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The Human Scale of Colorado Mesa University

Nourishing people, relationships and partnerships through balance and scale

Operating at a human scale is essential for serving CMU students. This belief is central to the mission of Colorado Mesa University. Our team knows meaningful relationships between people, and strong partnerships between organizations, allow campus to grow in the right way, operate in the right way and serve people in the right way. CMU is a Human Scale University.

My great-grandfather, Willis Ray Hemphill, knew that by scaling down a complex idea to something attainable, he could benefit not only a household but an entire community. He traveled throughout central Ohio during the early 20th century designing and building hand-made barns for American farmers. In order to reflect his vision for the barn, he constructed a perfectly scaled model of his barn design that was two feet tall.  The innovated model demonstrated how a new kind of barn could better support the essential operations of a family farm. This offered farmers a glimpse into the future as Willis envisioned it.

I use one of his century-old, scale-model barns in my office to remind me of the university we strive to create. The miniature barn model is a harbinger of a bygone era and also a motivator for me to help build a better future. My great-grandfather used this very model to achieve a vision for his community, which in turn helped feed a growing country. Part of my service to CMU is sustaining a university that feeds and nourishes the civic capacity of our community and country. Our world that is starved for civility, relationship, trust and cooperation. When CMU operates at a human scale, we become a scaled model of a country we want to see. A country that respects diversity of opinion, one where discourse is not only valued but practiced. A place where because of humility and grit, we prosper. At CMU we plant seeds of knowledge in students that grow and encourage learning, understanding, tolerance, adaptability and the expansion of knowledge.

When new students arrive to campus, the first move they often make is to find a campus map. Maps are often thought of as a tool to help establish direction. They help us understand the world in which we live. A low-resolution map, by design, renders life devoid of nuance and strips out nonessential detail. Large-scale, low resolution maps make mountains and mole hills look the same. Chain stores and local businesses are indistinguishable from one another. Small towns look no different than sprawling cities. Only when we zoom in does a map render life meaningful at a human scale. Zooming in teases out the meaningful nuances of life. A map with proper focus and scale distinguishes between amorphous landscapes and the places we call home. Zoom too close — we lose perspective. Zoom too far out — connection that gives meaning to experience is lost. The place in between is the human scale. The place on a map where perspective, direction and meaning are all seen at once. This is CMU. This is human scale. This is where we operate.

CMU is a living example of this essential balance. Human scale is found and sustained on campus in numerous ways. Academic spaces allow for a diversity of disciplines and intimate, educational experiences. The average class size at CMU is 25 while the average professor to student ratio is 1:20. Most importantly, faculty teach their own classes. They learn the first names of their students, and students learn theirs too.

Campus is large enough to offer a substantial diversity of experience yet remains walkable. CMU is still a place where community exists, a place to belong, a place to call home. Students find residence halls that are placed around campus where each cluster of living space allows for creation of small communities within the larger campus culture. Health care and STEM-related learning facilities offer training for jobs of the future. Arts and humanities programs are essential when it comes to helping us understand where we came from, where we are going and why.

Campus amenities are many and remain easily accessible to students. Many of these resources include partnerships both on and off campus. The Hotel Maverick, the Maverick Innovation Center, CMU Athletics, the Workforce Center, the Unconventional Energy Center, The Eureka Math and Science Center, The Ruth Hutchins Water Center, the Little Mavericks Learning Center, the Monfort Family Human Performance Lab and the Moss Performing Arts Center are just a few examples of what make CMU function at human scale. Western Colorado Community College is a place where hands-on learning, practical training and community connection happen every day.

At CMU, staff take the time to get to know students. Our team is committed to serving. They have dedicated their lives to making sure first-generation, low-income, rural and minority students know that they have a seat at the table. It’s a calling, not just a profession.

Human scale at CMU does not assume that small is better than big or big is inherently bad. We believe if an organization is built on people, partnerships and relationship-oriented values, then optimal scale will be reached organically. Reaching and sustaining this operational dimension allows CMU to depart from the cultural orthodoxy that screams “grow big,” and allows us the ability to continually assess and reassess (and even reinvent) ourselves when human-scale organizational values direct us to do so.

When I first learned that I was selected by the CMU Board of Trustees to be the next Colorado Mesa University president, I was walking across campus near the CMU Center for Reflection. Overwhelmed by emotion, I stopped there to pause and reflect on the future. I thought of family who’ve come before me, like my great-grandfather and his ability to contemplate the importance of scale. He helped, in a small way, to feed a nation. Only a century ago, he zoomed in and carefully crafted a vision that allowed family farms to thrive. He helped nourish a nation by producing sustenance for people. I carry a small part of his legacy. My hope as president is that I can contribute in some small way by providing civic nourishment to a world that needs thoughtful and engaged leaders of tomorrow. My contribution will take the form of making sure CMU operates at a scale that makes relationships strong, people healthy and learning robust. This scale I strive towards is a human one.


* Watch the Investiture Ceremony video below to hear more about our Human Scale University.


Written by John Marshall