Students participate in the 2021 Wright Collegiate Challenge

Students in the CMC Photography club observe and photograph the night sky

Students in the CMC Photography club observe and photograph the night sky. PC: Stephanie Stocking

Outdoor students to present Dark Sky solution to San Luis Valley Great Outdoors for the 2021 Wright Collegiate Challenge

Designed to promote out-of-the-box ideas and entrepreneurial thinking, the Wright Collegiate Challenge requires students to address current issues within the outdoor recreation industry. The 12-week challenge connects Colorado college students with businesses, nonprofits and civic organizations to propose actionable solutions to existing problems in the outdoor economy.

Challenges fall into three tracks (people, product and place) and solutions must address all four impact areas: Conservation and Stewardship; Education and Workforce Training; Economic Development; Public Health and Wellness. From increasing access to climbing gyms for individuals with physical disabilities to developing a sustainable packaging solution for endurance supplements, the challenges stimulate creative solutions to real-time problems. 

2021 Challenge Partners participating in this year’s program include Eureka! McConnell Science Museum, San Luis Valley Great Outdoors, Fishpond USA, Paradox Sports, Tailwind Nutrition and Topo Designs. Colorado Mountain College, Western Colorado University, Colorado Mesa University and Colorado School of Mines are the 2021 participating institutions. 

Outdoor Students Reach for the Stars

This month, Colorado Mountain College students will present their Wright Challenge submission at a virtual event. Their client and challenge partner, San Luis Valley Great Outdoors (SLV GO!), is seeking a strategy to educate, inform, and persuade regional county commissioners, public land agencies and community members, about the importance of the Dark Sky Initiative. The overall goal is to establish the world’s largest Dark Sky Reserve in the San Luis Valley.

The student group, dubbed Team Astraios, is made up of Reuben Hansen, Margaret Patch, Christian Bueng, Grady Whitson, and Collin Appleby. They are first and second year students enrolled in the Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Outdoor Education programs at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. The team has been guided by Colorado Mountain College faculty member Elizabeth Walker.

“I feel my role is more of a mentor rather than instructor,” says Elizabeth Walker, who began teaching at Colorado Mountain College Leadville this year, “This class is very much student-driven. I meet with the students 1-2 times a month and guide them through working with an external client.”

Elizabeth brings a wealth of knowledge and industry-specific experience to the Colorado Mountain College outdoor programs. She has worked in marketing roles for Giant Bicycles and Liv Cycling since 2015, and is currently in a Team Management role for the Giant Factory Off-Road Team and Liv Racing professional cycling teams.

Innovative Solutions for Outdoor Industry

The team analyzed existing Dark Sky Reserves including Galloway Forest Park, Scotland and Bryce Canyon National Park, focussing their research around the environmental, health and economic benefits to the community. They also discovered how to measure and mitigate types of light pollution, while considering tactics to simplify public information and address community concerns surrounding the project.

“The Wright Challenge has been a unique opportunity for us as students to help provide Colorado’s outdoor industry with sustainable growth and equitable access through complex problem solving and critical thinking,” says Collin Appleby, Outdoor Recreation Leadership student at CMC Leadville, “This experience has pushed us to work as a team in order to create an innovative solution for the modern world.”

The final presentation will be a virtual pitch competition on April 19, 2021 and there will be an elimination round to determine an overall winner. Participants will be judged on the following criteria: Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving; Viability; Workforce Training and Development, Sustainability, Conservation and Stewardship; Accessibility and Inclusion; and Partner Engagement.

“It was an honor to work with this team of students in a real-life business scenario,” said instructor Elizabeth Walker, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education from Brevard College and an MBA from Western Carolina University, “Students applied knowledge and experience from their degree programs at CMC to address a unique, cross-functional challenge from an external partner,” says Elizabeth, “Our students blew the Challenge out of the water, and I look forward to seeing how the Wright Team and San Luis Valley Great Outdoor! respond.”

“I’m continually impressed with the level of professionalism our students exude, and opportunities like this will certainly set them apart as they seek out employment opportunities post-graduation.”