Colorado Mountain College begins its fall semester Monday. In the Roaring Fork Valley, the new school year also brings about new leadership and new accolades.
Fresh off a dozen years in elected office, former Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron has taken a seat as campus dean for Aspen and Carbondale. His initiation has included traveling to other CMC campuses throughout the state to see how the college integrates its programming with the local towns.
“I’m so wowed by the opportunity that CMC brings to its respective communities, and how far behind Aspen is in asking CMC to have a more activated campus,” Skadron said.
Skadron is tasked with a handful of new initiatives coming to the Roaring Fork Valley, including launching new degree programs and a facility expansion at CMC’s campus in the Aspen Airport Business Center.
He takes the helm just as the college is again recognized as the Top Adventure College by Elevation Outdoors magazine. Colorado’s $62 billion outdoor industry supports 500,000 recreation jobs throughout the state. The state has recently created an Office of Outdoor Recreation, but Skadron points out that he was working on connecting the dots between the local backcountry and the local economy years ago.
“It was a concept that germinated in the Roaring Fork Valley,” he said.
Skadron coined the term “uphill economy” while serving as mayor and has been working to attract companies and visitors that seek outdoor adventures.
“That’s partly why I was so excited to join CMC, because of the synergies between some of the policies directives I initiated at the council table, and what CMC is delivering in the real world,” Skadron said.
Throughout its campuses, CMC offers coursework in avalanche science and outdoor education.
“It really just recognizes who we are,” CMC President and CEO Carrie Hauser said of the honor. “Our DNA are these mountain communities.”
Hauser said that because CMC campus are tightly integrated with their communities, it’s not just the degrees such as fly fishing or ski area operations that support recreation.
“I could really argue that just about every degree we offer supports the outdoor industry. Even if you are a nurse that is seeing the banged up skiers. If you are the back office accountant that is supporting [Colorado gear manufacturer] Big Agnes then you’re supporting the industry,” Hauser said.
Glenwood Springs’ Spring Valley campus is one of the branches that is involved in the Rocky Mountain Land Management Program, a program that connects students with apprenticeships in the White River National Forest. Hauser said the college was approached by the National Forest Service, which is seeing an imminent workforce fallout due to retirement.
“They said everybody looks like us — older, gray, white males that are retiring from the system. They were looking at ways to create a new pipeline of a more diverse, bilingual (workforce),” Hauser said.
She said the program was key in earning the Top Adventure award, and the Department of Natural Resources is looking at ways to mimic or expand the apprenticeship program. But Hauser said she’d like to see the idea behind the training program spread to other sectors as well. She said the college regularly reaches out to local community partners to make sure the coursework offered is relevant to what local students want and what local businesses need.
“We try to stay pretty in tune with workforce trends,” Hauser said.
In Steamboat Springs, for instance, the college has partnered with area resorts to train students according to staffing needs. In that case, student housing doubles as much-needed workforce housing.
“Here’s a campus that is fully integrated. We are producing hospitality/ski-area industry people. We train the ski patrollers up there. And guess what — we actually have housing. People can actually live in the community, they can work on the hill and get their degree. It’s a very organic, synergistic, holistic process,” Hauser said.
In Aspen and Carbondale a new hospitality faculty member has been hired, and the program is expected to grow under Skadron’s leadership. He said his tours of successful trade programs in other communities showed him what was possible in the valley.
“One of the messages I took away was the option of creating a workforce pipeline to support the employment needs of local businesses from Aspen to Carbondale,” Skadron said.
It’s a need he experienced while mayor too. He said he often heard about the struggles of staffing shortages from restaurateurs, retail operators and nonprofits. Even though he just took his seat on campus, he said there is clear potential to build out academic programs that support local industries.
“I can see in this one week how clearly CMC can and should be playing a more aggressive role in satisfying these workforce needs, and that’s what I am so excited to work on,” he said.
Keeping students integrated in their hometowns is another goal of the college. Small mountain towns tend to experience brain drain, as high school students and young professionals seek careers in larger communities. For decades, CMC has been working with Vail Resorts to train top-level chefs to provide the high-end dining the resort relies on to entice tourists.
“You don’t have to import chefs from someplace else. We can grow our own locally and have them serve the region,” Hauser said.
To that end, Colorado Mountain College has partnered with Alpine Bank for more than 20 years to provide scholarships to Latino and Hispanic students. Of the 14 scholarships given out for this academic year, eight were awarded to Roaring Fork Valley students.
“Grow your own, recognize what incredible talent we have in our mountain community,” Hauser said. “Alpine Bank invested really early on and that return on investment has been really remarkable,” Hauser said.
The scholarship recipients begin class today, joining classmates of all ages who are returning to school, changing careers, or taking non-credit lifelong learning classes to pick up a new skill. About 1,500 students begin courses in the Roaring Fork Valley this week, walking in the footsteps of past CMC students who went on to receive Fulbright scholarships, Pulitzer prizes, and work for NASA. CMC has also been the stomping grounds of 65 Olympians who have taken advantage of training in the mountains while getting a degree.
Even the bike mechanic course has churned out community leaders. It was the first CMC class taken by Vice President and Dean of the Aspen and Carbondale campuses, Steve Skadron.