WSC Bids Adieu to John Sowell, Vice President for Academic Affairs
June 16, 2011 -- After 11 years serving on the administration for Western State College of Colorado (WSC), John Sowell is ready for a change.
Sowell is resigning from his position as vice president for academic affairs on June 30. He is taking a one-year, uncompensated leave from the College for personal reflection and to re-engage in research and teaching.
First on his to-do list: solo hike the 500-mile Colorado Trail.
“This is an opportunity for change,” Sowell remarked. “I am inspired by spending time outdoors backpacking and climbing peaks. This is a chance to catch my breath, reflect and explore my options.”
This isn’t the first leap of faith Sowell has taken while at Western. After teaching biology since 1991, Sowell wanted to pursue something different and the opportunity to serve as the associate vice president for academic affairs became available in 2000. A scientist and educator at heart, Sowell didn’t anticipate remaining in the administrative realm for long. That is, until another opportunity arose to assume the position of vice president when his predecessor, Jay Helman, became president in 2002.
Sowell’s insights, fairness, thoughtfulness and compassion have helped guide the College. During Sowell’s tenure in academic affairs, Western has experienced significant milestones. Among the first challenges faced by Sowell was navigating Western’s transition from the system of state colleges in Colorado to an independent governing board in 2003. He also saw the development of the environmental studies major, which is now among the College’s popular areas of study. Other unique programs that emerged under Sowell’s watch were two privately-funded programs – petroleum geology and professional land and resource management, as well as the return of graduate programs to Western’s campus, which started again in 2010 after a lengthy accreditation process. Sowell also stepped in to guide the College during President Helman’s medical recovery and transition back in 2009.
“John was always a champion for academic programs and faculty and had a strong sense of senior leadership responsibility for the entire campus,” explained President Helman.
Among his accomplishments, Sowell counts the honor of serving on former Gov. Bill Ritter’s P-20 Education Coordinating Council from 2007 to 2010. Sowell remarked that it was a tremendous learning experience for understanding Colorado’s education “pipeline” and reaffirmed his commitment to student access to postsecondary education.
Teaching and research also remain at the forefront of Sowell’s options. His academic interests include ecology and plant biology, with a particular interest in desert ecology and how plants have adapted to survive in extreme climates. In 2001, he published, “Desert Ecology: An Introduction to Life in the Arid Southwest,” through the University of Utah Press. He also has published 10 articles with his students.
The timing of Sowell’s resignation was carefully planned so that Office of Academic Affairs will experience a smooth transition in leadership. Jessica Young will assume the position of interim vice president for academic affairs. Young has served as the associate vice president for academic affairs since 2004 and also is an associate professor of biology. Bill Niemi, chair of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Department and professor of politics and government, will step in as associate vice present for academic affairs. Kevin Nelson will continue as associate vice president for academic affairs and Terri Wenzlaff will continue as associate vice president for graduate studies.
“The Office of Academic Affairs is moving along effectively; it’s a time in which I can step out and they won’t miss a beat. The continued success of Western is at the forefront of my mind,” Sowell said.
Sowell will certainly be missed by his colleagues, who consider him a mentor, friend and an outstanding leader.
“John brings a personal and professional integrity to his leadership that inspires the best efforts and demands thoughtful response by his colleagues. I will personally miss John’s humor, insights, kindness and excellent mentoring. He has been a wealth of knowledge and understanding who always reminds me of the importance of people being central to everything we accomplish and consider,” noted Young.
A search committee led by Lynn Sikkink, professor of anthropology, has been appointed and the position will be advertised in August with the goal to have a new vice president for academic affairs in place by July 2012.
“When I accepted the position in academic affairs, it was time to try something different and it has been a wonderful experience,” Sowell said. “I value the close relationships I have had with so many people from across campus. I will miss working with these colleagues on a daily basis.”
What lies on the horizon for Sowell is yet to be seen. In the meantime, the Colorado Trail is calling.