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A Century of College

Debut of library special archives exhibit curated by a student

Held in glass cases are eight long translucent shelves that house the captivating collection of the nearly one-hundred-year history of Colorado Mesa University. The exhibition begins with establishing Grand Junction Junior College in 1925, Mesa College in 1937, Mesa State College in 1988 and then Colorado Mesa University in 2011.

 The exhibit is on permanent display at the Tomlinson Library thanks to the efforts of alumnus Parker Cosby. The recent history major graduate dedicated an entire semester to the research and exploration of this exhibit and received course credit, under the tutelage of Special Collections and Archives Librarian Amber D'Ambrosio and Professor of History Sarah Swedberg, PhD.

“I was not expecting to do something of this magnitude before graduating,” said Cosby. 

Through his research, Cosby discovered that the hardest part of starting the college in the 1920s was funding. The Lion’s Club Carnival was originally started as a fundraiser for the budding junior college when members of the organization learned that the state funding they had been promised fell through.

“It really became a community effort,” said Cosby.

The carnival continues every year to this day and the proceeds are now donated to other in need organizations.

Some of the old photos in the exhibit speak for themselves. The first Mesa Junior College graduating class of 1926 was comprised of only 24 graduates. The graduating class included 12 men and 12 women, which is remarkable given that during this time many women were denied entry into higher education institutions. 

Another fascinating piece of CMU’s history happened in the 1950s during the Korean War. There was a program for South Korean students to come to Mesa State to hone their field of study in order to teach back in their home country.

There was intense controversy in the 1970s around the theatre department’s productions of Equus and Oedipus Rex. A local community organization failed at a letter writing campaign to get then faculty member and theatre program founder the late William (Bill) Robinson fired because of the controversial subject matter. Robinson was not fire, but the contention did result in on-campus debates.

“This was also during a time when only female students had curfews,” said Cosby. These controversies and resulting discussions helped pull CMU and the community toward a more modern society.  

Colleges and universities everywhere play an integral role in society and this collection helps showcase how campuses like Colorado Mesa University are where important discussions and growth take place. This exhibit helps tell the colorful and captivating past of CMU, which will officially turn 100 in 2025.


Written by Suzanne Bronson