Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood students need guidance of valley experts | PostIndependent.com

Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood students need guidance of valley experts

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Marketing and business planning consultant Robin Waters, left, talks to Basalt High School senior Mauricio Sosa about his Peace Garden project. Waters isa volunteer in the Roaring Fork Capstone Projects.

As a young Latina aiming to go to college but not really knowing what to expect, Angelica Andrade found guidance in an unlikely place at the White River National Forest.

Andrade, a senior at Glenwood Springs High School, used a required program in the Roaring Fork School District to explore the possibility of pursuing an engineering degree.

Roaring Fork Capstone Projects pairs seniors from the Glenwood, Carbondale and Basalt high schools with community experts from throughout the valley to help the students explore professions, trades or special assignments.

A Capstone project is required for all seniors for graduation. A pilot program was started last school year. All seniors were required to undertake a project starting this year.

"At first, like all the other students, it made me mad. It just added to what I had to do," Andrade said.

But she decided to make the best of it, tap into the opportunity and meet with engineers at the White River National Forest Supervisor's Office. Andrade started by meeting with Greg Rosenmerkel and branched out to meet three women working as engineers with the Forest Service.

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"I was looking for a career that I might be inspired by," Andrade said. "Their insights were really helpful to me. It made me look at a lot of things that I didn't think about before."

They gave her a glimpse into what would be required to earn an engineering degree and what type of work is typical in their line of engineering.

The Roaring Fork Valley is in such a fantastic natural setting that it isn't always easy to see the engineering pursuits the Forest Service must pursue to properly manage public lands, she said.

Andrade said the Capstone experience helped convince her to consider attending Colorado University or Colorado State University and possibly pursue engineering.

Tom Penzel, the Capstone coordinator at Glenwood Springs High School, said Andrade is a great student who he believes really benefited from the Capstone Projects. The program is beneficial because it forces students to get out of their comfort zone and approach a community expert to seek assistance.

"For some students, that's the most challenging part of Capstone," he said.

The Capstone projects range from learning about an engineering career to building a 14-foot dory that made its maiden voyage down Utah's San Juan River in June, and everything in between, Penzel said.

Capstone Projects are being phased in as a requirement for graduation in Colorado. The Roaring Fork School District embraced it early and bases it completely on the interests of the students. That makes it somewhat unique in the state, Penzel said.

"We have 400-plus students looking for experts," he said.

Since it is a new program, the school district hasn't built a beefy universe of community experts yet. The Roaring Fork Leadership Program, a nonprofit organization designed to build leadership and team-building skills, stepped in this year to assist. One of the small groups in this year's class decided to help the Capstone Project sign up volunteers as its civic endeavor.

The group of six Leadership participants chose to help the Capstone Project because the results would be tangible, according to Zach Stevens, a member of the group.

"When we started, the list of experts was at only 60 people," Stevens said. There was quite a disparity between students and experts, with roughly 450 seniors spread between the three schools. Now there are more than 100 community experts signed up.

"Our goal is to get up to 450 experts signed up," Stevens said. The Roaring Fork Leadership program ends in May.

The Leadership group is making personal pitches to community groups and spreading the message about Capstone and the need for experts in newsletters and a brochure.

The members of the Roaring Fork Leadership Group focusing on the Capstone Project are Joey Woltemath, Wendy Schultz, Beth Held, Linda Chi and Laura Wilson in addition to Stevens. Their coaches are Leadership graduates Nanette Weinhold and Dave Weidemann.

They are looking for adults in all careers to help — "anything and everything," Held said. The community expert can define the time they commit with a student. The interaction can range from occasional emails with the student to weekly meetings. They aren't asked to lead a project, just help the student with advice and guidance.

"It's not a mentoring per se. It's helping a kid with a project," Schultz said.

(See Factbox for more information on Roaring Fork Capstone Projects and how to sign up to help.)

Boosting the number of experts is just half the goal. The Leadership group has created a spreadsheet with community experts' names, areas of expertise and contact information to make it easier for the students to approach someone for help.

Basalt marketing consultant and former Basalt Chamber executive director Robin Waters is helping senior Mauricio Sosa complete a peace garden at Basalt High School that he started two years ago.

Sosa's vision was to create a quiet place where students can relax and recharge during the day. He has completed the first phase. Waters is helping him this school year with his development plan and fundraising for the second phase, which will add shade structures and lighting to the garden.

Waters said she heard Sosa speak about the project and how he endured bullying during earlier grades at school. The experience inspired him to create the peace garden.

Waters said providing her time as an adviser is a great way to connect with a student and help the community's school. Working with Sosa has opened her eyes to how young minds develop and evolve.

"Mauricio has such good instincts about what to do. He's committed and smart," Waters said.

The peace garden project has been particularly satisfying for her, she said, because she loves working with kids, helping seek grants and developing a plan in her areas of expertise, and she loves what the peace garden stands for.

She highly recommended community experts sign up to help with Capstone.

"You begin to feel a world bigger than yours," Waters said.

YOUR HELP IS NEEDED

To find out more about the Roaring Fork Capstone Projects and to sign up to offer expertise to a student, go to https://roaringforkcapstoneproject.wordpress.com/