FB Pixel Skip to Main Content

Immersion In People, Places, and the Environment

Mountain Resilience Semester

Western Colorado University’s Center for Mountain Transitions presents the Mountain Resilience Semester – integrating sustainability immersion experiences, exploration of alpine ecosystems, wilderness expeditions, and mountain communities.

Exploration. Learning. Purpose.

Throughout the Semester students immerse themselves in the landscape of Colorado’s Southern Rocky Mountains developing an understanding of what resilience for mountain peoples and ecosystems looks like in the 21st century, and how communities are transitioning to sustainable solutions in the face of climate change.

Embracing a landscape-based multi-dimensional interdisciplinary approach, the Semester includes exploring diverse ecosystems, social and political communities, and the many ways ecosystems and communities foster resilience through art, local and regional sustainability initiatives, renewable energy, and conservation policy.

The Mountain Resilience Semester offers a life-changing learning experience in the Southern Rocky Mountains while earning up to 16 undergraduate credits. Students with a wide variety of interests and passions come from across the United States and around the world to join faculty in the natural sciences, geography, arts, and outdoor recreation to investigate how people are transitioning to sustainable solutions in the face of climate change. On backcountry field trips, in classrooms and museums, on mountain peaks, around campfires, at mountain huts, and cross country skiing on the world’s highest flat-topped mountain we confront critical environmental and social challenges of our time. It builds an extraordinary introduction into the world of environmental advocacy and action.

This program is a groundbreaking program of Western Colorado University’s Clark Family School of Environment & Sustainability, the Center for Mountain Transitions, Extended Studies, and community leaders and organizations across the region.


Outdoor immersion

“The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.”
-Wendell Berry

Mapping the future

Being in a completely new environment gives students the opportunity to reflect on their life and career goals.

Semester Curriculum

Students participating in the Mountain Resilience Semester will take courses from several academic disciplines to help them build a well-rounded skill set through engaging discussion, texts, and immersion experiences.

Our Big Questions

This immersion into the interconnected regional issues poses challenging questions that foster critical thinking skills that will help students address 21st century global issues such as:

  • What does community resilience look like in the 21st century?
  • How are BIPOC people leading the development of and maintaining resilience in mountain communities in the face of climate change?
  • How do limited water resources, population growth, and changing social values determine our relationship to this stunning mountain landscape?
  • How can we protect the ecological and conservation values of the most highly visited national forest in America while ensuring all people are welcome and have access?
  • What can I do in my community to activate climate justice action now and into the future?

Courses vary by semester, but are structured around three key areas of learning:

  • Environment & Sustainability
  • Wilderness Skills Acquisition and Development
  • Art, Writing, and Personal Expression

The Mountains as a Learning Laboratory

Mountains foster inspiration, offer challenge, give people vast space to explore and grow personally and intellectually. Mountain communities hold cross-sections and intersections of people, culture, and environments that shape the economic, political, artistic, ecological, social, and spiritual forces of the region. Through the most critical crisis of the 21st century: climate change and social justice; students will explore how management, policy, and research strive to balance the complex issues of protecting biodiversity, sustainable recreation, a just transition to renewable energy, land development, and cultural diversity. Students will examine and analyze these big topics through deep observations, “City as Text” methods, traditional texts, podcasts, current articles, poetry, music, and all the local people we meet across this mountain region.

Community of Learning

Students will meet a wide variety of people who are shaping the future mountain communities: conservationists, ecologists, writers, local officials, energy experts, foresters, farmers, ranchers, community activists, poets, and visionaries. Living and learning in community, students will camp, stay in hostels, backpack, and visit high mountain huts. Our aim is to create a supportive, interdisciplinary learning community to successfully navigate the web of complex mountain resilience challenges.

Climate Change and Resilience

Heat waves, intense frequent wildfire, persistent drought, decreased forest health, water shortages, economic injustices, dust storms, and more. Climate change is upon us, and Colorado’s mountains are witnessing its effects in real ways that are reshaping mountain communities. The aim of this program is to seek out those who are finding creative innovative ways to make the best of this ‘climate weirding’, thinking and acting in ways that help all people and natural systems adapt to these changes.

Connecting to the World

Engaging with students from the Himalyayan community of Majkhali, India through the Center for Mountain Transitions Sister Cities International partnership we share our learning, evidence of resilience within the Southern Rockies, and shared solutions as global headwaters communities.

Service Learning and Taking Action

We also like to learn by doing, giving back to the communities and organizations that help us along the way. Projects may include assisting with alpine research, biodiversity monitoring, regenerative farm work, hostel and cabin maintenance, and many others. Students will also be learning how to investigate the issues that most concern them and how to take action by communicating with policy makers and community leaders asking for change and proposing solutions.

Taking it Home

Students will address the current complexities of issues affecting mountain communities across the region and develop transferable skills to engage in similar problems in other environments. Students will come to understand ethics, policy, science, aesthetics, and social justice through multiple lenses. Their knowledge will be scaled to national and global issues through reflective assignments designed to transfer the Mountain Resilience Semester experience to their lives, their studies, and their communities to build a stronger sense of place wherever they may be into the future.

Program Details

Where meaningful education meets extraordinary adventure.

The Mountain Resilience Semester gives students the chance to explore the mountain landscape through academic hands-on experiential immersive learning. This exciting opportunity takes place over the course of several months, much of which is spent out in the field camping and also within mountain communities. It is best suited for students who truly want to get out of their comfort zone and immersed into new places for a full semester.


