Heather Exby takes lead in Spring Valley, Glenwood, Carbondale July 15 In early July, Dr. Heather Exby will begin her new position as dean of Colorado Mountain...
Sara Pederson landed at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville thanks to a random Google search. Now she’s found there’s no other place that’s ever felt so much like home.
“I Googled all the things I wanted to learn in college, and CMC came up first on the list,” said Pederson. “Choosing to come here was the best decision I ever made. The opportunities I’ve gotten; the people I’ve met; the beauty that’s around me every day.”
Pederson grew up in New Brighton, Minnesota. Her family also had a cabin in the small village of Luck, situated across the Wisconsin border in the forests of Polk County. They visited the cabin frequently, a fact that “meant that I basically grew up in the woods,“ said Pederson.
All that childhood time in Wisconsin’s hardwoods grew into a yearning for more outdoor adventure and skills. When Pederson landed at CMC in Leadville, she enrolled in the outdoor recreation leadership program in order to pursue that goal.
“The outdoor classes at CMC have been phenomenal,” said Pederson about her experience in the program. “They have all been so educational, so eye-opening. The instructors are so knowledgeable and have done so many things. Everyone there does a really good job of making people feel comfortable. It’s very personable. And being able to explore new parts of the country has been amazing. I’d never seen anything like Utah’s deserts before in my life.”
Although she won’t graduate until May 2014, Pederson has already turned her newfound skills into a full-time job with SOSOutreach. The nonprofit organization fosters self-confidence and leadership skills in underserved, at-risk youth through engagement in adventure sports.
During the week, Pederson runs the organization’s Summit County ‘Learn To Ride’ program, a five-day workshop that introduces snow sports and core values to participants. On weekends, she heads back home over Fremont Pass to manage the SOSOutreach University program at CMC in Leadville. SOSUniversity is an intensive 4-year program that engages students in service learning and life skills workshops in addition to long-term involvement in winter sports.
Pederson finds herself incorporating the skills she learned in CMC’s outdoor leadership program into her current work on a daily basis.
“When you’re outdoors on your own you might make certain choices, but when you’re taking kids out on trips you’re in a different world. That was a deeply important core understanding to learn. All the classes at CMC focus on understanding group dynamics and how they form over time, and on risk management. That’s a huge thing. And it’s so important.“
Pederson also found her experience in the outdoor program to be empowering, especially as a female carving her way into a male-dominated field,
“When I get in tough situations now, the confidence that I gained in those courses helps tremendously,“ said Pederson.
“Just because you’re female doesn’t mean that you can’t be a leader. The programs at CMC have shown me that you can actually be a strong leader. Being able to lead a successful trip is so empowering. It feels really good. And it’s so affirming of who I am.”
Pederson’s work with SOSOutreach enables her to pass on that sense of affirmation to a new generation of young people.
“Last year I had a kid in the university program in Leadville,” said Pederson. “He was struggling so hard to learn to ski. It was really hard for him; he kept throwing his skis down and saying that he couldn’t do it. And then, finally, he got up on his skis. Later, he came up to me at the end of the day and said: “Sara, this isn’t just the best day of skiing ever, this is the best day of my life.’ That moment was pretty amazing.“
By Kate Lapides. Lapides is the Marketing Editor at Colorado Mountain College