Colorado College / State of the Rockies Project

Prof. Walter Hecox
Environment Program
Colorado College
14 E. Cache, La Poudre St.
Colorado Springs, CO 80903


Initiative Description and Primary Objectives 

Yearly undergraduate 10-week paid summer research (often then becoming the topic of a senior year thesis) with field trips on key challenges to 8-state U.S. Rockies region, leading to publication of student sections in following April Annual State of the Rockies Report Card, complementary monthly speakers and annual conference. They have tackled over 40 key issues/challenges to the Rockies region. An annual Conservation in the West Survey of 2,400 respondents in 6 states is now also housed as part of the Rockies project. We have now had over 40 “student researchers” move on to graduation, work experience and graduate school; some are now in important conservation positions in Wash. DC and the Rockies. 2011-12 focus on a single theme: the Colorado River Basin has allowed synergies between traditional researcher, field trips, publications and conferences AND new dimensions that appeal to youth: a “source to sea” kayak trip we sponsored that has been integrated heavily with social media to reach new audiences and ages.

Key Academic Disciplines 

Regional analysis, economics, environmental policy, environmental science, GIS analysis.

Key Partner Organizations and Individuals 

Rockies Project in its 9th year is an independent effort housed in the college President’s Office, with close partners in the college GIS lab, the Environmental Program and Southwest Studies Program. On yearly basis partners outside include groups such as the Nature Conservancy, PERC, etc.

Initiative History and Champions 

Our former president Richard Celeste, 2-term governor of Ohio, head of the Peace Corps, US ambassador to India, recognized that our college’s history has always been rooted in and formed by the Rockies, thus our efforts through the Rockies Project to “pay back” the region, and encourage discussion, analysis is appropriate for a nationally ranked undergraduate liberal arts college. Early champions were outside individual funders, now joined by an increasing number of foundations.

Distinctiveness and Strategic Significance of the Initiative 

We know of no other undergraduate, regional analysis program of our length of service, breadth of regional analysis, and increasingly accepted as a credible source of observation and analysis by local-state-regional and national levels; Widespread coverage of our annual Report Cards has established us as a noted and trusted source of information on key issues, challenges and trends.

Measurable Effectiveness of the Initiative 

We measure “effectiveness” by 1) the yearly increase in our “student-researchers” to the growing body of Colorado College graduates prepared for and serving in key conservation areas; we call this our “investment” in the future. 2) production and distribution of the annual Report Cards is now seen as a hallmark of our college. 3) media coverage is large and widespread. 4) our ability to raise funding signals a value to individual donors and foundations.


Transferability of the Initiative 

Our lessons, using bright undergraduate students, are transferable to other colleges and universities that could also focus yearly analysis on their region and serve as conveyors of discussion, dialogue and publication. Work by students, both undergrad and grad, are a very valuable potential source of balanced application of science and policy analysis that links the higher ed institutions to their surrounding regions and builds good will by “paying back” taxpayers and local-regional neighbors.

The Initiative’s Ability to Endure 

We are completing our 9th year, with plans underway for the tenth! This is in our view astounding as a continuing level of commitment by the institution, funding sources, and individual faculty, staff and bright students.

Engagement Strategies 

All of the components of the Rockies Project described above are how we pursue our motto: “Research-Report-Engage.” We are proud to have pioneered a proven effective way for undergraduate liberal arts higher education to relate to and serve their surrounding region. Our monthly talks and annual conference bring noted experts to campus to help with dialogue. Partnering with other academic, governmental and non-profit groups enriches our work and theirs. We need to find ways to do MORE of this.