I never lived in a town with more than 500 people until I graduated from college. Growing up in and attending college in small towns made an impression on me, as I suspect it does for most who have similar experiences.

I learned the importance of community, of people coming together for a common purpose. I saw the power of opportunity. I valued service to something bigger than myself, like my 4-H experience.

Those and the other values I learned before finally venturing off to cities bigger than 500 have guided me in my life, and I hope I can bring some of them to bear in my new job as president of the University of Colorado.

While I’m a newcomer to Colorado, I already know this is a place that values community. As I listen to people talk about the university and learn about its work, I can see that CU is woven into the fabric of communities throughout Colorado.

As a public university, our imperative is to serve the state and advance its people, economy, health and culture. Our common purpose is to make Colorado a better place. We do so by educating students, conducting research that improves lives, driving the economy and serving communities.

It’s critical that CU understands and meets the needs of the state. To that end, I intend to travel to communities small and large during my presidency so I can hear firsthand about those needs and share what CU has to offer. And we offer a lot.

CU has some 300 outreach programs around the state, ranging from water quality testing on the Western Slope to rural education programs to workshops on the Constitution that CU Law students and faculty conduct in high schools across Colorado.

CU trained physicians and other health professionals work in more than 500 health care sites around the state.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival in the Schools troupe at CU Boulder performs at schools across Colorado throughout the school year, using Shakespeare as a tool for understanding issues such as bullying.

It’s also important for us to engage in conversations in communities about the opportunities for local students beyond high school, whether at CU or another college. There seems to be a perception that a CU education is financially out of reach. While we understand and appreciate the concern, the reality is different.

CU has made significant investments in financial aid in recent years, which help make the cost manageable. While certainly not every student needs to go to college, I believe they all should have the opportunity and understand what it can bring.

I look forward to traveling around Colorado and to having those conversations. They’re important to the future of our communities, to the mission of our university and to the health of our state. And I will welcome the opportunity to learn more about the communities in our great state.

Mark Kennedy became the president of the four-campus University of Colorado system on July 1.