Second Year at Kennedy Mountain Campus Builds on Lessons Learned
Staff at the University of Denver’s Kennedy Mountain Campus (KMC) approach its one-year anniversary in September eager to implement new changes for the coming year. As with any new program, the first year came with a learning curve—for students and staff. “We are continuing to learn,” says Stuart Halsall, KMC associate vice chancellor.
The 724-acre KMC is located northwest of Fort Collins, Colorado, adjacent to the Roosevelt National Forest. The campus uniquely focuses on the wellness and character dimensions of DU’s 4D Experience. No tuition or student fees are used to operate it; KMC is supported solely through philanthropy and third-party revenue. Ultimately, KMC is about designing an educational experience that augments the goals and programs of the urban campus.
“Last year, we gained valuable insights into running a program of this magnitude,” says Matt Jensen, director of outdoor experiences and programs at KMC. “As we move forward, we are making some adjustments, primarily to the way we present experiences and encourage reflection,” keeping with DU’s commitment to innovation.
Staff learned quickly that an outdoor-centered campus must be agile and ready to change with the weather. “We learned to modify many of our activities and offerings for our students to engage and learn in the outdoor environment,” says Halsall. He says year two will see some changes based on last year’s learnings. Among them are:
- Outdoor activities will expand, partly in response to the students. Jensen is pursuing installing two Via Ferrata courses (hiking/climbing combination). Last year’s activities were limited by time constraints and the lead time for equipment.
- Phase I facility work is complete. Cabins are refurbished. Staff learned how students want to reside in them, and adjustments were made.
- Schedules have been adjusted to provide more balance, giving students and guests more time to truly enjoy the natural environment, as they requested.
- KMC can be disconnected or connected as a campus. This allows staff to schedule when technology is and isn’t available, with the goal of enhancing the learning environment. Many students said they enjoyed being disconnected. Others needed to complete academic assignments. Having the ability to address both needs is a big enhancement.
- Staff now have seen a variety of groups and have a much better feel for what works well and what doesn’t. Backup plans were built for when the weather doesn’t cooperate, and the staff can pivot and continue to provide an exceptional experience.
The campus first welcomed students Sept. 9, 2022. Construction to convert the former Girl Scout camp into a year-round educational facility designed for adults began that spring. The first year, the staff focused on four key areas: people, product, process, and facilities and equipment.
“Each of these areas had significant learnings, and we changed from week to week, working hard to improve the experience,” Halsall says. “That is what is at the heart of what we do. We want to create a memorable experience for our students and guests.”
KMC’s educational programming, called First Ascent, is the bedrock experience for every new DU student. Jensen says the program’s goal is to provide an immersive, multi-dimensional new student experience rooted in the four dimensions of the 4D Experience. The 4D Experience comes to life through signature experiences like First Ascent, as well as through opportunities for reflection and mentorship.
“We encourage participants to reflect on and ponder how their experiences can be relevant to the journey they are about to embark on,” Jensen says. “By recognizing the diverse techniques and tools they employed to overcome outdoor challenges, they can gain valuable insights on how to tackle future obstacles successfully.”
Halsall says the campus helps students transition from high school to college, providing a place where they can comfortably integrate into college life and meet people with a shared experience. This kind of community building makes them more likely to stay at DU.
“The Kennedy Mountain Campus and the First Ascent program students enjoy when they first join our community help set the tone for their entire DU 4D Experience,” says Chancellor Jeremy Haefner. “At DU, students engage in deep learning in the classroom. They also design a holistic college experience that hones the skills they need to succeed in college—and far beyond.”
For many students, KMC is their introduction to the mountains, and Halsall says the students respond strongly to outdoor experiences like hiking and stargazing.
In addition to exposing students to the outdoors, Jensen says one of the goals is to help them develop life-long hobbies and skills. “How do we build a better citizen?” he asks. “How can we complement faculty in giving students knowledge? What other attributes do people need to navigate modern society outside of the workforce?”
KMC’s future is rooted in continual growth, Halsall says—learning how to leverage the unique opportunities the campus presents, like exploring sustainability, carbon neutrality, solar fields, electric vehicles—so students can see how they actually can work.