Investiture Remarks by CSU's 5th President Chris Markwood: “Living our Values, Growing our Partnerships, Innovating our Future"



Below is a full copy of remarks made by Dr. Chris Markwood during his formal installation as president of Columbus State University, Thursday, March 31, 2016 in the Bill Heard Theatre at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.

Ladies and Gentleman, thank you.  And thank you to our students who performed today as well as Dr. Kristen Hansen for the musical preparation, Dr. Keith Matthews, conductor, and Boris Abramov, a faculty coach.

We are all grateful for the amazing music and for helping make this ceremony so special.

As I approach today's investiture ceremony and my service as the Fifth President of Columbus State University, I do so with a sense of both honor and humility.

I am honored by the presence of so many dignitaries here today including representatives from colleges and universities across the state of Georgia and this country.

Dr. Kearns, we have known each other and worked together for a long time. Thank you for those very kind words of introduction.

Let me express my gratitude to the Regents, led by Chairman Stelling, to Vice Chair Hopkins, to Regent Wilheit and to Chancellor Hank Huckaby, for the confidence you have expressed in me to partner with the faculty, staff, and students as their president.

We were very happy in my home state of Texas, and I had said it would take the perfect combination of System leadership, campus focus, and community to get our attention, and we have found that combination here.

Mayor Tomlinson, Mayor Lowe, thank you for your leadership and the value you place on education in general, and on CSU in particular.

Brigadier General Wesley, we value our partnership and are committed to meeting the needs of our soldiers, our veterans and their families. Welcome to Columbus and to Ft. Benning.

I hope you find this community as welcoming as we have.

Congressman Bishop, Congressman Westmorland, Representative Smyre, Representative Smith, we are so appreciative to each of you, and the rest of our delegation for how you join together to champion the growth and development of Columbus and Columbus State University.

Our Columbus State University Foundation Trustees play a critical role in our ability to push the margins of excellence and I want to thank Greg Davis for his leadership.

We are grateful to all of our trustees for their tireless work on our behalf helping to raise private resources that allow us to reach our goals.

An institution is only as strong as its graduates. Dr. Kimberly Scott and all of our CSU alumni, thank you for your ongoing support and commitment to Columbus State University.

To the faculty and staff here today, I can't express how inspired and grateful I am to work with such a talented and dedicated group of people, who understand why we are here.

You are the heart and soul of this institution.  As I spent time listening to your visions, your goals, and your efforts, I am thrilled we have the opportunity to work together.  Dr. Tyo, Mrs. Jones, Tyler Davidson, Thank you for your welcoming spirit.

We all know that events like this do not just happen, so I want to give a special thank you to the planning team and especially to Dr. Stuart Rayfield who led that effort.

I had asked that as they put together the week’s events, that we keep our focus on the University's six values and that we involve students in all of the events.  I believe they did an outstanding job.

And to our students - You are why we are all here.  It has been a joy to get to know you, to watch you excel, and to even spend some time in a dunk-tank letting you take aim at me.

If Miss CSU could do it, with her crown on, who was I to say no?

Growing up, I was one of the fortunate ones.  Both of my parents were college graduates, and I never remember discussions of whether or not I would attend but rather just discussions about where I would attend and what I needed to do to get there.

Joining us today are my parents, Lewis and Janel Markwood, my sister, Cate Callis and her husband Brad, my mother and father-in-law, Gail and Mike Blunk, and Bridget's aunt and uncle Pam and Vance Valvo.

And I am also proud that my cousins Doug and his wife Kelly Samuelson as well as Scott and Jandy Markwood are able to attend.  Thank you all for your support, and for being here today.

I am especially proud today to be accompanied by my wife, Bridget.  She is my soulmate, best friend, my closest advisor and, as some have said, my secret weapon.

Though I am not so sure she is much of a secret anymore as she is immersing herself into this community.

