Jill Tiefenthaler on why she loves the library, what she would change about CC, and what challenges we should prepare to face after her departure
By Isabel Hicks
Early this January, President Jill Tiefenthaler announced her resignation from Colorado College in pursuit of a new career as CEO of the National Geographic Society. This fall, she will move to Washington D.C. and take her role as the society’s first female Executive Officer.
“Jill brings to National Geographic an impressive record of success as an innovator and leader,” said Jean Case, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the National Geographic Society.
Under the transformative leadership of Tiefenthaler, Colorado College has become the first carbon neutral campus in the Rocky Mountain Region, constructed the net-zero Tutt Library, and integrated the Fine Arts Center into the campus, among other accomplishments.
Who will take Tiefenthaler’s place? The Board of Trustees has been tasked with choosing CC’s new leader. On Feb. 22, the Board will have a meeting to outline the process for picking the President’s replacement. In the meantime, they will likely decide on an Interim President for the next academic school year while stakeholders conduct a national search. At other liberal arts colleges, the Provost or a Dean is typically placed as Interim President. Historically, CC has put faculty members in the role.
Tiefenthaler was eager to share her thoughts about the school’s approaching transition. She hopes the new President is “someone who is energetic, excited, and loves young people.”
Tiefenthaler will have two children at CC in the fall, a first-year and a senior. “I’ll still get to come to graduation,” she said.
Even after her departure, Tiefenthaler will continue to be part of the CC community, as both a parent and friend to the institution. “We have quite a bit going on that’s important to continue,” she said. “The Anti-Racism Implementation Plan is something that’s ongoing and important. Although we achieved our carbon neutrality goal recently, we have a new task force underway to think about what will be the next steps in terms of CC addressing climate change. We’re also hoping in the coming years that we’re [going to] be building a new science building — so that work will be critical.”
As Tiefenthaler looks forward to CC’s future, she also takes time to celebrate the institution’s past successes. When asked about a favorite initiative she worked on, she said, “The library. I love the library for a lot of reasons. It’s a building that’s beautiful and incredibly sustainable, being net zero.”
“Week four of the block is when I deliver cookies [to the library] and I see that place just packed with students using it from study rooms, to quiet spaces, to coffee. It’s super functional and a great addition to campus,” Tiefenthaler said.
The geothermal grid that provides Tutt Library with clean energy lies underneath Tava Quad. Geothermal power can be used for heating and cooling purposes by tapping into steam or hot water reservoirs within the Earth.
Tiefenthaler is also proud of the “Colorado Pledge that we announced this year, working to bring more lower and middle income students to CC that are from Colorado.”
The President urges the CC community to continue to connect with the school’s mission even after her departure. “I always tell people that one of the greatest assets you can’t buy with a million-dollar endowment is the focus and love of the mission,” she said. “‘I love being with the students,’ the faculty tell me. ‘The students are amazing.’ ‘Aren’t they amazing?’ Holding onto that mission focus is what makes CC a great place for faculty and staff to work and for students to learn.”
When asked what she would magically change about CC right now if she could, Tiefenthaler immediately said, “I would more than double the endowment so that we could provide more access for students from all backgrounds, and also do more to support faculty and staff without having to do that all through increasing tuition.”
Tiefenthaler believes that the biggest challenge CC faces is the financial instability of a liberal arts institution. “In a market where a lot of people don’t understand the value of the liberal arts, and [in a] society that focuses on a more vocational type of education … the finances of many liberal arts colleges are really struggling. I think that our challenge has been and will continue to be making sure that this college is strong and thriving … continuing to work on the fundraising and the endowment … and making this an attractive school for the best, brightest, and most energized students around.”
“The [new] job is, in some ways, really similar to running a college, and in some ways it’s really different. The [National Geographic] Society has been around for 130 years, so like CC, has a long history,” Tiefenthaler reflected. “Its big focus has been supporting explorers and photographers and scientists to go out on adventures that then can help illuminate the world and get people excited about taking care of our planet and protecting it. There will be a lot of cool travel, which I’m really excited about, and the opportunity to meet really talented and incredibly dedicated people.”
With a hint of nostalgia in her voice, Tiefenthaler concluded, “Being here for 9 years certainly has been the joy of my professional career, and it will be hard to go.”
We’ll miss you too, Chief Tief.