Outdoor Studies Students at Colorado Colleges Gain Career Skills in Tackling Current-Day Challenges Facing Rural-Based Small Businesses and Non-Profit Organizations
Colorado’s mountain town communities have been a fast track incubator since the recession. The passion of the entrepreneurs in our communities and the attributes of our amazing towns were the inspiration behind the launch of Mountain Town Magazine. During that time I was fortunate to meet Chuck Sullivan of Something Independent. It seemed we were on similar paths of discovery and soaking in the inspiration of great people and their dedication to their craft.
The launch of the Wright Awards was a further testament to the power of the entrepreneur. This initiative brought together innovators, place-makers and forward-thinking organizations, helping to awaken ideas, nurture connections and spark new levels of understanding to effect cultural change and reshape the future of work for Coloradoans of all walks of life.
Today an extension of the original The Wright (a Colorado-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to the economic and cultural vitality of communities across Colorado) awards, The Wright Collegiate Challenge, is becoming an annual rite of spring for many outdoor studies students at Colorado Mesa University, Colorado Mountain College Leadville, and Western Colorado University. The Wright Collegiate Challenge culminated on April 25, with a four-student team representing Western’s Outdoor Industry MBA program taking home Best in Class honors for their work with Carbondale-based, mountainFLOW eco-wax.
Now in its 4th year, The Wright Collegiate Challenge is a semester-long program presented in partnership with the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC), helping to prepare Colorado higher-education students to enter the workforce by providing first-hand experience working alongside small businesses and nonprofit organizations to develop actionable solutions to current-day challenges within the outdoor recreation industry sector. Ten student teams competed for Best in Class, Most Engaged and People’s Choice awards.
Over the course of the 12-week challenge, student teams are paired with businesses, nonprofits, and partner organizations, including the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, and introduced to a range of pivotal issues facing the outdoor industry. Over the course of the competition, students are tasked with developing actionable solutions to challenges facing businesses and communities at the forefront of today’s rapidly-evolving outdoor recreation economy.
In selecting this year’s projects and Challenge Partners, The Wright, along with the Colorado OREC Office and its participating Academic Partners, put out a call for proposals in Fall 2021, inviting business and nonprofit employers to submit a challenge for consideration.
Ultimately, the following organizations and their respective challenges were selected:
The mountainFLOW eco-wax challenge is to develop a buy-back program for fluorinated ski wax. Fluorocarbons have been a staple ingredient in ski wax for decades. However, recent studies have shown that this “forever chemical” is carcinogenic and has bioaccumulated in environments near ski areas. While the use of fluorocarbons has been prohibited in most major race circuits, thousands of pounds of this toxic ski wax are still available for sale and legal for recreational (non-race) use. As envisioned, this buy-back program would be the first of its kind and would remove old wax from ski shops and be disposed of properly, ensuring that it does not further contaminate our Colorado watershed.
Makers of high-end mountain bike suspension, drivetrain products, and components – designed, tested, and built in Colorado. The MRP Challenge is to develop a cost-effective environmental sustainability plan that addresses product packaging and ultimately reduces the amount of plastic currently in use, and increases the percentage of sustainable packaging materials across all of our products.
SLV GO! helps organize, support, and guide community efforts to implement outdoor recreation resources and break down barriers between communities and the outdoors. With their challenge, SLV GO! is embarking on a community process to explore and promote a “rails with trails” program that will extend across 5 counties and 154 miles of rail line. Key to this project is the need to build broad community support from adjacent property owners, county commissioners, and state agencies. We are estimating an economic impact of $10 million a year to the region once the trail is complete.
How do you best spread the word about a new, rural Colorado brand? That is the challenge at hand. Town Hall is a sustainable kids outdoor apparel brand selling direct-to-consumer via their website with just a few wholesale partners around the state. The challenge is for the students to develop a premier brand awareness strategy that converts brand love to revenue, builds community, and fosters a lifelong passion for the brand and its values. Town Hall has committed $2,000 to put toward a student-led marketing initiative.