We met on the University of Central Oklahoma campus about 12 years ago where I was serving as a dean and she was starting her role as the Assistant Director of Campus Life.

That chance meeting on the stairs of the administration building changed our lives forever.  Thank you Bridget, I love you.

I am so proud of our daughter Reagan.  Her budding scientific mind has found a community in which she can truly spread her wings and take flight.

Immersed in University life from the time she was born, she has become a big fan of our women's basketball, soccer and softball as well as Oxbow Meadows and the Coca-Cola Space Science Center.

So many people have made her feel welcome. She is extraordinarily fortunate to have met so many female role models in STEM fields. She is more committed than ever to exploring our world and beyond.

Thank you.  As a family, we are so very proud to join the Columbus State University family.

I want to also welcome my colleagues on the executive leadership team, our deans, our chairs, our directors, friends, and community members. It means so much to have you all here. I am so proud to work with such an amazing group of people.

As the fifth president, I must take a moment and offer a special recognition to our previous presidents.

The Columbus State University you see today, the stunning wooded beauty of main campus, the energizing urban dynamic of our RiverPark campus, the intellectual diversity of our faculty, our embrace and approach to innovation, and our nationally ranked programs were achieved, with the help of many, under the stewardship of Dr. Thomas Whitley, Dr. Francis Brooke, Dr. Frank Brown, and Dr. Timothy Mescon.

I am so pleased that Dr. Brown could be here today and I want to say a special word of appreciation to him.  Dr. Brown, Thank you for your leadership of this institution, your graciousness to me and my family, and your friendship.

Today, we are also honored to have with us the wife of President Whitley's son, Joe, Mrs. Kathleen Whitley, and his sister, Margaret Whitley representing the entire Whitley family.

As the family of our first president, what a joy that you could join in the celebration of Columbus State University.

But their presence here today also reinforces the fact that this ceremony is not about me, or any one individual.  It is about Columbus State University, its history, its values, its partners, its future.

Whatever we are able to accomplish in the future builds upon the strong foundation of the work of so many.

And as we continue to move forward, evolve, and change, we will forever remember and celebrate from whence we came, how we got here, and the people who helped pave the way.

As I was gathering my thoughts on what to share with you today, I knew I wanted to talk about the theme for this week: living our values, growing our partnerships and innovating our future and their importance in this time of extraordinary change and challenges for higher education.

I also knew I wanted to tell a story. And then I realized that the best story to convey this theme was our very own story.

It has been said that a great university is a gift from one generation to another. And this university is truly a gift from, and for, the community of Columbus.

In the 1940s, this community began to see the need for a college.

Local citizens met to strategize how they could make a local college a reality.

In the words of Former President Frank Brown, “If ever a community longed for a college, Columbus, GA was that city. For years before it became a reality, Columbus College, later Columbus State University, was coveted, dreamed of, and planned.

Perhaps no other institution in higher education has ever been so anticipated, for so long, by so many.”

It was nearly a decade before its doors were opened that the Chamber of Commerce and the Muscogee County School Board proposed the school, on behalf of the citizens.

And finally, in 1958, housed in the renovated Shannon Hosiery Mill, with 15 faculty members and 300 students, Columbus College opened its doors.

And so began a rich history of living our values, growing our partnerships, and innovating our future.

Of course, the story only gets better over the decades that followed. We worked with local business and industry to tailor academic programs to meet workforce demands, which just seemed like a natural course to take.

And it only seemed right to work with the city to help spur economic development. We both grew better, together.

What strikes me as unique about our partnering culture is that whether civic or business, there been a commitment to mutual benefit, which would be necessary for any successful partnership.

But there exists an intentional effort to mutually invest. Columbus State University keeps the community’s needs in mind as we plan for the future, and city and community leaders do the same.

I have stated that from my experience, the relationship between Columbus State University and the Columbus community is not normal… it is remarkable!

Today, institutions of higher education across the country are seeking out new community, civic, and business partners-- some for the very first time.

