BY TIM SCHOMMER
At the end of June, Reymundo “Tony” Chapa will leave his post as executive director of Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands (CEMML). During his five years with CEMML, Chapa’s role evolved from an initial appointment as Associate Director for Cultural Resources, to Interim Director, and then to Executive Director in 2020.
“I feel like I’ve fulfilled my purpose at CEMML, keeping us afloat during a rocky leadership transition and steering us forward during COVID’s uncertainties and confusion. But CEMML is ready for new leadership that can be focused squarely on the future without the difficult distractions of the present,” Chapa said.
If you ask Chapa to highlight his key accomplishments during his time at CEMML, he’s quick to divert the conversation away from himself and direct it toward those he feels are far more deserving of the recognition. “One thing I learned in the military was that generals don’t win wars; soldiers, sailors, and airmen do,” he said. “While leadership plans and executes, it’s individual service members working in specialized units on the ground that do the heavy lifting.”
Chapa, a U.S. Army veteran who served as a linguist and was deployed to Operation Desert Storm, sees parallels between his military experience and CEMML. In his opinion, it’s CEMML staff members who are responsible for the organization’s high rate of success in winning federal awards; staff members who faithfully support its mission and cultivate strong, enduring relationships with military partners. “CEMML doesn’t achieve an 80% win rate because of me or anyone else on the leadership team,” he said. “It’s successful because its staff deliver excellent products and performance every day, locally and in places far from Fort Collins. Our partners trust them, value their contributions, and appreciate their passion.”
During Chapa’s tenure, CEMML’s ability to continue delivering environmental services at a high level was put to the test by the COVID pandemic. Despite the challenges that COVID brought, which included often-conflicting guidance and procedures that had to be communicated to CEMML employees, Chapa is immensely proud of the organization’s ability to adapt and not only carry on, but prosper.
“Despite the pandemic’s difficulty and pain, I’m proud that CEMML kept its bearing and was able to safeguard the continued employment of its 700-strong staff, locally and globally, all while continuing to grow and expand,” Chapa said.
Throughout his time at CEMML, it’s clear that “transition” has been a key theme of all of Chapa’s roles. As interim director, his primary concern was rebuilding an executive team, fostering greater trust in leadership, and keeping CEMML moving forward. Next, as executive director, his focus was seeing the organization through, and emerging from, the COVID-19 pandemic. And even now, in his final months, he’s been helping both CEMML and CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources as they move into their next phase of leadership.
“Since I arrived at CSU during fall 2022, Tony has provided me with the support and vision to identify strengths for CEMML and Warner to connect with scientists, students, and faculty,” said A. Alonso Aguirre, Warner College’s new dean. “His diverse experience in the public and private sectors complements our interdisciplinary approach to solve complex environmental issues using CEMML’s technical and workforce assets.”
As any leadership role draws to a close, there are often unfinished bits of business and initiatives that haven’t quite reached fruition. Chapa’s plans to fully develop and implement CEMML’s five-year strategic plan is one of those initiatives, but he’s hopeful new leadership can continue where he left off and expand upon it.
What’s next for Chapa himself? He’s looking forward to returning to his home state of Texas to be closer to family, he said. He’s also exploring how to leverage what he’s learned over his career for the benefit of disenfranchised communities. “I’m hoping to connect with nonprofit organizations that are focused on change and empowerment,” he said. “I don’t know what that looks like yet, and I don’t really have a plan. But that’s where I want to end up.”