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Lifeblood of the university

CMU faculty are dedicated to teaching and providing invaluable experiences to help students and the community succeed

It was in the late ‘'90s when Scott Bevill would jump into his red Toyota 4Runner and drive to Fruita Monument High School with his tennis racket in the back and the music turned up. He was born and raised in the Grand Valley and as many young adults do he went off to explore the world. He eventually made his way to California, where he earned his master’s degree and doctorate in mechanical engineering at Stanford University. He knew he wanted to teach and he could have gone anywhere, but he came back to the Grand Valley. He came back not because it was home but because of something a little more fortuitous

At a research conference on an island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, Bevill ran into a friend from graduate school. He had just finished a post-doctoral research position in New Zealand and was wanting to become an instructor, specifically at a university where teaching and not research would be his primary focus.

“We started talking and she said, ‘Hey I saw a position being advertised and it looks exactly like what you’re looking for.’ She went on to describe the position and how it was a school in Grand Junction, Colorado,” said Bevill. “It was just completely serendipitous.”

In academia, you can end up at a R1 institution, where faculty mainly focus on research. The alternative is the teacher-scholar method, which is where CMU fits in. This method puts faculty members’ focus on teaching and students. That focus is closely followed by a desire to contribute to their chosen discipline through research and scholarly and creative endeavors. Endeavors that positively benefit both students and the community. Because of this philosophy, faculty at CMU make students’ needs and success a
top priority.

According to Bevill, positions for engineering faculty at schools where teaching is at the heart of the institution are few and far between — making Colorado Mesa University unique in that regard.

“I enjoyed the research I had been doing, but teaching aligned closely with my own interests. I was a teaching assistant in graduate school and I knew I wanted to land a position like that, but it was hard to find exactly what I was looking for,” said Bevill.

He thought he knew CMU having grown up just a town over, but Bevill visited campus and was surprised at how advanced the university had become.

“The equipment we have here is nicer than what I was using in graduate school. So I was just blown away to find that at a smaller school like CMU,” said Bevill.

Top left: Jill Cordova, PhD, professor of kinesiology, Scott Bevill, PhD, associate professor of mechanical engineering and Nathan Perry, PhD, associate professor of economics. Left: Brian Krinke, assistant professor of music.

The tour gave him a new appreciation for the school and the Grand Valley.

Like Bevill, Professor of Kinesiology Jill Cordova, PhD, chose CMU because it was a school that valued teaching.
“I’ve always had the philosophy of students first. I like to look at what I do and make sure it’s really about the students. It’s always good to remind ourselves about that,” said Cordova.

And for more than 25 years, she’s been loyal to her students, the university and
the community.

“I had never dreamed I’d stay at the same university for 28 years,” said Cordova. “But I could never find a good reason to leave. I liked it too much. I felt like everything I needed, as far as employment and living conditions, was here.”

Cordova is a big supporter of student involvement in the community, specifically working with local organizations who work with individuals with disabilities including Special Olympics Colorado and Colorado Discover Ability. Participating in these various groups has been a huge part of her life for more than 40 years.

“When I was an undergraduate student I was a lifeguard and a swim instructor, and one day they asked me to teach a group of people with disabilities how to swim. I was scared to death because I was inexperienced and young but I said, ‘why not?’ And I fell in love with it. So from that day forward I always made sure I was working in some capacity with people with disabilities.”

Her story and actions have inspired numerous students to do the same.

“Getting students directly involved helps them develop a passion for working with people with disabilities,” said Cordova. “They tell me, ‘It really changed my life’.”

While CMU is a teaching institution first, and that’s what attracts many qualified individuals from around the world to campus, research is still encouraged. Faculty are expected to contribute to their discipline in some way; be it through writing papers and books, conducting research or directing a performance. The different ways faculty at CMU contribute to their field of study outside the classroom varies. For Cordova, it’s almost three decades of giving back to the community. For Associate Professor of Economics Nathan Perry, PhD, his interest lies in regional economic research.

With bachelor’s degrees in economics and philosophy and a Doctorate of Economics from the University of Utah, Perry creates data-driven quarterly economic reports for three counties: Mesa, Montrose and Delta.

“I like to find topics that are important to the region or to the community and try and provide good, transparent, repeatable research — high-level stuff that can help everyone understand what’s going on,” said Perry.

He looks at the labor market, industry wages, local real estate, energy industry and the national economy as well.

“This community is very invested in the economy. It’s a team effort around here, more than other places I think,” said Perry. “I contribute to that discussion and decision-making with high-quality research.”

Perry creates other reports as well, like what impact public lands have on the economy, both directly and indirectly, and how proximity to public lands affects home values.

“The economy is like a puzzle and I like to try and get pieces of that puzzle so we can have a better picture,” said Perry.

The teacher-scholar method ensures faculty are committed to providing a high-quality education to students while staying current in their fields. When they partake in scholarly or creative activities outside the classroom, it benefits students and the community as a whole. Faculty who commit to teaching and students are the lifeblood of a university.

“It’s important to be an engaged contributor because it models good citizenship, keeps faculty up-to-date in their field and it ensures their expertise continues to grow,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs Kurt Haas, PhD.

“CMU is an intellectual and cultural center for the region and an important piece of that is having faculty take part in the community and share their expertise.”

For Assistant Professor of Music Brian Krinke, it’s sharing his love of music. Krinke started his career as a student at The Juilliard School, a place where some of the most talented musicians from around the world go to study. He was described in the New York Times as an “accomplished and intrepid young player.”

He went on to perform extensively as a recitalist throughout the U.S. and Central America, including performances with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the American Symphony Orchestra at the Lincoln Center in New York.
Now, along with teaching at CMU, he is in his third year performing as concertmaster of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra (GJSO).

“This is a valuable part of my work because it allows me to take a leadership role within the larger music community in the area,” said Krinke.

Prior to becoming GJSO concertmaster, Krinke served as an assistant concertmaster of the Rochester Philharmonic and an associate concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

The list of faculty who are making a difference in the lives of their students and the Grand Valley is long, and it’s something CMU has mastered — a kind of harmonious and balanced line that dances between teacher and researcher. It’s hard to replicate.

It’s what brought Bevill to CMU and it’s what made him stay. Nine years later, he’s an associate professor of mechanical engineering and raising his family in the same county where he grew up. In addition to teaching in the classroom, he’s finding ways for students to be involved in research.

“I am working on a research project examining specially designed footwear as a non-invasive treatment to slow the progression of medial compartment knee osteoarthritis,” said Bevill.

The ongoing project gives medial compartment knee osteoarthritis patients an alternative option
to surgery.

Bevill’s experience applying his mechanical engineering background to analyze biological systems is unique. He blurs the lines across disciplines and continues to weave these areas of study with the help of his students.

“It’s been a great project to have here at CMU. I’ve been able to get a number of undergraduate engineering students involved and over to the Monfort Family Human Performance Lab where they learn about motion capture and analyze the data that they collect there. A few of those students have presented results of their work at regional conferences, too,” said Bevill.

By involving students in this type of work, faculty enhance the learning experience for students in a variety of environments and faculty are rewarded by the constant and daily interaction with tomorrow’s leaders, movers and shakers. Faculty can see the difference they’re making in the lives of their pupils; while students get the best of both worlds. They’re involved with hands-on research that’s not typical for undergraduates, and they are taught by professors who show up day in and day out for one purpose: to educate.

Not one of the 590 faculty’s paths to CMU look the same but they do have one thing in common: They all carefully and thoughtfully chose to make their life’s work about the students, first and foremost. •

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Written by Kelsey Coleman