Some out of a need to survive; some as a way to help navigate the changing higher education environment.

As we face those numerous challenges in higher education today, we are fortunate to already have developed relationships. Indeed, it is in the very fiber of who we are as a university.

And, again, it all goes back to our values – to our roots. When we were founded as a junior college, Dr. Whitley said “that the philosophy of the junior college is that the community and the college are one.”

I would submit that sentiment has remained true as that college has grown into Columbus State University, a first choice, nationally and internationally recognized institution on the cutting edge, leading our industry in so many ways.

From the development of the RiverPark campus, to the Cunningham Center. There is the Math Collaborative, the UTeach program, the Quality Center for Teaching and Learning, and the NPACE center.

Recent announcements of the new Cyber Security Center, the Georgia Repertory Theatre and the Film Production certificate, are just a few of the new exciting partnerships that exist.

We have a long history of working with and responding to our community, city, and local industry.

But our story doesn’t end there.

More opportunities lie ahead. With state-of-the-art facilities for nursing and education being completed downtown, and with new science labs soon to take shape, I look forward to new and innovative partnerships with local area health care agencies, industry, and the Muscogee County School District.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Howard Schultz said, “When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.”

My commitment to each of you, as we move forward, is to do it together.

As family.

As a community.

As partners invested in our future.

And as we do so, we will continue to live our values, as we find innovative solutions to the many changes facing higher education today.

I have now been at Columbus State University for 10 months. During that time, I spent the better part of 5 months talking to every department and unit on campus, to our Foundation Trustees, to numerous community leaders, and to many of our business leaders.

I wanted to hear about their hopes and dreams for CSU, to understand other people’s perception of where we are and where we are going.

I wanted to try to get a sense of what makes CSU, CSU. An attempt, you might say, to try and crack CSU’s genetic code.

As I sorted through copious notes and sifted through the information I collected, I was brought back to one of the things that first got my attention about CSU, our institutional values. Those six core values that we espouse:

1. Excellence,
2. Engagement,
3. Creativity,
4. Servant Leadership,
5. Inclusion,
6. and Sustainability.


Values are important to an organization and they are important to me.  They give us grounding as we confront change.  They articulate purpose.

They should not just be words up on a wall or on a stage. They should define what we focus on and how we make intentional choices.

All too often I think, institutional values emphasize theoretical definitions and lack practical expressions of the behaviors we want to expect.

Our challenge is to translate these values into attitudes and behaviors that will propel us to achieve our goals.

When you take a hard look at our CSU values, they are real and they are meaningful.

Our Columbus State University values speak to the types of relationships we seek among our faculty, staff, students, and community.

Our values speak to a level of performance that we expect from ourselves in our jobs, and from our students in their coursework.

Our values speak to a philosophy of leadership and service.

Our values speak to change.
Our future will carry with it the continued expectation that CSU, and every other public institution, are to meet numerous challenges that have disrupted higher education.

We, along with everyone else, must respond to these challenges. But how we go about it will be uniquely CSU -- living our values, growing our partnerships and innovating our future.

You see, in higher education today we are being asked to transform how we approach both our in- and out-of-classroom experiences as we come to better understand the science behind how people learn and how to utilize ever-expanding technology tools to aid student learning.

We are all expected to utilize 21st century pedagogy to better reach new populations of students.

I see our faculty, staff and students reaching for higher levels of performance and distinction in our classrooms, labs, studios, on the stage, behind the camera, on the field or on the court.

This is the very definition of our value of Excellence. We are committed to seeking out the best ways to teach the whole person, in innovative ways.

I see businesses and nonprofits connecting with our students through projects, internships and mentorships. We will meet this challenge.

In higher education today, we are all expected to produce more, even while state governments have struggled to maintain public funding from years past.

Yet, there is still the need to produce more graduates, engage in more research, activate more partnerships, and identify more efficiencies.

This can best be accomplished by operationalizing our value of Engagement.

