Professor Lyell looks back on impressive career

ALAMOSA – Dr. Ed Lyell, emeritus professor of business, said his life has been full of adventures of heart, mind, sports, and travel.

He was the first in his family to finish elementary school. Since his parents only had second and fourth grade educations, he taught them to read, write, and do math when he took his homework home. Both of them valued education and planted in Ed the lifelong curiosity and willingness to work hard to learn.

“I still enjoy learning every day and my students help me to learn.” 

He retired from Adams State University this spring, after nearly 20 years. A father at an early age, Lyell knows the challenge of juggling college and personal life and jobs. “I worked full-time and went to school full-time supporting a college student wife and baby. I can relate to students who struggle and work hard to get through college.”

His passion for teaching began in 1970, while he was taking a graduate level class at San Francisco State. The adjunct professor quit after selling an idea to a major industrial company. The dean of the department knew Lyell while he was working part-time as an assistant dean of research. The dean made Lyell the instructor, who taught the class and gave himself an A.

“I have loved teaching since first teaching that MBA marketing management course.”

Lyell’s interest in Adams State began in the early 70s, while he was an assistant director for Colorado Commission on Higher Education. Later, while working for the Legislative Joint Budget Committee (JBC) on college budgets, including a study to determine if any colleges in Colorado should be closed, Lyell visited all the campuses and talked to the faculty and administrators.

“I was enamored by Adams State and the area.”

In 1999, Lyell came to the San Luis Valley to help run a multi-million dollar grant that provided summer school funding for underserved students. He helped President Bill Clinton create the program, while Clinton was governor of Arkansas. Dr. Rafe Weston, former dean of the School of Business, learned of Lyell’s presence in the community and approached him about teaching at Adams State School of Business.

“I interviewed and was offered the position teaching marketing, economics, and management science,” Lyell said.

Ideas for education reform

Many of Lyell’s opinions don’t meet with popular opinion. He worked with W. Edward Deming, creator of total quality management, on a short paper that never was published for “being too radical.” Lyell agrees with Deming regarding principles of management including that a positive environment cannot be created with conflict.

“We both wanted to take away grading by teachers,” Lyell said. “Grades create conflict and students need to work with teachers to meet state standards, not be judged by teachers.” According to Lyell, Japan executives don’t make much more than workers and their philosophy is high quality at low cost; by getting it right the first time.

“If kids came out of elementary school knowing how to read, write, do math, and communicate well, we have done it right the first time. Unfortunately, many students are passed to the next level without knowing what they should know.”

In Lyell’s opinion, this results in under-preparedness for college and puts an unfair financial burden on students and colleges.

“Currently, in Colorado 30 million dollars are spent on remedial education for students who have to take remedial classes before they can begin the core curriculum in college.”

In turn, many of the students unprepared for college drop out before receiving their diploma but have thousands of dollars in student loans to pay back without the credentials to land a higher paying job.

“If colleges and universities want to graduate better students we need to reach into the K12 system,” Lyell added. “I believe Adams State should take over the San Luis Valley high schools and increase the rigor of academics. When students leave Adams State without a degree and in debt they won’t buy homes or contribute to the overall economy which slows the economy. This also means many students are made worse by having tried college.”

Before enrolling in college, Lyell cautions incoming freshman to look at the outcomes, including what degrees are in demand. “Business still pays relatively well. Most good paying jobs are now in the STEM careers. Students should consider the best return on their investment of time and money.”

Lyell has ideas to improve the K12 educational system. “We need to see learning through the children’s eyes and do what is best for the kids rather than what keeps the business of education happy.”

As technology continues to advance, Lyell believes the days of classroom instruction will give way to 24/7 online learning while having fun. “Even the best professor can only keep students going for so long, yet stimulating and supporting a child’s curiosity will help everyone be lifelong learners.”

Accomplished life

Prior to Adams State Lyell taught at the University of Colorado, Metro State, and Colorado College. He received his bachelor’s degree and Master of Business Administration from San Francisco State. He completed his doctorate at University of Colorado in business and economics and “fell in love with the mountains and rivers.” He spent summers as a white water river guide throughout the west while being an academic during the fall and spring.

Lyell has served as a senior administrator at the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, a higher education budget analyst for the Colorado legislature, and was elected to the Colorado State Board of Education, and served on the State Board for all community colleges in Colorado. He worked on school reform through the Denver based Education Commission of the States, and travelled to many states and nations.

“I have always studied the education industry through the discipline of business and economics,” Lyell added.

He raised millions of dollars for school districts in the San Luis Valley and directed 21st Century summer and after school programs. Consulting has taken him around the USA and to more than a dozen countries including Japan, Europe and New Zealand.

After retirement, he plans on organizing his piles of photographs and will continue to work on the three different books he has outlined.

“My grandson encourages me to set up a Youtube channel or blog. He said people don’t read anymore. I have photographs of my travels and adventures as a white water guide, skiing, kayaking, and more. I need to work on getting them in some sort of order.”