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CMC helps instructor reinvent his career

Sig Kutter
Adjunct Faculty Member, Astronomy
Sig Kutter
ALL |

I have been teaching astronomy at the Colorado Mountain College (CMC) in Breckenridge for the past two years and would like to describe some of my experiences.

But first I’d like to introduce myself.

I am retired from a 30-year career in academia, government and industry. By training I am a physicist, but my scientific research focused on astronomy, in particular on how stars change over time and how some of them eventually explode.

In my government positions ” at NASA Headquarters and the National Science Foundation ” I had the responsibility of awarding astronomy research grants.

Upon retiring eight years ago, my wife and I moved to Breckenridge.

The idea was to ski, hike, mountain bike, travel and relax. That worked wonderfully ” for a few years. Then I got bored. Not with outdoor activities per se, but I missed being professionally involved.

In time, CMC hired me to teach the two-semester introductory astronomy course.

Being affiliated with CMC has been a rewarding experience, especially because of the students. Their ages range from the late teens through the 20s, 30s and beyond.

I had not encountered this large an age range in students at other academic institutions. But it works. Many of the 20-year-olds are in Summit County for just two things ” snowboarding in the winter and mountain biking in the summer ” though most also have to work in order to support these habits.

Obviously, as a teacher one must recognize this and make allowance for occasional absences on powder days or some yawns during evening lectures.

These younger students are also exploring career directions. They need encouragement, guidance and patience.

Most of the students in their 30s have passed through this phase. The urge to snowboard and bike is still with them, but they definitely are tired of low-paying jobs at shops. They know that success requires staying academically focused.

The still-older students, some in their 50s and 60s, are mostly retirees and attend classes to enrich their lives: To return to old avocations for which they didn’t have time during their working careers, to discover new areas of learning, and to meet other folks that love learning.

It’s wonderful to have this diversity in one’s class, and see the students interact and give to each other.

The best part is when the different groups disagree on a subject and get into serious discussions.

I have a very simple teaching philosophy: The class should be fun and interesting, impart some facts and concepts and stimulate the students to become active co-learners.

I give no exams. Instead, I have the students form study teams. Each semester, the teams choose two or three projects, research them using the internet, printed articles and my lectures, and make presentations to the class along with illustrations.

The students are just one reason why CMC has become a focus for me. Another reason is the staff. Staff members are friendly, competent and committed to serving the students.

I’d like to mention just a few of them with whom I interact regularly:

There are Lina Popma and Jen Kemppainen. They run the front office of the Breck campus and thus are on the “firing” line, which becomes particularly intense at the beginning of each semester.

Dr. Heather Cutler is the student services counselor. Heather is the college’s main link to the students. She is in charge of academic advising, makes sure that every student takes the right courses required for graduation, administers placement tests, heads the scholarship committee, organizes graduation activities, and much more.

Debbie Devine and Julie Lyne are administrative assistants to Dr. Leah Bornstein, the campus dean, and Dr. Dawn Zoni is the division director for the Sciences, Health and Wellness, Outdoor Studies, Physical Education, and a number of other disciplines.

My faculty colleagues have interesting backgrounds that range from traditional academic careers to practical experiences in small and large businesses, industry, government, medical and counseling services, and more.

A final reason why I appreciate CMC is its involvement with the Summit County community.

Since earlier this year I have been a member of the college’s Community Advisory Council that includes members from local businesses, schools, private foundations and town governments.

Some of the council’s recent discussions focused on a Three-Year Master Course Plan that addresses community needs, college funding and fund-raising, and the possible move of CMC to new, more modern facilities.

I still find time to ski, hike, and enjoy the outdoors. But I also am able to continue doing what I have done for much of my career. Retirement isn’t a bad deal at all.


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