CMC Spring Valley sustainability graduates pose with professor Kevin Hillmer-Pegram (third from right). Photo by James Steindler

“Be the Change” was the theme for this year’s sustainability conference hosted by Colorado Mountain College (CMC), which blended a student-led ecological learning opportunity and a celebration of Earth Day, on April 22. The hybrid event included a sustainability update from the school’s president, Dr. Carrie Hauser, a keynote address, student presentations and an afternoon of snacks and live music performed by the talented duo Olivia Pevec and Ashton Taufer. 

Prior to 2020, this annual event was held at one campus; so students throughout CMC’s widespread nine-county service area had to travel to attend. This year, the conference was held virtually, so everyone could attend from the comfort of their home or dorm room. In the afternoon, students and visitors gathered at the nearest participating campuses. 

The 2020 conference was supposed to be the first where the public was invited, but it was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. In 2021, the event was held completely online and that sprouted an inkling for future planning. 

CMC Sustainability Studies program chair, Kevin Hillmer-Pegram, mentioned to The Sopris Sun that hosting the event in this hybrid fashion had the effect of eliminating greenhouse gasses that would otherwise be emitted. 

Hillmer-Pegram led the virtual conference from 9 a.m. to noon and began by introducing Hauser. Approximately 200 people attended the Zoom session. 

Hauser spoke of CMC’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050, a commitment inherited from her predecessor, which the college is still on track to achieve. She noted green initiatives such as geothermal installations, electric vehicle charging stations and composting efforts; to name just a few. 

“When you have 800 acres — much of it south facing — in which to work, you can do this,” Hauser stated as she began to describe the 4.5 megawat solar array development near the Spring Valley campus. The solar project will span 23 acres and is being accomplished in partnership with Holy Cross Energy and AMERESCO.  

She further touted CMC’s recently established sustainability certification offerings as well as its newly introduced bachelor’s degree program: Ecosystem Science and Stewardship.

As part of their graduation requirement, seniors presented their sustainability capstone-student research presentations, which were delineated into five chief categories: 1) biodiversity as a goal and solution, 2) social justice and education, 3) infrastructure for transformation, 4) food and the future and 5) rivers, fire and climate action.

Big business sustainability expert, and the keynote speaker, Matt Hamilton, highlighted eco-friendly methods and relations on a macro scale. Hamilton worked with Aspen Skiing Company for 14 years, “first as sustainability coordinator, then sustainability manager and finally as director of sustainability,” reads a press release. 

Today, Hamilton works as the director of sustainability for VF Corporation, based in Denver. VF is one of the largest apparel producing companies in the world, and includes brands such as The North Face, Vans, Smartwool and Timberland.

Hamilton gave business leadership advice and discussed what’s necessary to incorporate sustainability practices. He stuck around for an additional 30 minutes of Q&A. 

“In the spaces we occupy as sustainability leaders, speak up, but more importantly hold the space for all to be engaged in the conversation,” Hamilton advised the graduates. “You have power as sustainability professionals to ensure that all perspectives are represented.”

Following the virtual conference, the Spring Valley, Steamboat Springs and Vail campuses hosted in-person activities in celebration of Earth Day. At Spring Valley’s Calaway Academic Building, students stood next to their respective poster boards summarizing their research while members of the public had the chance to pick each presenter’s brain. 

Afterward, everyone gathered for an intimate concert in CMC’s New Space Theatre, where Pevec and Taufer serenaded the crowd with covers and original tunes. Pevec dedicated two songs to her grandmother and one to the Crystal River Valley in recognition of Earth Day, 2022.

Olivia Pevec belts it out at CMC’s New Space Theatre. Photo by James Steindler

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