Megan Bell blazes trails for future higher education leaders

Assistant professor at UCCS spearheads student retention efforts

Megan Bell blazes trails for future higher education leaders

As a first-generation student herself, Megan Bell can empathize with a student’s first-year hardships and challenges.

“I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of what to do with college,” Bell said. “Education was really valued in my family. School was a priority. My family was really supportive. However, I didn’t have the knowledge of what to do when it came to college, such as admissions and student loans.”

Drawing from that experience, Bell’s career path has been demarcated with milestones of guiding students toward success.  

Bell is the recipient of the 2018 Excellence in Leadership Award. Given to an alumnus of the systemwide Excellence in Leadership Program (ELP), the award recognizes exemplary leadership at the university in one or more areas: leadership of organizations, departments or teams; leadership of projects, programs and/or research; fiscal management and/or fundraising; and student instruction.

Bell, a 2018 ELP graduate, was recognized for her leadership as the executive director of community learning and assessment and as an assistant professor at the College of Education at UCCS.

Bell’s doctorate research encompassed multiracial identities, mentoring and college student development. In her work at UCCS, she has been instrumental in growing and improving campus life for students.

After being named executive director of the Community Learning and Assessment Division, Bell was concerned about first-year students living on campus during their freshman year who were leaving the university at a higher rate than off-campus students. She then spearheaded development of on-campus retention programs to meet these students’ needs.

One achievement is the Academic Learning Commons within the Housing Village. While UCCS offers five academic learning centers, they close in the evenings when students most often wished to study. Working with multiple campus partners, Bell oversaw the development, design and implementation of the Academic Learning Commons study areas this past fall.

Bell also helped to design learning communities where students with similar interests and backgrounds live on the same floor to find a sense of community. She collaborated with multiple UCCS departments to create targeted experiences for first-year students including on-campus communities for criminal justice majors and education majors.

The Mountain Lion 360 Summer Bridge Program students were retained at 74 percent this year. Freshmen in the Education Learning Community and the CJ Learning Community had similarly high retention rates.

“Much of the success of the learning communities is due to Megan’s collaborative leadership style. She brings all constituencies to the table and helps them develop a shared vision, with shared responsibility,” said Barbara Gaddis, senior executive director of student support and student retention.

Along with being an administrator, Bell teaches leadership courses to provide the same quality mentoring she received as an undergraduate. 

“I love working with the students,” Bell said. “I love seeing them figure out what they want to do. I teach first-semester freshman all the way to graduate students. I just feel like I was mentored when I was an undergraduate, and this is my way of giving back.”

Her mentorship has clearly been appreciated.

“I owe much of my higher education knowledge to Dr. Bell,” said K. Anja Wynne, Ph.D., CHRO and ADA Coordinator at UCCS Human Resources. “She took it upon herself to coach me through the nuances of this industry, introduce me to her vast network of CU leaders and served as my accountability partner as we both persisted through our dissertations.”

Bell was part of a School of Education female faculty team that created a minor in Student Affairs in Higher Education. This minor builds future student affairs professionals in higher education through leadership, communication and diversity courses. Introduced in 2017, this minor already has two graduates and dozens more on the way.

“The thing that I love the most is to teach,” she said. “I think that it’s an amazing opportunity as a full-time administrator and a faculty member. I just love that I am more in touch with the students. I believe it makes me a better administrator since I am more connected with the students.”

Bell teaches what she preaches. In each leadership classes, she offers a word of advice that has helped her in higher education leadership.

“Personally, the two important characteristics of a great leader are self-awareness and reflection on yourself,” Bell said. “I really believe that you have to work on yourself and figure out your strengths and where you can continue to learn.”