A new two-year-degree program at Pikes Peak Community College has a classroom as big as Colorado — and then some.
It stretches from Rocky Mountain National Park to the deserts of the southwest, and it includes just about any spot where you can climb, hike, fish, paddle or learn about wilderness survival.
PPCC was accredited in January by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to offer an associate of applied science degree in outdoor leadership and recreational technology, said Ruth-Ann Larish, the department chairwoman.
The college has offered popular outdoor and recreation classes for a while, but students recognized that if they want to work in the field, they need additional skills, such as understanding risk management and insurance, Larish said.
The degree includes core classes such as technical writing, career math and environmental ethics as well as the field-skills classes. Students can earn certification in four skill areas: winter, mountain, desert or water, Larish said.
“We are ready to fly with this,” she said, adding that at least one student will earn the degree this spring because he’d already taken the required courses.
Larish said the goal is for program graduates to be ready for the work force, whether as a mountain guide, a worker at a camp or an employee of an agency such as the U.S. Forest Service.
The outdoor courses also attract students who simply want to learn a new skill. Scout leaders, for example, might take a Leave No Trace class, or someone might take a rock-climbing class so they can enjoy a little adventure in the outdoors.
The classes also count as a physical-education credit for students in other majors who need to fill that requirement.
The outdoor classes are taught by adjunct instructors who are experts in their fields, such as Todd Warren, co-owner of Quest Adventures (formerly AlpenQuest) in Colorado Springs and a winter-survival expert.
“We are centered in a great area for this program,” he said. “We have all kinds of fantastic opportunities to get outside right here.”
Warren teaches ice climbing in North Cheyenne Canyon, for example.
By nature, many of the courses are structured a little differently than most classes. They might run four full days over two weekends, a week or five weeks, for example. That allows students to take several classes during the course of a semester, Larish said.
She said she expects the program to grow, and she’ll be looking for opportunities to partner with community businesses and agencies to provide internships for students.
“We are open to suggestions on where this needs to go,” she said of the program, which is based at the PPCC Falcon campus. “We have a passion for what we do, and we have a lot of fun with it.”
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PPCC is changing some course numbers and other details in the outdoor leadership and recreation technology department, but basic information can be found here. Early registration for summer and fall classes begins April 12 (for enrolled students) and general registration begins April 19.