This past Saturday marked my graduation from CMC’s Alpine campus. I received an Associates of Arts with an emphasis in Outdoor Education and also Ski/Snowboard Guide Certification. While some may chuckle at job prospects for someone with a specialty in Outdoor Education, they might not realize that an AA from CMC guarantees a transfer to and junior status at any of Colorado’s public higher education institutions. I also shared my graduation with the inaugural class of Bachelor’s graduates from the Alpine campus; who earned degrees in Business and Sustainability. In the current age of astronomical tuition costs, Colorado Mountain College offers affordable degree options coupled with the benefits of small class sizes and the intangible beauties of mountain living.
Not only has my Outdoor Education degree helped me gain higher standing with Colorado’s educational institutions, I have also gained a deeper understanding of the world around me. In a society enamored with labeling, justification, comparing, and ranking, my degree might not seem like much. However, it’s difficult, nearly impossible, to fully articulate the realizations, knowledge, and understanding that I have received through this program. Despite this, I know that my time at CMC has deeply affected the way in which I both conduct myself, and look at, the world and its inhabitants.
Specifically, I believe that Outdoor Education is one of the best ways to begin to understand the needs, emotions, and desires of human beings. Backpacking through muddy miles in the rain may not give you the tools necessary to trade on the stock market or create your own business, but I’d challenge anyone to find a better real-life demonstration of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For those who are not familiar, the Hierarchy illustrates the essential needs of humans. This starts with shelter, food and water at the bottom and moves up to self-actualization at the top. Humans without the basic essentials cannot move upward towards self-actualization. Being out in the wilderness with your peers allows you to gain a deeper understanding of not only your peers, but also of yourself and your connection to the landscape around you. Ironically, it is much easier to get closer to those around you the further away from civilization you are. If you cannot effectively work together in the wilderness, you starve, get frostbite, get lost, etc. The consequences of not working together in society are not nearly as dire. The point is that my experiences in Outdoor Education have given me vital insight into the motivations and methods of people. Outdoor Education isn’t about just about the outdoors, it’s about people. Any business executive will tell you that if you don’t understand the people who you do business with, you’re likely to not make it far.
Not only do I have a better understanding of human nature, I have also gained valuable insight into the relationship between humans and our environment. This is a skill that is often overlooked in a society where water is readily available and food can easily be bought from the store. Just because most humans are disconnected from nature does not mean that it can be ignored and exploited with no consequence. In fact, the American Southwest is at a dire crossroads. The State of Colorado estimates that by 2050 there will be a gap between the supply and demand of freshwater, largely because much of Colorado’s water goes to highly unsustainable cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas. Only a society highly disconnected from nature would build a metropolis in the desert. This is not the only issue facing citizens of the world. Loss of biodiversity, melting ice caps, ocean acidification, topsoil erosion, and garbage patches in the oceans are only a minute bit on a laundry list of problems encountering our planet. If people become more closely tied to the environment around them many of these issues could be remedied. The arrogance of industrialized society is laughable compared to the track records of societies much more closely tied to their environments. The Pueblo peoples of the American Southwest have survived for more than seventeen centuries while our own industrialized ways are less than three centuries old and already encountering problems.
While my new understanding of human ties to the environment may not get me a high-paying job right out of college (even though it probably should), it does give me a greater appreciation of the human condition and the trials the human race will face in the very near future. A connection to the environment creates a vehicle in which it is easier to connect to other peoples and cultures around the world. Together, all of the world’s peoples and cultures must work to solve the problems that have arisen as a consequence of an industrialized lifestyle. I know that my time at CMC has sculpted me into someone with a radically different set of values than the typical college undergraduate; simplicity over complexity, real human interaction over pseudo-connection through screens, environment over convenience, and appreciation over ownership.
My time at CMC has prepared me for future college studies and given me a deeper understanding of the world my generation is inhabiting. It’s provided me with the realization of the enormity of the tasks that lie ahead, as well as the resolve,hope, and resources to accomplish those tasks. It’s been a great two years and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. Thanks to all of my friends, my many great teachers including John Saunders, Lindsey Royce, Cody Perry, Dennis Lum, Gary Osteen, and more, the administration at CMC Alpine, and Kate Lapides and the marketing department for providing me with this great opportunity. See you all in the future!