Every explorer knows to carry a Swiss Army knife into the field. But even when they stay on campus, the students, faculty, and administration at Fort Lewis College have their own multi-purpose tool right at their fingertips.
That tool is the organization called Professional Associates. Professional Associates enriches the FLC experience by contributing its members’ diverse skills and real-world expertise to the campus environment.
“Our mission is to serve the College,” says Gary Treat, the current president of Professional Associates. “We’re as interested in serving the professors as we are the students and the administration. And it’s a hoot.”
Professional Associates is, in short, a public advisory group for Fort Lewis College driven by about forty-five enthusiastic Durango and regional community members. The volunteers hail from careers in a range of fields, from law and education to engineering and music. And they apply their knowledge and their dedication to a wide variety of on-campus and community programs.
Treat, for instance, wanted to share his business acumen after selling the HVAC business he had owned for eighteen years. So he decided to volunteer with the School of Business Administration at FLC. Once he started doing that, though, he learned about Professional Associates and its many programs, and he discovered he could contribute meaningfully to the campus in more ways than he had imagined.
All the members have their own stories of joining Professional Associates. But the members do share certain important traits. “We view the College as a valuable resource for the community,” Treat says. “And we like to help.”
Professional Associates started in 1999 as a resource for the FLC president at the time, Kendall Blanchard. The group functioned as an outside-of-academia sounding board, a role it still maintains, according to Treat. Now, though, its functions are much more far-reaching.
“I’d say the best things we do are the Life-Long Learning lecture series and the Host Family Program,” Treat says.
The Host Family Program encourages Professional Associates members, as well as local alumni and community members, to help incoming students adapt to college life.
Students do not live with their host families, but the families are there to support the students through their early transitions into college.
“We’ll pick them up at the airport, and we can help them go shopping for their stuff,” Treat explains. “We host a couple of receptions for new students. That’s where I met my student.”
Treat’s experience hosting a student highlights the personal support the Host Family Program can offer. “The student’s mother called one time and said she was quite ill and couldn’t get out,” he recalls. “She asked if we would go buy some soup and some medicines for her. Which we did.”
“It’s got to be a little comforting to parents of out-of-country or out-of-state students to know that the college cares,” Treat says.
Whereas the Host Family Program benefits students just beginning their journeys, the Life-Long Learning lecture series provides ongoing benefits to the entire Durango community.
“We sponsor, with the help of the College, twenty-some lectures a year,” Treat says. “We invite the community, and we solicit speakers on interesting subjects.”
“One I loved was a woman who’s doing a bear study in town and has been for years,” he recalls. “The study is with the Colorado Department of Parks & Wildlife, in association with the federal government. She gave a fascinating talk about how they track these bears. But we get talks on all kinds of subjects.”
These programs are two of Professional Associates’ most visible efforts. They are far from everything that the group contributes to FLC, though. Professional Associates members also give guest lectures in classrooms, sharing experiences and insights gleaned from their careers. “Quite a few members are involved in that,” Treat says.
This year, several members are serving as mentors for the inaugural Hawk Tank Business Plan Competition, hosted by the School of Business Administration. Among other activities, the group supports the FLC Engineers Without Borders/Village Aid Project, funds the Professional Associates Scholarship, and conducts practice job interviews for students at on-campus career fairs.
“The part I enjoy most is talking to the students,” Treat says. “You feel like you’re sharing some knowledge that will help them in their lives, and they’re just fun to be with. But, the greatest satisfaction is just contributing to the college and making it better.”