Susan McCormack’s story isn’t one of awards, accolades and research grants. Her story is about the people—especially the students—she has cared for during her 26-plus years on campus, serving as an advising coordinator and much more at the University of Wyoming College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Her kids, as she calls them, know her as Mama Susan or Grandma Susan. She sees her biggest impact as the fact she cares deeply for UW’s students, and they know it.
McCormack gets teary-eyed talking about the student funerals she’s attended, including three for the track athletes killed in a car accident in 2001, but quickly adds, “On the happy side, I’ve been to close to 70 weddings. They just treat me like family,” she says of the students she’s helped over the years. She equally loves getting birth announcements from former students.
During finals week every December, McCormack bakes up an extravaganza of goodies to keep student energy up. “I move the chairs out and put a big table in. We invite the kids to come down in between exams or before exams and have something,” she explains. “We have cake day with all different flavors of cakes; then we have brownie and fudge day; then we have cookie day.”
Over the years, her roles have included updating the database for all 1,800 students, chief proctor of the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, scholarship coordinator, commencement coordinator and 16 years as the editor, writer and designer of the college’s quarterly Foresight publication.
“I’ve not worked a 40-hour week in years and years—more like 60 and a couple times a year 70 something,” McCormack says. She’s considering retirement this spring, having turned 70 last summer. “I’m conflicted about retiring. I still have a lot of energy. Going from 100 mph to nothing—I don’t know what I’m going to do. But I want to go at the top of my game.”
In addition to her connections with students and alumni, the highlight of McCormack’s career was the scholarship created in her honor. She recalls the story of when Dean Gus Plumb and his wife, Susan, came over after the President’s Dinner that year to surprise her with the news. “All of a sudden he says, ‘I have an announcement to make.’ Three of the people involved were there,” McCormack says. “They established a scholarship in my name. I cried. I just burst into tears. I was sniffling, and I said, ‘And I’m not even dead yet!’ Everybody laughed.
“It’s a lasting, lasting legacy,” she adds. Alumnus Wayman Wing was visionary behind the scholarship, with Harold and Bonnie Jane Kester, Harold McCaskey, Albert “Boots” Nelson and others also donating.
Another highlight of her time at UW was when she was able to help longtime UW donor and alumnus Harold Kester finish a book he was writing on Eagle Construction Company. “Eagle Construction was the premier hydroelectric company in the U.S.,” she explains. “He worked on almost all the major dams in this part of the country and back East—a wonderful man. He’s in our hall of fame.
“Halfway through the book he was diagnosed with fast-moving, terminal cancer,” McCormack explains. She commuted back and forth to Loveland, Colo., to help him finish his book, which he did. Hydroelectric: The History of Eagle Construction Corporation was published several months before his death, bringing him great joy. In the process, McCormack became close friends with his wife, Bonnie Jane. “Bonnie Jane became my second mom. She and I would sit in the President’s Box at War Memorial Stadium. She was a former music major, and she knew all the words to ‘Ragtime Cowboy Joe,’ ” McCormack recalls. “She died in March at 95. I lost her, Wayman Wing’s wife and my mom within three months. These were my family. They weren’t just business people.”
Cricket Farmer-Hoskins, executive business manager for the College of Engineering and Applied Science, says of McCormack, “She is a stellar human being and daily she is making a lasting impact on the university, the students and beyond.”
Whatever their issue, the college’s students know they can go to McCormack for help and support, something they remember long after graduation.
McCormack says, “I have been lucky ... no, blessed ... to have had 26 years worth of UW engineers!”
One of the 10 Cowboy Ethics adopted by the UW is “Ride for the brand.” Susan McCormack exemplifies this principle with her tireless devotion to the university.