Guest Columns


UNC’s roots in the community run deep

The Colorado Statesman

We have always been a part of and not apart from our community.

Absent the pioneering vision of community leaders, the simple fact is our university would not exist.

With the backing of residents who recognized the value of an educated citizenry in a prosperous society, our institution was founded to serve a pressing need in Colorado.

It was our community that lobbied tirelessly in the 1880s to bring the state’s first teacher training institution to Greeley. Residents committed to the state legislature’s requirements to provide 40 acres of land and contribute $15,000 for the first building. When a state appropriation toward the building failed to materialize, residents again banded together to raise another $10,000 necessary to establish what is now the University of Northern Colorado.

Today, 124 years after Gov. Job A. Cooper signed the bill creating the State Normal School, we can chart the evolution from our origins with a singular focus on preparing teachers, which remains central to our mission, to the present-day, four-year, doctoral granting, research university that comprises six colleges in business, education, the arts and sciences, and performing and visual arts — in addition to the graduate school, which just marked its 100th anniversary, and numerous professional development opportunities and online offerings we have today.

We continue to foster community building as a central concept to our commitment to transformative education. Among those connections now include a University District, which among its priorities seeks to enhance the neighborhoods flanking the university and provide community-based education opportunities that promote lifelong learning; applied research that faculty and students engage in to inform policy and practices and advance human understanding; active civic engagement among university community members who serve in a variety of roles from interns to student-teachers to volunteers throughout the city, region and state; and the university’s role in advancing the economy as a top employer in the area.

Our commitment to serve the state’s residents also has remained steadfast. Ninety percent of our students are Colorado residents. Our students go on to fulfilling careers and give back as active members of society, equipped with degrees that prepare them for work, life and responsible citizenship.

One of our most famous graduates, the late James Michener, loomed large as his book, Centennial, which was later adapted into a TV series, shone a spotlight on the area. He epitomized the lifelong learner UNC embraces. The Pulitzer Prize winner traveled the state, informing Centennial, as he earned a master’s degree and taught courses on campus. His insatiable thirst for learning led to a prolific writing career, a run for Congress, and positions on several committees including an advisory role with NASA. He flourished in his career and as an engaged member of society — the hallmarks of a UNC education — and his story continues to inspire all of us.

It’s clear that we have a great responsibility to be the stewards of the great institution envisioned by our optimistic pioneers. And Colorado still faces a pressing need for the work we do.

Kay Norton has served as UNC president since 2002 and has resided in Greeley since 1976. For more information about UNC, visit

About UNC:

• Year Founded: 1889

• Names through years: State Normal School, 1889-1910; Colorado State Teachers College, 1911-1934, Colorado State College of Education, 1935-1956; Colorado State College, 1957-1969, University of Northern Colorado, 1970-present

• Campuses: Main campus in Greeley (76 classroom, residence and service buildings on 260 acres of land). Extended Studies centers at Centerra (Loveland,), Lowry (Denver), UNC Colorado Springs Center (Colorado Springs)

• Colleges: College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Natural and Health Sciences, College of Performing and Visual Arts, Monfort College of Business, University College

• First graduate degrees offered in 1913. Designated a doctorate-granting / research university by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

• 19 NCAA Division I sports primarily in the Big Sky Conference

• More than 138,000 total alumni to date

For more university facts and figures, visit