Elizabeth WalkerAdjunct Faculty, Business & Outdoor Recreation Leadership
2023 CMC Adjunct Faculty of the Year, Leadville
- M.B.A., Western Carolina University
- B.A., Brevard College
- A.A., Young Harris College
2023 CMC Adjunct Faculty of the Year, Leadville
One year ago Leah Elkins completed Kayak Touring Leadership, her first water-based outdoor field course at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. It was through this experience that the Outdoor Recreation Leadership student discovered her passion for guiding and kayaking - an interest that has lead to a growing career in the outdoor industry.
“Thanks to Colorado Mountain College, I’m a sea kayak guide for San Juan Kayak Expeditions for the upcoming summer season of 2019,” says Leah, who will soon relocate to Friday Harbor, WA for the position, “I'll be leading half day, full day, and multi-day trips in the San Juan Islands.”
The 2018 Kayak Touring Leadership class taught Leah technical skills, leadership skills, and gave her the confidence to dip her toes into professional guiding. After she returned from the class, which was based in the San Juan Islands, she applied to be an intern for next year’s class and enrolled in Kayaking and Swift Water Rescue. She also accepted the TA (Teacher’s Assistant) position for Land and Water Navigation before returning to the San Juan Islands for the 2019 Kayak Touring Leadership course as a student intern.
“I grew up kayaking on the east coast,” says Leah who is originally from Charleston, SC, “ but I didn't have the skills I needed to be a kayak guide until Colorado Mountain College’s outdoor courses. My kayaking instructors, Pete Huber and Kent Clement, have so much experience and patience. They taught me about risk management, leadership, self-rescuing and I felt comfortable learning at my own pace.”
After jumping at every opportunity to cultivate leadership experience in-and-around water, Leah saw a job opening listed on the CMC Basecamp page, a team communication tool for students, staff, and faculty. San Juan Kayak Expeditions was looking to fill an internship guide position. Before sending her application, she had CMC staff review her resume and asked her instructors to provide references.
“I was actually hired as a lead guide! I always knew I loved the outdoors but I never knew I could make a career of it until I came to Colorado Mountain College,” says Leah, “Of course, I have a lot more to learn and I certainly have the passion to learn it.”
Before heading out to start her guiding career, Leah will graduate from Colorado Mountain College with two Associate degrees in Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Outdoor Education. She’s certainly made the most of her time at CMC—discovering her passions, growing her skillset and leveraging connections to build a career in the outdoor industry.
“You don't need to be an experienced outdoor enthusiast to be successful at Colorado Mountain College. You just need a passion for it,” says Leah, “The OUT program took me, a novice but enthusiastic outdoorsman, and helped me earn the skills to enter the outdoor industry as a professional.”
"I found Colorado Mountain College's programs to be the best blend of academia and technical skills I needed for transferability to a four-year university and the opportunity to work immediately in the field. To any student considering the Outdoor Recreation Leadership Program I would say: don't hesitate. Your instructors will be excellent and passionate about what they do, and you'll be pushed to the extreme in the best way possible. I genuinely feel the experiences and instruction I received at CMC prepared me for a future in any outdoor profession of my choosing."
After graduating from CMC with degrees in both Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Outdoor Education, Chandra Swanson transferred to Oregon State University, where she is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Cultural Anthropology. Chandra works for the Pike & San Isabel National Forest.
"The ORL program surrounded me with talented and motivated instructors and role models. Their constant support, encouragement, and advice motivated me to improve myself. They helped shape my view of the outdoor industry while teaching me the tangible skills such as climbing, hiking, and orienteering, and while teaching the intangible skills such as expedition behavior, group dynamics, programming, and professionalism."
Ben Rhinesmith works as a kayak, hiking, and naturalist guide for InnerSea Discoveries, a small cruise ship company in southeastern Alaska. In the past, he has also worked with high-functioning inner-city youth in Wyoming as a backcountry instructor and has co-taught High Angle rescue at Colorado Mountain College.
"The ORL program prepared me for what I'm doing now by giving me the skills and knowledge to competently run my own outfitter. The most valuable part of the program was its flexibility, which allows students to choose their own areas of expertise and not just one set program path. If you love the outdoors in all four seasons, then ORL is the place for you."
Steven Rizzo is co-owner of a whitewater outfitter in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on the Menominee River.
"Ryan McCulley was great to work with and provided expertise that was imperative for the implementation of our guide and outfitter process. I will highly recommend this program to other Forest Service administrators...throughout the state. We were able to hire Ryan as a seasonal employee... I feel comfortable giving him any project and know he will do just fine." -Kathryn D. Hardy, District Ranger, Pike/San Isabel National Forest
Ryan McCulley works with the Pike San Isabel National Forest Service