The Secret of Success

Dorothy Horrell, three-time alumna of CSU, applies foundational skills from 4-H to a career in education

Dorothy_HorrellIt’s a little known fact that the chair of the CSU System Board of Governors got her start in the pressure cooker environment of the 4-H Guest Meal Contest held at the state fairgrounds. Planning a menu within a budget, shopping for and preparing a meal while working in a glassed-in kitchen where passers-by can observe, and hosting and serving the meal to a judge and two State Fair officials was just the kind of environment that prepared Dorothy Horrell (B.S. ’73, M.Ed. ’78, Ph.D. ’92) for the leadership positions she’s held throughout her career. “The stakes were high, but it was a great opportunity to learn to work under pressure, be resourceful when things go wrong, and stay confident while moving forward,” she says.

It was Horrell’s 4-H experience as a youth that brought her to CSU. “In my early years as a 4-Her, I went to state conference every June at CSU. It didn’t take me long to know that is where I would go to college, especially with an interest in the home economics area,” she says.

After graduation and an eight-month International Farm Youth Exchange experience in Taiwan where Horrell taught nutrition and lived in the homes of villagers, she came back to Colorado ready to go into the business world. “The entire experience was life changing and prepared me to appreciate differences, be self-reliant, and showed me I could do most anything I put my mind to,” she says.

Getting Into Education

A call from her college advisor changed her trajectory, and instead of business she started in the field of education. After two and half years as a teacher, Horrell entered administration. She supervised home economics education programs for the state of Colorado, and while working at the state level, Horrell was introduced to the world of community colleges. Eventually she became the president of Red Rocks Community College, overseeing a physical and operational transformation of the campus. “We used the expansion dollars as an impetus to rethink the vision and values of the college, most especially about how we served students, and how we provided outreach to the community,” she says. “I look back on that time with great pride. That institution is a treasured asset to the community and to Colorado.”

Subsequently, Horrell became president of the Community Colleges of Colorado, the state’s largest educational system that includes thirteen two-year colleges and vocational-technical programs in every school district in the state. She was able to bring the same sense of energy and vision she applied to Red Rocks to the community college system, helping it gain recognition as a valued partner in the state’s economic development  strategy. Again, her experience with 4-H played a pivotal role. “Each institution is unique in meeting the needs of its own community,” she says. “Because I had traveled the state through 4-H and worked with different county Extension offices, I had a familiarity with the state and with the unique aspects of each region. I never would have anticipated that something I did 25 years earlier would continue to have benefits that many years later.”

Nonprofit Leadership

After 30 years in education, Horrell retired from the state of Colorado and turned her energies and momentum to the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation as their president. There, she helped them evolve from a general purpose foundation to one focused on the arts. “We positioned the foundation to be a catalyst for supporting and elevating the arts as a defining element of what’s special about the greater Denver community and the state of Colorado,” she says. She also led the creation of the Livingston Fellowship Program that invests in high potential leaders in the nonprofit sector.

“Being able to step up when the need exists, helping bring diverse interests together to shape a shared vision that has an outcome that is beneficial to all, and working with others to move things forward in a positive fashion has been the key to whatever success I’ve had personally and as a leader. I’ve been blessed to have jobs I’ve loved, and to do work that I believe has made a difference” she says.

Service to CSU

After 13 years with the foundation, Horrell retired in July, but, “I couldn’t go from 100 mph to 0,” she says, so she’s applying her skills and time to the CSU System Board of Governors as the chairperson. One of the topics that the board will tackle is access to education. “Providing access to quality education is a huge challenge,” she says. “How do we keep it affordable while providing a world-class learning environment that includes retaining talented faculty and staff? I don’t know the answers, particularly when state resources continue to decrease, but we’ll do our very best to make sure that happens.”

In addition, Horrell sees a tremendous importance in blending the dual purposes of education: to provide people with skills to engage in, innovate, and grow our economy while also developing interpersonal skills and abilities that allow them to contribute to their own families, communities, and the larger society in constructive and positive ways. “Assuring that we provide the kind of environment and experience for our students to graduate as well-rounded citizens is something we always need to keep our eye on,” she says.

Meanwhile, in retirement, Horrell is spending more time on personal interests. She is getting time with her baby grand piano, time for pleasure reading, and time with her 15-month-old granddaughter. And she’s also back in the kitchen – this time without the pressure and judges. “I love to cook and entertain. I really enjoy preparing meals that delight the eye and the palette,” she says. It seems that her training from 4-H has served her in many arenas.

Dorothy_Horrell_paradeDorothy Horrell was the 2013 Homecoming Parade grand marshal.

See more parade photos.