A nice little college town
Here is what Henry David Thoreau had to say, in 1839, about a small school – Williams College – in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts:”It would be no small advantage if every college were thus located at the base of a mountain.”Now consider how lucky we are, more than 160 years later, to have Colorado Mountain College at the base of several mountains in the Rockies. In Summit County, residents and visitors are well aware of our recreational wonders, real estate boom and ski area expansions. We’re happy to be part of the dynamic business, cultural and athletic life in the High Country. How often, though, do we remember to identify ourselves as people who live in nice little college towns?Keystone, Silverthorne, Dillon, Frisco and Breckenridge – all of Summit County’s towns – are sites of learning for CMC. Students, staff and teachers work at official locations in formal classrooms, but that is just the beginning. Inspiration, work experience and community involvement in the county’s non-profit projects and arts performances extend learning experiences beyond the classroom and foster personal relationships that last well beyond the 15-week semester. This balance of academics, community and recreational opportunities makes our Summit college towns unique. As a teacher at Colorado Mountain College for three decades, I have seen this unique combination bring about student success on personal, intellectual and professional levels. Thoreau would recognize the education goals that CMC aims for: active participation in learning, self-reliance and the development of a social conscience. The first important thing about the CMC classroom that gives us the best chance to achieve these things is class size. In a room of 18-30 people, the seating can allow the group to face each other; learning happens in more directions when people can see and speak to each other. This atmosphere of open dialogue and multiple points of view invites maximum student participation. Small class sizes give students more time to practice expressing themselves, which means that students and teachers get to know each other as individuals. Only in such an environment can students learn from each other and become adept at recognizing and dealing with differences in each other. The second means of achieving academic goals and preparing for the global world that is the setting of our students’ lives is precisely this recognition of difference. True diversity means not only biological, racial and cultural differences among students, but important differences among students whose place of origin and cultural background could be thought to be the same. A typical CMC class is made up of people of different ages, educational backgrounds, and political, ethical, and religious beliefs. These varying experiences and outlooks bring a rich array of viewpoints that add the dimension of effective collaborative learning. From an instructor’s standpoint, this is an ideal educational model. The language-based subjects I teach – composition and literature courses – make use of this diversity of life experience. Students’ personal narratives operate in ways that traditional course materials do not; they open up ways to connect with the subject matter at hand, and allow students to see new possibilities for their own thinking and writing. CMC’s small, diverse groups are able to engage in active, collaborative learning, and then take their skills and enthusiasm out into the businesses in Summit County. This relationship benefits all of us – locals, visitors and that big family of people who call our mountain towns home at certain times of the year. But you’ll see for yourself someday: All set to impress an important somebody, you’ll say that you live in Summit County, and begin to name the famous ski resorts. That important somebody then says, “I know the place you mean … all those nice little college towns.” Thoreau would be pleased.Joyce Devlin Mosher is a member of the English faculty at Colorado Mountain College.
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