Chelsea DePetroMarketing and Continuing Education Coordinator
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Wife, Celesta, two teenage boys, Matt and Jake.
All forms of skiing: alpine, ski mountaineering, backcountry, nordic, racing, etc. Mountain biking, mountaineering, hiking, fly fishing and trail running. I also enjoy speaking Spanish, traveling, reading, public affairs, politics and policy and connecting with diverse cultures.
Sometimes the best candidate is ‘right in your own backyard’
After an extensive national search, Colorado Mountain College has named Lake County High School Principal Ben Cairns as the next vice president and campus dean for its Leadville and Salida campuses.
Cairns will begin the transition from the high school to CMC effective August 2.
“Ben is exceptionally talented and a terrific fit to lead CMC’s Leadville and Salida campuses,” said Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser, president & CEO of Colorado Mountain College.
“He is a committed public educator and a natural leader who believes an affordable, high quality, equitable education is essential to our mountain communities, region and state.”
Cairns has been principal of Lake County High School since 2016. The Denver area native has a long career in education including time teaching in Uganda, developing a restorative justice program for Denver Public Schools and opening a public charter high school in Denver.
“I’m proud of the work I’ve done to help Lake County High School become what it is today, and I’m thrilled by the opportunity to help Colorado Mountain College continue to serve the residents of the Arkansas River Valley,” Cairns said. “I am passionate about internships, concurrent enrollment, life-long learning and the role CMC can play in the community.”
The leadership role at CMC is available after the departure of Rachel Pokrandt, who led the Leadville Campus for nearly five years. She was recently tapped for a college presidency in Oregon.
“The college evaluated a large, diverse and talented pool of applicants in its search for this important leadership role,” said Bob Hartzell, who represents Lake County on the CMC Board of Trustees. “We are grateful to Ben for his service to Lake County High School, and we look forward to the new energy he brings to the Leadville and Salida campuses.”
Salida resident David Armstrong, who serves as a liaison to the CMC Board of Trustees, agreed that Cairns is the right choice for the Salida and Poncha Springs communities, adding the longtime educator always puts his students first.
“I am confident he will be able to jump right on the train of positive progress that is happening here,” said Armstrong. “Growth and innovation will continue under his leadership.”
Lake County School District Superintendent Dr. Bethany Massey said the search for Cairns’ replacement is planned for the fall semester. As the start of the school year quickly approaches, Assistant Principal Erin Dillon will take on interim principal duties, and she will be assisted by Academic Dean Lisa Berman until a new principal is hired.
“While we are sad to see Ben go, we know he won’t be far as he starts his new role at the college,” said Massey. “In fact, this change will only further strengthen educational opportunities for students across the entire Arkansas River Valley.”
Rob Simpson joined the Colorado Mountain College team in 2020. For the past 21 years Rob has worked with college students at several universities on the West coast using the outdoors as a classroom to teach his students about the important things in life.
Rob started his career as an outdoor educator in 1990 when he started leading backpacking trips in the Ansel Adams Wilderness while working for a summer camp just outside of Yosemite National Park. Those three summers changed the trajectory of Rob's life and for the past 20+ years he's been taking college students into the outdoors backpacking, rock climbing, kayaking, and winter camping all over Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado and Baja Mexico.
"Even after 30 years of leading outdoor adventures I still love sitting around a campfire or walking down the trail with a student and getting to hear their story. That will never get old!"
Rob is an avid trail runner, backcountry skier, kayaker, rock climber, fly fisherman and loves exploring the Rockies with his wife Cammie and dog Luna.
Three Salida High School students are the first to earn a Basic Construction Technology certificate from Colorado Mountain College Salida.
Gabe Gentile, Edwin Office and Caleb Ediger have spent the last two years applying hands-on skills at active job sites.
“These students have done everything from pouring and finishing concrete to window, door and flooring installation,” said CMC Salida instructor Kyle Earhart.
In the two years the students have participated in the program, they have worked on Spartan Heights, a fourplex apartment complex, and the Tailwind Apartments, a multifamily housing project, both in Poncha Springs. Three of the program’s students, including two of the graduates, have secured employment with Diesslin Structures Inc. (DSI) for the summer.
CMC, Salida School District and DSI began the collaborative Basic Construction Technology program in 2019. It encourages students to learn job skills while earning college credit through CMC’s concurrent enrollment program (CEPA), which allows high school students to earn college or vocational credit towards a postsecondary diploma, certificate or degree. Students who are enrolled in these college classes also receive credits that apply to their high school diplomas.
Visit Colorado Mountain College Salida for more information.
By Hillary Fuller
Despite opening during a pandemic, Colorado Mountain College Salida had a great semester.
During the fall 2020 term, CMC Salida saw enrollment levels beyond expectation for credit, non-credit and concurrent enrollment courses. CMC’s newest location served 178 students in the fall 2020 semester.
This fall CMC Salida was able to offer EMT, accounting, business and education classes, as well as nursing prerequisites.
In November 2019 voters overwhelmingly chose to annex Salida and Poncha Springs into CMC’s district, creating the college’s newest campus. Now, locals who live within Salida School District boundaries pay the college’s low in-district tuition rates.
Amy Dennis, assistant dean of student affairs at CMC Salida, said, “I am very pleased and excited about how the fall has gone, given all the challenges. CMC was able to ramp up credit, non-credit, and concurrent enrollment offerings, as well as hire new adjunct faculty to teach classes
“It has been amazing to watch course offerings and enrollment grow, despite the pandemic,” she added.
The fall concurrent enrollment courses with Salida High School served 89 students, in large part due to a strong partnership with the school district, more Salida High School teachers being credentialed to teach concurrent enrollment classes and a wider variety of courses being offered at the high school, such as a business internship.
“More concurrent enrollment courses are being offered during traditional school hours, making it easier for high school students to attend,” said Rob Simpson, associate dean of academic and student services in Salida.
CMC Salida was able to hire one full-time faculty and four full-time staff, and installed new video conferencing systems at the Kesner building, the Salida School District building that also holds classes for Colorado Mountain College. Community education (non-credit) offerings included courses in geology, screenwriting, avalanche awareness, backpacking, accounting for business and managing stress during the pandemic.
While it has been hard to make the student connection this semester with COVID-19, Dennis said, “Students have been helpful, flexible, adaptable and understanding. They have been so great at following the Five Commitments and reaching out for help when they need it.”
Students and employees have pledged to follow The Five Commitments to Containment: wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, keeping six feet of physical distance from others, staying home when sick and getting a COVID-19 test if experiencing symptoms.
“In the future, Colorado Mountain College would like to build a physical campus in Salida but we want to be very thoughtful about community needs,” said Rachel Pokrandt, CMC vice president and campus dean for Leadville and Salida. “We want to involve community partners to make sure that whatever is built serves the community as a whole.”
To learn more about CMC Salida, feel free to stop by the campus’s administrative offices at 202 North F Street – and be sure to wear your mask.