Tony Bisimwa, a rising junior at the University of Denver, has always loved spending time outside. He was excited to take part in a day-long student leadership program sponsored by the University of Rocky Mountain along the Roosevelt National Forest. Bismillah, then president of the African Students United Club, joined classmates for a leadership workshop, a hike and a rope course challenge before a two-hour journey back to the main campus in downtown Denver.
Nature travel is going to be a regular part of the college experience on the University of Denver’s new James C. Kennedy Mountain campus. The campus is open to students for day trips for the first time this spring and will host all first year hosts and students for a three-day program starting this coming fall. The goal is to spend some time on the property before graduation to promote the mental health, personal reflection and bonding between all undergraduate and graduate students.
“The downtown campus is in the middle of a city. There is a lot of confusion around you. Being in the mountains, surrounded by less technology, less confusion, less noise from the highway, you get a chance to think critically, ”Bismillah said. “I think the campus will improve people’s creativity and productivity and well-being.”
The mountain location will be available to students and faculty members at various points throughout the year. Student groups can go there to engage in a variety of activities, from hiking to yoga and meditation, and faculty members can retreat and incorporate new campus visits into their curriculum.
University Chancellor Jeremy Hefner said campus leaders saw more than 50 different farm properties before settling in the Red Feathers Lake area that felt like “Colorado” with hiking trails and mountain views. Donors have paid for the purchase and renovation of the 720-acre property, the site of a former Girl Scouts camp, and will continue to pay for programming so that each student can spend free time on campus. There are cabins on campus that can accommodate about 200 students at a time.
Hefner believes the new campus will help the university stand out to potential students and their families.
“For us, it’s a real differentiator,” he said.
He sees the new campus as part of a “4D experience”, a philosophy adopted by the university in 2019 that focuses on helping students improve in four key areas: intellectual growth, wellness, character development and the pursuit of “career and lifestyle” objectives. To further these goals, each of the students is assigned a “constellation of mentors”, including peer counselors, faculty advisors and career trainers, as well as alumni counselors who are in their junior and senior years. Creates lists.
College students come at a time in their lives when “they are vastly open to new experiences,” Hefner said. “It simply came to our notice then. The magic that will happen on the mountain campus is that hearts and minds will change. They will have the opportunity to see themselves differently, but more importantly, to see others differently. ”
Administrators believe that the natural environment also provides educational benefits.
Mary Clark, Provost of the University of Denver, predicts the various academic uses of the campus. His office and faculty will review the faculty’s proposals for ways to incorporate the Senate Mountain Campus.
Among other concepts, professors have suggested taking students to mountain campuses to study local issues such as sustainability and policy, especially water rights in Colorado. Some chemists, biologists, botanists and other scientists plan to bring students there to study the surrounding landscape. Students in the Business School Hospitality Program can manage cabins and dining rooms for events to enhance their hospitality skills. Administrators also discussed courses on land plants and animals and Native American history taught by local tribal representatives or Native faculty members, he said.
Clark is considering turning a cabin into a writing retreat center for undergraduate thesis students and undergraduates working on Capstone projects. He also sees the campus as a potential center for visual or performing arts classes.
“It’s a beautiful environment, such a clean environment, that I think it naturally lends itself, not to the purpose of any satire, to art,” he said. “It only lends itself to this kind of reflective activity, to a level of focus that I think can be more challenging in an urban environment.”
Stu Halsall, associate vice chancellor of Mountain Campus, as well as wellness and recreation, noted that completing non-academic activities such as a rope course – an outdoor obstacle course that involves high climbing – also encourages safe “risk taking” and teamwork, which May create a sense of community and get “ideal learning outcomes”.
A new approach to mental health
The inauguration of the new campus comes at a time when campus leaders across the country are trying to expand mental health services in the wake of an epidemic that has already caused a high rate of anxiety and depression among college students.
“I think it’s important that we think about how students live, learn and play, that we hire them for their well-being, and that we come to understand something about what they need to stay healthy,” said Todd Adams, vice chancellor for student affairs. “‘To be good you have to be good’ is something we say here with some frequency.”
Hefner sees the mountain campus as a key part of the university’s approach to mental health.
“The mental health of our students and our faculty and staff has changed very rapidly – they have certainly increased by Kovid, but the symptoms were even before the epidemic,” he said. “It’s not a business as usual, and any university that uses the same practices that approach this problem I think is really going to struggle to solve the mental health struggles of our students.”
The University of Denver is not the only higher education institution with a nature outpost. Colorado State University, for example, has a campus in the Rocky Mountains for field research and academic conferences. Middlebury College owns and operates a ski center called Middlebury Snow Bowl in Vermont.
Yet, “in the landscape of thousands of colleges and universities, in North America, I think there are probably very few who have a secondary campus that is different” and designed to be so inseparable with the student experience, Adams says.
Matthew Browning, an associate professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson University, said research has shown that spending more time in nature reduces stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms and “emotional brooding, negative thinking about the past, which is a major risk factor for depression.” People also report feeling more able to have “unprotected” conversations with each other in outside settings.
But college students are not seen spending much time outside. Browning and Amber Vermesh, associate professors at the University of Portland School of Nursing, are conducting a randomized controlled trial to assess how much time Clemson’s 300 college students and 59 Portland University nursing students spend in nature through an app. Growth affects their mental health.
Students spend an average of 30 minutes each day, said Browning, who runs Clemson’s Virtual Reality and Nature Lab. Most of the time, it means hanging out in the green area of campus versus walking or hiking off campus.
“We find that college students spend very little time in nature,” he said. Clemson said: “Near the beautiful forests and lakes, and very few students have visited those places, although you can walk or cycle or drive near them. That was kind of disappointing news for us.”
Lincoln R. Larson, an associate professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at North Carolina State University, noted that satellite campuses in the natural environment can be a resource, especially for students with low-attendance and low-income backgrounds, who sometimes have less access. Green spaces and their abundant mental health benefits. Larson conducted a study on how college students ’outdoor recreation has changed during the epidemic and how it relates to their mental health.
“We know that students from certain groups, such as ethnic / racial minorities and low-income families, are more likely to have mental health problems,” he wrote in an email. “We also know that this student population tends to be those who spend less time in nature-based settings. This is not a coincidence. Green spaces are more accessible and what we can do to help welcome these vulnerable students will help. ”
Students are already developing strategies on how they will use the new campus. For example, Halsall says a group of undergraduate students at the university’s social work school wants to bring a group of graduates there for a hiking trip focused on mental health.
Bismillah hopes he and his classmates will get a chance to go up the hill before the final exams. He is already planning to go there for the next quarter of recovery.
“I’m really looking forward to the possibility of going there next year,” he said.