Oct 9, 2020 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Daniel Soares | Photo by Patil Khakhamian

Part of the beauty of Colorado College is its many unique opportunities and experiences. Have you ever wanted to spend a semester of college studying in nature while learning through doing? Hidden up in Woodland Park is the Catamount Center, where CC students have the possibility of attending the Teaching and Research in Environmental Education (TREE) semester, a 16-week program that focuses on environmental education whose total student body size is smaller than a normal CC block.

Instead of blocks, the curriculum operates on a semester-based schedule. Throughout the semester, students take regular classes but also get the chance to spend around 100 hours teaching and working with local fifth graders in order to foster a love for the outdoors. The Catamount Center is owned by the Colorado Springs-based Catamount Institute, whose mission is to connect kids to the outdoors, but the TREE semester is organized by Howard Drossman, an environmental education professor at Colorado College. By doing TREE, students not only gain invaluable experience, but they also get professionally certified as an environmental educator by the end of the course.

This semester, Chris Tobin ’22 is attending a somewhat modified version of TREE. His program is comprised of seven Colorado College students, one student from Carleton, and three professors — with the class breakdown being a few sophomores, mostly juniors, and one senior. Most of them are either environmental science or education majors, but the program is open to students from every department. While they would normally be teaching fifth graders, COVID-19 restrictions have limited their social circles to being only people residing on campus. To offset their lack of pupils, Tobin and the other students have been mock teaching each other — trading off teacher and fifth grader roles.

Due to their safety precautions, Tobin has been fortunate enough to be able to attend in-person classes despite most of the rest of CC students being in remote learning. Unfortunately, after Thanksgiving break, the program will have to be finished remotely to protect both students and professors.

Even though he has felt somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, Tobin still believes that TREE is an amazing experience, both through its immersion into environmental education and the opportunities to explore the outdoors. He has been spending his time free time hiking on the nearby trails and climbing with his classmates at Eleven Mile State Park.

While TREE is truly a one-of-a-kind experience, most CC students are unaware that this opportunity exists. Luckily for Tobin, he met students on the Nordic ski team who were alumni, and also learned about TREE when Drossman presented during one of his education blocks.

To attend TREE, students can easily apply through Summit, which then leads to an interview with Drossman. Colorado College makes the transition to the TREE semester seamless by charging the same price in tuition while charging reduced housing fees. If you want to pursue outdoor education while molding young minds, or if you want a semester abroad but don’t want to miss Pike’s Peak, apply for next year’s TREE semesters!

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