Daniel Farheth safely cores a tree to determine the age by checking tree rings. The tool screws into the tree with a hollow male threaded tip. The shaft of the tool holds a metal slider that removes the core without damaging the tree or compromising the sample. Courtesy photo.

Colorado Mountain College’s (CMC) board of trustees has approved the addition of a new bachelor’s degree program. The Bachelor of Science in Ecosystems Science and Stewardship program is anticipated to start accepting students in August 2022, when the fall semester begins. Once the program is reviewed and approved by the Higher Learning Commission and by the state of Colorado, it will educate students with a focus on the structure, function and processes of ecosystems and their responses to global environmental change. The program focuses on student training in the science and practices of stewardship and restoration while looking specifically at species, habitats and landscapes of the Southern Rocky Mountain Region of the United States.

Twenty-five experts contributed to the design, review and revision of this program and its curriculum, including senior leaders and specialists from local and national nonprofits, state and federal agencies and public and private organizations working in CMC’s region of service. This gives prospective students access to a degree built by the very individuals leading current and future ecosystem science and stewardship work in Western Colorado.          

The other five bachelor’s programs that CMC offers are nursing, leadership and management, business administration, sustainability studies and education. By popular demand, the new program has a strong STEM focus. The acronym “STEM” refers to “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” In-field and lab settings will emphasize hands-on and experiential opportunities for students.

David Gifford, the Dean of STEM for CMC, is based at CMC’s campus in Edwards and has been involved with the development of this program since its outset. He worked closely with faculty to determine the curriculum.

“There are some prerequisite courses that [prospective students] would want in the sciences and other disciplines,” stated Gifford.

CMC engaged with many stakeholders in their communities and beyond while designing the program. Their aim is to provide students with employment opportunities with state, federal and local agencies and organizations that specialize in eco-science and climate protection. 

“At the federal level, that could be the U.S. Forest Service; at the state level, that could be Colorado Parks and Wildlife; and at the local level, that could be one of our community 501c3 nonprofit organizations, environmental education, outreach and advocacy, as well as [with] county and local government,” Gifford explained.  

According to Nathan Stewart, an ecologist, faculty member of CMC’s Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability and one of the five co-architects of the new program, the degree is intended to lead to careers in conservation biology, watershed science, ecological restoration and natural resource management.  

“Colorado Mountain College is surrounded by public and private sector organizations at the forefront of ecosystem science [and] currently seeking to hire. We are particularly excited to prepare our students to engage in and, one day, lead the work required to ensure a sustainable and resilient future for our Western Slope,” stated Stewart.

He also mentioned that the program should provide a wonderful engagement opportunity for the college to attract students to the fields of sustainable sciences, restoration and responsible stewardship. 

Learning within the program will be active, engaging, independent and highly-collaborative, incorporating field and laboratory training, remote sensing, statistics, modeling and geographic information system mapping. The program will train students through community-based partnerships, projects and research and coursework will span multiple fields of study, including: earth systems science; organismal biology and ecology; soil, water and climate science; spatial and quantitative reasoning; experimental design and analysis; human dimensions of natural resource management; global change biology; ecological restoration and stewardship in practice.

“The goal of the program is to equip students with the essential knowledge, skills and practice to generate resilient solutions to the ecosystem stewardship challenges of our time,” said Stewart. 

Salem Sumrall, a student of Colorado Mountain College who is currently working toward completing CMC’s Associate of Science in Ecosystem Science and Management program, is hoping to continue her education with the new bachelor’s degree offering. 

Originally from Houston, Texas, Sumrall chose to attend CMC when the college was put on her radar by a friend who graduated in 2020. 

“I was wanting to go into forestry or environmental science because I am trying to be a park ranger.” She stated, “I am really looking forward to learning more.”  

For more information on the new program, updates about upcoming events, to apply and enroll in classes, or to make a donation to the college, visit https://coloradomtn.edu