Question and Answer with CMC President Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser
Dr. Hauser recently answered questions about her guiding philosophies and values, the life experiences that have shaped her, the bright future she sees for CMC, and why she trekked to base camp at Mount Everest.
In your October 9 interview as a presidential finalist, you said that you weren’t looking to become a college president anywhere else. What attracted you to Colorado Mountain College? And, from your perspective, what is CMC’s distinctive position among higher education institutions in Colorado?
I have been familiar with Colorado Mountain College for many years, and became even more so during my time at the Daniels Fund. One of my favorite initiatives at the foundation was the Daniels Opportunity Scholarships. As CMC was an early recipient of these specialized grant funds, I came to know the important role the college plays in Colorado higher education.
CMC offers students a choice – really THE choice – to live, work, take classes, earn degrees and training, and contribute to the workforce and economies of the mountain communities. Its structure, financial model, faculty, and eleven learning locations uniquely position it to innovate and serve students like few other institutions.
For me, access to education and opportunity is a passion and a calling. Colorado is home. The presidency at CMC represents the ideal intersection of my personal and professional interests and one I am fortunate and excited to begin.
What large changes do you see in Colorado and nationally that we should prepare for?
The world has changed. Largely, traditional K-12 and higher education models have not. What students need to know and be able to do is different in a global, knowledge-based economy, regardless of where they are from or plan to live. So, as a state and college, we must rethink how we serve and train students.
Colorado has also benefited historically from an “import effect” of people who move to the state for its lifestyle and beauty. They often bring high per-capita incomes, good health, and college degree attainment with them. We do less well “growing our own” educated citizenry, particularly from historically under-served populations. These same populations are an increasing share of the education and workforce pipeline, and it is our obligation and economic necessity to ensure the doors of opportunity and high quality education, training, and lifelong learning are open to all. I look forward to helping position CMC to be this open door, to innovate and partner, and to deliver relevant certificate and degree programs that are second to none.
What is the greatest opportunity right now for Colorado Mountain College?
In my view, CMC has the opportunity, potential, and ingredients to become the premier and most innovative institution of its kind in the country. Its multi and diverse location structure allows faculty, staff, and students to incubate and experiment with ideas and programming at specific locations. When successful, leading practices can permeate college wide. CMC is also intimately woven into the communities it serves. As the college and its students are successful, communities and local economies thrive. Assessing and maximizing this symbiotic relationship is another exciting opportunity to pursue.
Throughout your career you have focused on helping create access to college education for students who might not otherwise have that opportunity. What can you carry from your work to date into becoming president of Colorado Mountain College?
Like the rest of the state, the demographics of the nine counties served by CMC are changing. Students from lower-income, historically underrepresented, non-traditional, and English-language challenged backgrounds are a growing share of the education and training pipeline. Geography adds another access barrier in the CMC service region. In my view, access must and can overcome all these challenges and “meet students where they are.”
My experience has also taught me that while students present a range of circumstances, if provided with quality programming, outstanding faculty, and high expectations, success follows. At CMC, there is also the opportunity to develop localized talent who can and will become future CMC staff, faculty, business and community leaders within and throughout the district.
You come from a background of working with private foundations. How can private funding enhance what CMC provides to students?
Foundations, companies, and individuals contribute to causes they believe in. Certainly CMC is fortunate to have its current funding model. That said, private investments strategically augment the institution and support students in ways limited public dollars simply cannot. A private donor can sponsor a great idea, a new program, localized efforts, or scholarships for under-served or exceptionally talented students. There are so many compelling reasons to invest in CMC, and I look forward to making that case to existing and future supporters.
You have been a governor’s appointee to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and to the Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care Reform. What from your experience there, or on other state and regional boards or commissions, could benefit CMC and its students?
Above all else, these experiences have afforded me the opportunity to contribute and volunteer time to meaningful causes. They have also helped me understand key social and public policy issues facing Colorado, the Rocky Mountain region, and the country. I maintain close relationships and connections to people with whom I have interacted and have “connected the dots” of how issues, organizations, and civic leaders coexist and interact. I will leverage the relationships I have formed and bring the lessons I have learned to CMC, its faculty, students, and communities.
Why did you want to trek to the Mount Everest base camp?
Travel has always been one of my favorite hobbies (my husband shares this passion), particularly to very remote places where climbing a peak is part of the adventure. My trip to Nepal had another element, and that was the chance to visit and experience the great legacy of Sir. Edmond Hillary, the first climber to summit Mt. Everest (along with Tenzing Norgay). After his historic trek, which would not have been possible without the support of the local Sherpa people, he committed to giving back to this very impoverished region. His contributions to schools and hospitals are still present today. He was a man who invested in children and families who were not his own, knowing the returns on his investment would long outlive him. It is a model I have tried to emulate in my own life and will strive to continue at CMC.
What did you learn as a river guide in the Grand Canyon that you can bring to your work as president of CMC?
My love for the Grand Canyon and my experience working nearly ten summers for Hatch River Expeditions have permeated nearly every aspect of my life, both personal and professional. Guiding a group through a place of mind-blowing beauty, but also rugged and potentially dangerous terrain is a tricky balance. Everyone comes to the experience with different expectations, varied experiences, and with a range of anxiety about what lies ahead. Over the course of a rafting trip, the goals are to develop a high-performing, trusting team, allow each member to realize new skills, keep everyone safe, and complete the remarkable 200-mile journey along the Colorado River together.
Success happens when everyone contributes to their fullest potential and steps outside their comfort zone. I will bring this “guide” orientation and leadership style to CMC. And, my compass will always point toward what is best for students.
Tell about a favorite outdoor experience in Colorado.
Getting engaged atop Challenger Peak, a “14er” in the Sangre de Cristo range of southern Colorado. My now husband asked me to sit down on the summit. I was antsy, as bad weather was looming, and expressed that we “needed to start down.” He asked me again to sit down “just for a minute,” so I finally did (on the plaque that memorializes the crew of the space shuttle Challenger). As the snow started to fall and with thunder sounding in the distance, he dropped to his knee and said, “Well, are you up for a lifetime of challenges?” I still didn’t clue in right away (duh!). Then he handed me a ring that belonged to his mother. She had 11 children and the ring had once held the same number of birthstones. A few were missing; others had faded over the years. He later described it as a ring “only a mother could love.” But he offered that we would rebuild the ring to my liking, with the stones of my choice. It was a lovely moment combining several things I love most: Jeff, the outdoors, and the Colorado Rocky mountains.
What are you looking forward to most about living in the mountains?
Simply, the mountains are in my blood. I was born and raised in Flagstaff, AZ, a town that sits at 7,000 feet. I spent 15 years living on the Front Range of Colorado and spending much of my free time “heading to the hills” to explore the balance of the state. My husband and I love to ski, bike, climb, boat, and do just about anything outdoors. We both look forward to returning to the mountains, folding into the mountain culture, and contributing personally and professionally to communities we both love.
Does Diet Dr. Pepper count?