Waking to the propane blast of water heating for coffee, Tish Varney looks up to see tiny bats swooping along the dawn-lit walls of Grand Canyon. The Colorado River flows by as she joins fellow members of the Fort Lewis College Adventure Club for the daily talk of what to expect around the bend. Professor of Geosciences Gary Gianniny presses the creases in a map, pointing out a hike option to explore a prickly pear garden.
“One morning, Gary said ‘I’ve got something special to show you guys,’” recalls Varney’s husband, Pete. “So, we finally got to this one campsite and followed him up to the base of a cliff, where he pointed to an inch-long trilobite in the rocks. He knew exactly where it was. Not many people have that level of knowledge of the Canyon.”
Since Pete’s first Grand Canyon river trip in 1988, he’s taken close to 36,000 photos from adventures around the world. Many of them are shots from other FLC Adventure Club trips through the Grand Canyon, an Icelandic trek with FLC volcanologist and Professor of Geosciences David Gonzales, and a misty excursion around the Scottish Highlands. So much more than vacations, these trips inspire experiential learning not unlike the kind students undertake throughout their academic journey at FLC.
“Faculty who are experts in their field come with us, so you get this incredible education along the way,” says Tish. “We’ve become very impressed with the educational outreach that FLC does, from these Adventure Club trips to the way the faculty personalize special programs just for students.”
While two of the Varneys’ four children attended FLC back in the 1980s, the Varneys didn’t make the permanent move from Denver to Durango until 2013. As retired scientists (Tish is a chemist and Pete, a geologist and geology professor emeritus at Metropolitan State University in Denver), the duo has fallen head over heels in love with the geology and waterways of the desert Southwest. Their passion extends beyond a personal hobby and into the basement of Sitter Family Hall, where the Varneys funded a mobile river table that allows students to visualize factors impacting a river system and practice with as they prepare for field study opportunities.
“We wanted to do something that would benefit the students directly while allowing a wide variety of disciplines in the school to also use [the table] as a teaching tool,” says Tish.
Last Friday, Fort Lewis College inducted five individuals and one team to its sports Hall of Fame, including Bob Hofman, the 1984 FLC football team, Susan Sagle, Joe Moore, DeAndre Lansdowne, and Chris Aaland. Inductees were recognized for their contributions to FLC both on and off the field.
Indian Country Today journalist Jourdan Bennett-Begaye (Athletic Training, ‘13) worked with Johns Hopkins University to build a COVID-19 tracking map and data for tribal nations. Built in just 18 months, this map empowers Indigenous communities to make scientifically informed decisions in their fight against COVID-19.
Co-owners of Bison Star Naturals, Jaqueline McHorse (Agricultural Sciences, ‘11) and Angelo McHorse (Agricultural Sciences, ‘12), have opened an organic soaps factory in Taos. Beginning with a desire to incorporate natural products in their everyday lives, the husband and wife team has rapidly expanded the business since launching in 2018.
In a stunning display of sea-like light and color, Chad Colby, Professor of Art & Design, works with former Fort Lewis College students Lexis Loeb and Hayley Kirkman to produce a piece for Meow Wolf’s new galaxy space in Denver.
Fort Lewis College alumnus and Indigenous ultrarunner Christian Gering (Environmental Studies, ‘15) is collaborating with running outfitter Janji on the design of their new “American Southwest Collection.”
Since 2004, Andra Cirbo (Business Administration-Marketing, ‘92), has built an extensive career working at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Now a Correctional Support Trades Supervisor III Captain, Cirbo manages massive kitchens in two correctional facilities that provide meals for offenders and vocational training for their re-entry.