CMC, Forest Service partner for training program
A new partnership between Colorado Mountain College and the White River National Forest aims to train future ski area rangers and natural resource management workers.
The first-of-its-kind partnership, funded through a $330,000 federal Special-Uses Program reinvention grant, was announced Tuesday by local forest and CMC officials.
The new Pathways to Public Service – Land Management program is designed to prepare students to compete for ski country and other winter sports and natural resource jobs by giving them hands-on field training with Forest Service mentors while earning college credits.
Starting in fall 2017, eight to 10 students will study and do a field internship for two years before graduating with on-the-job experience and a certificate or degree.
CMC will design the curriculum, which will be based in science and sustainability studies. The college will also provide a 28 percent funding match, and make residence halls available during the summer when a portion of the field work will be completed.
The specific CMC campus location where the program will be based and other program details are still being determined.
Matt Gianneschi, chief operating officer and chief of staff for CMC, noted that when the college was created 50 years ago, its purpose was to meet both the education and workforce needs of the communities it served.
“If you look at this program through that lens, it’s another way to be relevant to one of the major employers in our community,” Gianneschi said. “It’s also a way to make sure the people who live in these communities have opportunities for sustainable, relevant careers.”
Students in the program will receive a stipend, college credit and field experience through an internship.
Initially, students already in CMC’s sustainability program would be good candidates, as would those who come in with a certain amount of upper-level science coursework or degree, said Ed Chusid, grants coordinator for CMC.
Field experience could include assisting with monitoring ski area construction projects, project planning, inspection of operations, and working with ski areas to provide environmental education and promoting awareness of public lands.
Upon completion, students should be prepared to compete for jobs with the Forest Service and other agencies, or possibly with the ski industry itself, said Rich Doak, recreation and lands staff officer for the White River National Forest.
Graduates will also have special hiring status due to the 960 hours of field training as federal employees they will have received, Doak said.
Currently, the Forest Service hires employees and then trains them for the very specialized winter sports management positions. The partnership will allow that training to occur in coordination with an accredited college, in this case CMC, and provide a pool of applicants ready to hit the ground running, he said.
Doak said that he and Roger Poirier, mountain sports program manager for the White River National Forest, had approached CMC in the past about creating such a program. But until the grant opportunity came along it wasn’t feasible.
“It doesn’t guarantee any jobs, but it does mean they will be very good at competing for some of these positions,” Doak said.
Doak estimated that there are only about 45 such jobs throughout the entire Forest Service, mostly dealing with ski area permitting, management of on-mountain projects to make sure they meet permit requirements and general oversight of mountain operations.
Other permit-based winter sports activities that take place on forest lands would also be covered, and eventually the program could extend to natural resource positions, fire management, technology and other areas, he said.
The Forest Service is experiencing a lot of turnover over the next two years, when an estimated 40 percent of its workforce will be eligible for retirement, Doak added.
Using the knowledge of those people as mentors within the CMC partnership as part of the ground training will be crucial to its success, he said.
Gianneschi said the program presents another unique opportunity for a growing population of CMC students; one that should help the Forest Service meet a goal to diversify its workforce.
“Over the last three years, the profile of our college has changed,” he said, noting that five of CMC’s 11 campuses are now considered Hispanic-serving institutions, meaning 25 percent of the enrolled population is Hispanic.
“It’s an opportunity for them to explore these careers that maybe they hadn’t thought of in the past,” Gianneschi said.
CMC President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser added that it’s an opportunity for both minorities and female students.
“It’s important that the protectors of the natural resources surrounding our beautiful mountain towns reflect the diverse population within the communities we serve,” she said in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement.
The college plans to advertise the curriculum, application requirements and deadlines beginning in early 2017.
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