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We’re part of your community, Durango, and you’re part of ours

The nation watched last summer as the devastating 416 Fire burned 54,000 acres north of Durango, forcing thousands to evacuate, costing millions to extinguish and resulting in economic loss for Southwestern Colorado and its citizens.

University of Colorado Boulder researchers and Fort Lewis College scientists are studying everything from social and public policy adaptations to wildfire, to the environmental changes that fuel it – including in the San Juan Mountains – to the unique safety and communication challenges faced by wildland firefighters. We’re proud to say that Fort Lewis College biology and environmental sciences professor Heidi Steltzer, who is part of this important research ecosystem, earned her doctorate from CU Boulder.

In partnership with Fort Lewis College, our wildfire research experts shared insights about the unseen consequences and impacts of megafires with La Plata County community members in October at the Powerhouse Science Center. Prior to that, 500 community members, including business and government leaders, gathered to discuss the business economic outlook with two of our economists.

We are pleased to be part of your community and we are happy that Durango and La Plata County are part of ours. More than 100 La Plata County students are enrolled at CU Boulder, sharing their views and perspectives with students from 132 counties and 50 states. Fifty-six students from La Plata County share in $302,000 in grants and scholarships from CU Boulder.

One of our recent graduates is Durango High School Boettcher Scholar Katie Dudley, who chose CU Boulder for her aerospace engineering degree. Katie is one of nearly 700 CU Boulder alumni from the Durango area.

An additional untold CU Boulder alumni have impacted your community in important ways. Recently retired Chief 6th Judicial District Court Judge Gregory Lyman (a 1972 Olympic speed skater) retired in 2017 after more than 20 years on the bench. Stephanie Meeks, CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was instrumental in creation of Chimney Rock National Monument near Durango. Durango resident Donald Bruning, former chairman of ornithology of the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society), ran the Bronx Zoo.

We are proud of them and we are proud of our presence in your community. Last May, we offered professional development workshops for 260 teachers and students in Durango and Ignacio. The workshops are unusual because both the teachers and the students participate, allowing teachers to see immediately how these educational activities are received by students.

The CU Boulder Museum of Natural History has distributed free fossil kits to 15 schools in Durango, now used by 863 fourth grade students. The kits contain standards-based curriculum and are based on the research of CU anthropologist and museum archaeology curator Steve Lekson, whose work focuses on the ancient Southwest.

Last fall, the museum also delivered free archaeology kits and led teaching training so students can discover the science, history and geography of Colorado through archaeology materials.

An award-winning program to attract middle school students to computer coding by empowering them to build their own video games was used by more than 56,000 Coloradans last year, including in La Plata County. The Scalable Game design program was awarded by Google for attracting females and underrepresented minorities to the industry.

CU Boulder this spring was awarded a federal grant to update exhibits at the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum at Mesa Verde National Park to make them more interactive.

Importantly, students from Ignacio High School are part of our Upward Bound program that prepares Native American students for college. Students live in campus residence halls and take classes during a six-week summer academic program that delivers a complete college experience.

Only 1% of college degrees nationwide (including undergraduate and post graduate) are awarded to Native American students. The Upward Bound program works to change that.

Seventy-six percent of the program’s participants last year immediately enrolled in a college or university after high school, well above the norm for Native American students. The program inspires students to realize the possibilities of higher education and how they can contribute to their communities and society.

We are gratified by our ongoing partnerships with the Durango and La Plata County communities to shape tomorrow’s leaders, lead in innovation and impact communities and society.

Philip P. DiStefano is chancellor of the University of Colorado-Boulder. He will be joined by CU football coach Mel Tucker and athletic director Rick George for a speaking event on the evening of May 17 at the Durango DoubleTree. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP details at www.colorado.edu/alumni/chancellorstour.

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