On a crisp fall evening in Boulder, CO, a group of Cottonwood Institute Alumni got together to catch up and reminisce over hot drinks at a local coffee shop. For many, it was the first time they had seen each other since high school over 10 years ago. Representatives from the very first Community Adventure Program in 2003 were there, including seven alumni ranging in age from 24-28. Everyone had taken at least one Cottonwood program. Eric Ellison, who recently joined the Cottonwood Institute Board of Directors, had taken the most courses: three Community Adventure Program classes, two summer programs, and two volunteer projects, but also came back as an instructor for Cottonwood Institute.
Survival in the Front Country
As we talked and shared stories throughout the evening, alumni kept coming back to a couple themes. Initially they talked at length about the skills Cottonwood Institute programs had taught them, providing knowledge about hiking, camping, survival skills, snowshoeing, and even winter camping. But people also talked about how those skills translated back to their life in the front country. A couple people brought up travel – three of the seven alumni had spent a significant amount of time in a third world country. After high school and through their travels, several in the group spent time in living situations that could barely be considered above camping standards! In each of these situations, the alumni mentioned that the skills they gained through Cottonwood Institute helped them cope, physically and emotionally during these trying times in their life and that they always had a sense that they could “do this” and “get through it.”
Careers and Life Path
For many of the alumni, the classes they took in high school added and inspired the natural resource careers they are now seeking. Many of the alumni are working with youth, and six out of the seven are pursuing careers related to the environment, education, or positive change. Environmental stewardship was seen not just in careers these alumni are pursuing, but in their personal lives as well. By composting, gardening, buying local, advocating for clean water, serving on the board of a local nonprofit, and voting, the Action Projects these former students had worked on years ago had stuck with them.
As the evening wound down, the alumni agreed to gather again by recreating outdoors together and by meeting up for local volunteer projects. If there is one lesson from the night, it is that community and relationships that form in the backcountry can be long lasting.
If you are an alumnus of Cottonwood Institute and missed out on this great coffee night, please reconnect with us! Join our Cottonwood Institute Alumni Facebook page, which will include information about alumni hikes, volunteer projects, and even job postings related to the environment, education, and local nonprofits! You can also contact Taryn Longberry, Cottonwood Institute Program Coordinator, via Email and she will keep you in the loop.
Written by Brian Fauver, Cottonwood Institute Alumni ’07 and current Cottonwood Institute Teaching Assistant and Intern