This program takes place throughout the majestic and inspiring landscapes of rural Colorado including Gunnison, Telluride, Aspen, Panoia, Lake City and more.


Dates: August 22, 2022 – November 18, 2022. Students need to arrive on August 22 and depart on the afternoon of November 18.


Undergraduate students with one or more years of college experience completed. Gap students are also welcome to apply as they will be accepted on a case-by-case basis. We welcome everyone regardless of their identities such as race, ethnicity, ability, age, class, gender identity, or sexual orientation. 12 curious students along with two professional field instructors, several community partners across Colorado, and dynamic university faculty from a variety of areas of study will comprise the semester program.


$13,000. Tuition includes 12-16 academic credits, activities, and room and board. FAFSA (for current Western students only), 529 funds, and AmeriCorps funds can be used to finance this program. Additional scholarships may be available.


There has never been a more important time to gain a deep understanding of climate change and sustainability while exploring how to take action as a community and a global citizen.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • Click on “Learn More and Apply
  • Complete the form as soon as possible (preferred deadline of July 2, 2021).
  • The Director of the Mountain Resilience Semester will schedule an interview with you if we agree that you would be a great fit for this program.
  • After the interview, if we all agree that this program is a good fit, you’ll be invited to officially enroll and begin your enrollment forms and submit your program tuition to save your space.

  • The Mountain Resilience Semester is committed to providing the safest experience possible while balancing the learning goals of the program.
  • Before the fall 2021 semester, Western will require faculty, staff and students to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
  • We will be following local guidance and policies as it pertains to masks and social distancing.
  • Students will abide by any University protocols as it relates to COVID-19.
  • Students will wear masks and social distance as much as possible when collaborating with community partners.
  • The changing nature of local protocols and guidelines may require an update to policies that could impact the program significantly.
  • Despite all the precautions we take, it’s important to recognize that we can not eliminate all risks as it relates to COVID-19, especially as health experts continue to learn more about this virus.

  • Review the Essential Eligibility Criteria.
  • This program is a great fit for students who are passionate about climate change action, the environment and sustainability, interest in community, and love the outdoors. It’s a great fit for students who enjoy living and learning with like-minded individuals and for students who have an open mind and an eagerness to learn and grow.

  • Students will be learning key components of Western’s Environment and Sustainability program through landscape-based hands-on collaboration with community partners across Colorado. Key areas of learning will focus on mountain resilience in Community and Systems, Public Lands, Agriculture, Water, and Energy.
  • Students will also collaborate with the School of Recreation and Outdoor Education, learning key outdoor skills and participating in three wilderness expeditions and will earn a Leave No Trace Trainer certificate.

  • In true immersion fashion, accommodation will vary throughout the program including camping in some of the most spectacular locations in the country, rented homes, mountain huts and cabins, and a group hostel.
  • The group will be balancing time spent immersed in the outdoors with indoor days to reflect and regroup.

We believe in ‘food, first, and foremost.’ In line with the learning goals of the program, students will be building key life skills by cooking often throughout this program. Meals will be designed in collaboration with staff and prepared daily with a focus on highlighting Colorado-grown foods when feasible.

Yes. This program is open to all applicants with a drive to fully engage in this experience. You will still earn 16 credits, and you’ll need to check with your college/university if applicable to see how your credits may be integrated at your home institution. 12 of the credits are Colorado State Guaranteed General Education Transfer Courses.

No. This program is open to a variety of learners ages up to age 23 whether you’ve just finished high school, or you’re currently a college student. It’s also a great option for students continuing their studies that want to spend a semester learning as part of this program. It could also be a good fit for a young adult contemplating a transition to the world of environmental management from another career path.

Yes. We have financial aid available for this program. After the student interview, applicants who are invited to enroll will receive information on how to apply for financial aid.

As of right now, we are only offering a Fall Semester. If there is expressed interest in a Spring or Summer Semester, we may examine that as a future option.

You will be completing college course work while out camping, visiting farms, backpacking, and engaging with community partner experts and organizations. You will have time throughout the days to read, write, create, and contribute to your assignments while out in the field and while back in town. Students will earn 16 undergraduate credits through this semester program.

No. Although you will be learning an extraordinary amount this semester, learning will be experiential in nature. And you’ll be reading a lot of articles and other texts; so you will need a tablet (Android or iOS) to access google drive folders of readings and recordings while in places with wi-fi. Then you will be reflecting on your experiences, what you are learning, and how you are growing. Yet, much of this program is much more hands-on than a typical classroom experience.

Learn More and Enroll.

For more information, email Sarah Johnson, Director of the Mountain Resilience Semester

To learn more about Western Colorado University’s Environment & Sustainability programs, visit our website.


Take the Next Step

Apply to Western

Apply to Western

We understand that applying to a university can be daunting, which is why we make our admission process as simple and straightforward as possible. Learn more about applying to your program of choice at Western.

Visit Western

Visit Western

The best way to find out what makes Western such a special place is to experience it for yourself. Our student-led tours give you an insider’s perspective on everything from academics to student life.

Alumni Community

Alumni Community

We keep the Mountaineer spirit going strong within our alumni community. Whether getting together with friends at an annual event, making a donation or mentoring a student, graduates continue to play an important role in the Western community.