I look around and I see a campus that constantly looks for ways to connect, inspire, and activate. We will meet this challenge as well.

Across the country, we are all being held to more public and more stringent forms of accountability for our student learning outcomes, our progression and graduation rates, and for how we use the resources entrusted to us.

What I found across our campus was a core value in action, that of servant leadership.

I found a true desire to lead by empowering others.

Our faculty and staff are committed to helping students succeed, not because they are held accountable for doing so, but because we understand that the more we invest in helping each student become their best self, the better we all are -- our whole community.

Our value of Servant Leadership comes through in specific programs as well as daily choices made by faculty, staff, and student leaders on campus.

While many colleges and universities have programs dealing with leadership, few put a stake in the ground and state that it matters how you lead. This challenge is right up our alley.

We are also all being asked to respond to expanded expectations for both increasing access to students from historically under-represented populations and we are expected to reduce any achievement gaps.

This challenge actually speaks to three values.

You see, when different voices are brought to the table, new ideas come to light. These new ideas can change the world in wonderful ways.

Our goal is to take all students from where they are and get them where they need to be. This is Excellence.

In order for us to be successful, we need to engage students in conversation and in ownership of their own learning.

Embracing diversity, people, ideas, views and practices is the definition of Inclusion. Our campus has made significant strides in this area and we are committed to meeting this challenge.

Beyond these, we are also faced with other challenges. In order to maintain accreditation, institutions of higher education must abide by the guidelines of their accreditation bodies.

Ours asks us to select a Quality Enhancement Plan or QEP, which is a five-year focus for our campus.

I was so pleased to hear about our QEP, selected by our own faculty, which will focus on real-world problem solving skills in our students. This is a brilliant example of yet another CSU value in action, Creativity.

It is also an example of how Columbus State University is continuing to respond to employer needs.

Globally, in virtually all industries, we are all called to be good stewards of our environment. To do our part in leaving our communities better. I see our campus being proactive in their approaches to Sustainability, our sixth value.

Institutional values are most effective when they are embraced and shared by all of us. When they are remembered every day, when they are put into practice by everyone, at every level, and in all units.

A campus culture grounded in our values will guide our discussions, our decisions, and our direction for the future.

In the face of so many challenges, we have choices to make in how we respond. I believe these challenges provide us opportunity.

Because we are in an era of such dynamic change, we have the opportunity to innovate and to be leaders on the path toward the future of higher education.

I am reminded of a story.

The mother, a chef, took her son to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire.
Once the three pots began to boil, she placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot.
She then let them sit and boil.
After 20 minutes she turned off the burners. She took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl.
She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.
She then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup. Turning to him she asked. “Son, what do you see?”
“Potatoes, eggs, and coffee,” he replied.
“Look closer,” she said, “and touch the potatoes.”
He did and noted that they were soft.
She then asked him to take an egg and break it.
After pulling off the shell, he observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked him to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to his face.
“What does this mean?” he asked.
She then explained that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same challenge– the boiling water.
However, each one reacted differently.
The potato went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it became soft and weak.
The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water.
Then the inside of the egg became hard.
However, the ground coffee beans were unique.
After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.


As we face our inevitable challenges, how will we respond?

Will we seize the opportunity to innovate?

We can be the change. We can raise the bar.

Together, we have the opportunity to harness the unique resources of this university, the extraordinary talents of our faculty and staff, and seemingly inexhaustible energy and imagination of our students to help solve the challenges that face our community, our state, our nation, and our world.

I am inspired by the amazing people, in the past and in the present, who have dedicated themselves to CSU.

I am committed to the work that lies ahead.

And I am confident that, guided by our values, empowered by our partners and focused on innovating the future, Columbus State University will continue its trajectory of growth, entrepreneurship, and excellence.

I am honored to be part of this dynamic team and to partner with you as the fifth president of this incredible institution.

Thank you for what you do for our students, our community, and each other.

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