobody more dedicated to UCCS and her students, but also to the community and the state," said Ed Anderson, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who works as the chancellor's military adviser.

For her commitment to making the Pikes Peak region a better place to live, work and learn, Shockley-Zalabak earned the 2015 Humanitarian Award. The Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross sponsors the Hometown Heroes awards program each year.

All nine 2015 Hometown Heroes will be honored Wednesday at a dinner at 6 p.m. at the Antlers Hilton, 4 S. Cascade Ave., for their demonstrations of courage, kindness and unselfish character.

Shockley-Zalabak said she's "humbled" by the award.

"The award is about the work of so many people at UCCS," she said. "This is really about all of us and our deep commitment to the community."

Shockley-Zalabak has worked at UCCS, the fastest-growing campus of the University of Colorado system, for nearly 40 of its 50 years. After growing up in Oklahoma, she earned a doctoral degree in organizational communication from CU-Boulder and became a communication professor and vice chancellor at UCCS.

She also helped form the department of communication and focused her work on organizational trust and the impact of new communication techniques on organizations.

She said she didn't aspire to become chancellor - she was the only executive available to step in when the former chancellor resigned in 2001, and accepted the job permanently in 2002.

Since then, Shockley-Zalabak led the school out of the worst financial crisis it faced since opening in 1965, answered explosive enrollment growth with numerous construction projects, helped develop meaningful relationships with the community and was instrumental in creating a southern Colorado coalition to improve opportunities for first-generation, non-traditional and underrepresented students.

"Problems don't seem to faze Pam. She's an educator with a business sense and has taken UCCS to the next level," said Jerry Rutledge. The longtime Colorado Springs business owner served from 1994 to 2007 on the university system's board of regents, which governs the four CU campuses and its chancellors.

Anderson, who nominated Shockley-Zalabak for the Hometown Heroes award, said improvements under her leadership aren't hard to notice. In recent years, UCCS has transformed from a small commuter-based campus to a full-fledged collegiate hub with new dorms and parking garages (one with a sports field on top of it), a community events center, a campus recreation center that opened in 2007 and already is being expanded, a new science and engineering building, new faculty offices and various remodeling projects. Appeals to lawmakers, fundraising and partnerships with businesses helped secure funding.

"She really has gotten things done in the face of all kinds of adversity," Rutledge said. "Like all great leaders, she has the ability to get everybody else on her team and share her passion."

What's not as easy to see, Anderson said, are all the academic enhancements under Shockley-Zalabak's leadership.

"As a result of these improvements, UCCS has received national recognition from prestigious groups for how great it is," he said.

That includes U.S. News and World Report's ranking UCCS as sixth nationally for public undergraduate engineering and 13th among Western regional public universities. UCCS also earned high standings in the magazine's America's Best Colleges report for graduate programs in nursing, business and public affairs.

The focus has not just been inward, though. Shockley-Zalabak has connected the university to the community in a way that has drawn attention and respect.

"You see leaders that are all about their career, and Pam is totally all about UCCS and the community," Rutledge said.

One of the university's latest additions, the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences, at North Nevada Avenue and Austin Bluffs Parkway, opened in February 2014 and represents a convergence of on-site medical care, training and research catering toward the region's aging population.

Shockley-Zalabak said after she and her late husband cared for her mother and grandmother for 18 years, she learned that "life has many dimensions, and while there may be physical impairment and decline, there also can be a richness we have not embraced."

The integrated care model of the Lane Center provides a "one-stop-shopping" health care experience for seniors, offering primary care, behavioral health, nutrition, exercise and other elements of healthy aging, which Shockley-Zalabak said is "the wave of the future."

"It's so appropriate to help us not only deal with the real problems but with what can be the positive aspects of the wisdom of years of experience," she said. "I think we're turning a corner, and this area, with a large retirement population and a great deal of physical activity and emphasis on health and wellness, will be leading in terms of looking at the positive aspects of aging over a lifespan."

The chancellor still teaches communication classes at UCCS and also is a wheat farmer. She also has been involved with the proposed City for Champions project that would add a UCCS Sports Medicine and Performance Center as a part of a four-pronged tourism push in Colorado Springs.

But in recent weeks her attention has turned toward real cheerleading. For the first time in UCCS history, the men's and women's Mountain Lion basketball teams qualified for national championship playoffs.

Shockley-Zalabak couldn't be happier.

"I love basketball," she said. "I couldn't be more proud of our teams."

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