The Best in Class winner was the Western OIMBA team, in collaboration with a two-person team of undergraduate students from Colorado Mesa University’s Outdoor Industry Studies Program, who developed a takeback program for fluorinated ski wax for mountainFLOW Eco Wax.
In other award categories, a student team from Colorado Mountain College Leadville was recognized as Most Engaged Team for their work on a marketing initiative with Steamboat Springs-based Town Hall Outdoor Co. A second team of students from Western received this year’s People Choice Award working with San Luis Valley Great Outdoors to develop a plan for a valley-wide Rails with Trails project. Rounding out the Challenge Partners was Grand Junction’s Mountain Racing Products who brought a sustainable packaging challenge to the student teams. In our opinion, everyone was a winner and “for the good solutions” is the prize.
“A program like The Wright Collegiate Challenge plays a crucial role in preparing the next generation of workforce for careers in the outdoor industry by providing the type of hands-on experience that students are asking for and employers are requiring,” says Samantha Albert, Deputy Director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.
On her experience in working on the mountainFLOW challenge, Western Outdoor MBA student Leyla Ericson, said, “The Wright Challenge provided an incredible opportunity for our team to work outside of the classroom, directly with a business in the industry. It was exciting to work with mountainFLOW to address a real-time issue, and to be able to make an impact in such a short time. In thinking about the professional capacity building and networking opportunities this challenge afforded us, and what we were able to accomplish, it’s hard to believe it was all one semester.”
In being recognized as Best in Class, the Western OIMBA team, in collaboration with a two-person team of undergraduate students from Colorado Mesa University’s Outdoor Industry Studies Program, developed a takeback program for fluorinated ski wax. Fluorinated wax contains polyfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS) and are known as “forever chemicals” in that they do not biodegrade.
“Fluorinated ski wax has been a known environmental concern for years and this takeback program will ensure that this carcinogenic chemical will not be exposed to people or the environment,” says mountainFLOW eco-wax founder and CEO, Peter Arlein. “The issue of removing harmful fluorocarbons is one of the catalysts that led to the creation of mountainFLOW.”
Running through the month of May, the mountainFLOW eco-wax takeback program provides the opportunity for people to get rid of their toxic waxes by visiting one of three retail partners across Colorado, or by utilizing the mail-in option for those outside of the state. For information on participating partners and collection site locations, visit the Fluro Wax Take-Back Program page.
Dr. Scott Borden, Director of Western’s Outdoor Industry MBA program, a first of its kind in the U.S., says, “It is an honor to compete in this challenge. Working on issues of inclusion, protecting public lands, health and wellness, economic development, and sustainability are core to our values as a program. Every year the challenge partners, The Wright team, and students elevate their game. The takeback program is evidence of this.”
“Students diving in and getting their hands dirty working directly with innovative Colorado businesses and nonprofit organizations within the outdoor sector, this is what The Wright Collegiate Challenge is all about, says Chuck Sullivan, Executive Director of The Wright. “In addition to the developing career-readiness skillsets, important networks are established linking students, employers, educators, and community partners, all of which takes on a particular significance when talking about rural Colorado communities like the ones represented here.”
Students participating in The Wright Collegiate Challenge receive a Certificate of Completion issued jointly by Colorado-based nonprofit, The Wright, and the Colorado OREC Office, a division within the greater Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Certificate recipients will have demonstrated growth and understanding in eight core competency areas identified by the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE). They include, Career & Self Development, Communication, Critical Thinking, Equity & Inclusion, Leadership, Professionalism, Teamwork, Technology.
VISIT HERE to learn more about The Wright Collegiate Challenge: https://www.somethingindependent.com/collegiate-challenge/
The Wright Collegiate Challenge is presented in a programmatic partnership with the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The OREC Office serves as the State’s central coordinator of outdoor recreation industry matters, which includes policy and resource development, industry promotion, and connection with the constituents, businesses, and communities that rely on the health of the State’s outdoor recreation economy.
by Holly Battista-Resignolo
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