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Finding Purpose at the Kennedy Mountain Campus

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Korbel Communications

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Hiking Kennedy Mountain Campus

As you journey north on I-25 through Fort Collins and then turn west towards the mountains, you'll find yourself winding through the sprawling green foothills of Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest, spotted with pine trees and intersected by wooden fences. While it may appear as just another mountainous road tucked below the ridgeline, you'll eventually come across a sign that proudly announces: "JAMES C. KENNEDY MOUNTAIN CAMPUS, UNIVERSITY OF DENVER."

This is DU's Kennedy Mountain Campus, often referred to as the KMC. It beckons students to embrace not only a break from the hustle and bustle of Evans Street and the urban clamor of DU's core campus but also a space for students to forge connections with nature, fellow peers, and, perhaps most importantly, with themselves. Spanning a vast 720 acres of wilderness adjacent to national forest land, the campus offers access to a network of trails, opportunities for rock climbing, invigorating ropes courses, and an enchanting amphitheater.

This campus is a testament to the 4D Experience - a philosophy encompassing the four essential dimensions of advancing intellectual growth, exploring one’s character, nurturing well-being, and ultimately, pursuing a life and career of purpose. This merging of the 4D Experience and the idyllic setting led DU’s career services professionals to believe it was the ideal location for the career development program they wanted to offer to DU students.

Rae Ann, Director of the Korbel Office of Career and Professional Development, shared, “I was really eager to develop a program at the KMC for all DU students.” She brought the idea to the DU’s Center for Career and Professional Development (CPD) team, starting a collaborative effort to craft the kind of enriching program that would thrive at the KMC. Carolyn Sommers, Assistant Director at CPD had participated in First Ascent last year and was eager to develop a career development program for DU students at KMC.  Over several months, Carolyn, Rae Ann and another CPD colleague, Marissa Ronquillo curated a program they coined as a “purpose-clarifying outdoor experience”, designed to bridge students with the essence of the 4D Experience. This past June, they led 44 participants to the KMC for a transformative span of career development workshops, invigorating hikes, and introspective moments.

“The 4D initiative that was addressed was the ‘pursuing careers and lives of purpose’,” Rae Ann said, “But the KMC setting also promotes well-being and strengthening character. We tried to leverage the outdoors, the ropes course, rock climbing, and the Activity Center for students to challenges themselves, gain confidence, and then draw parallels to working towards a professional goal.”

Students congregating Kennedy Mountain Campus

This program wasn't tailored for a singular type of student. It was extended to undergraduates, graduates, and even recent alumni, all coming from diverse degree programs and occupying distinct phases in their professional journeys. “It was nice for there to be that diversity of degree programs, degree levels, and amount of experience,” she told me. “The students enjoyed being in a diverse community and talking to each other and learning from one another.” 

The retreat’s programming, which Rae Ann is quick to clarify was largely done by her colleagues in DU’s CPD, consisted of not only times spent outdoors for activity and reflection, but also workshops as well.

Whether immersing themselves in workshops, going on hikes, or finding solace in the campus's alpine meadow for contemplation, participants were encouraged to gravitate towards what they needed the most. The benefits were obvious. In an exit survey evaluating the likelihood of participants recommending this program to their peers on a scale of 1-10, the average score was an impressive 9. One participant reiterated that it was a “well designed program to give students insights and to make decisions on life and careers.” Another stated that the “activities facilitated a deep introspection and reminder of interests and values that motivated me to get back on track and accomplish goals.” Yet another said, “The strength of the program is combining the personal into professional. I never thought the two can go so effortlessly together, this was definitely eye-opening.”

Outside meeting Kennedy Mountain Campus

The future of the program is being discussed with the KMC staff. “We would love to do this program more than once a year,” Rae Ann told me, “Depending on funding and the KMC schedule, we’re exploring offering the program more than once a year.  The program in June worked well because students weren’t in class and we had their undivided attention.”  The program was fully funded by KMC and DU at no cost to students. It is evident that programs like this reinforce the KMC’s mission of inspiring students, providing them with self-awareness, and enabling them to navigate all dimensions of their DU experience.


This article was written by Korbel graduate student David Kelm