Pam Burwell

Student of life

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Holding a curiosity for the world's treasures, Pam Burwell's first step toward understanding herself and her connection with people began with a circumnavigation of the globe.

"I just put on a backpack and traveled around the world," Pam said.

The various aspects in her multifaceted life finally have fused to allow for a simple comprehension of how they all are connected.

While her trip offered her a look inside the Asian culture, she also found a way to connect her interest of traveling with a continuing education that was long overdue.

"You have to look at cultures through their beliefs. You can't understand people in Asia if you don't understand beliefs," Pam said with radiance.

Asian studies is more than just a degree she received from Regis University, it is an avenue of spiritual insight and awareness that tied in Pam's passion for that culture.

Along with her fascination with Asian culture, her most recent interest lies in the Native American tribes that lived in the Yampa Valley centuries ago. As the adviser for the International Student Club and Students for a Free Tibet at Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus, Pam has an undying passion for the resurrection and preservation of cultures around the globe.

Northern Utes lived in the Yampa Valley centuries ago. Some of their descendants have returned from Utah to Steamboat to establish a unique connection between a tribe whose roots are in this community and the foreigners who live on the land now.

Pam is helping that effort at CMC.

"Working with the Utes was very interesting, but very difficult work," she said of a tribe that questions the intentions of white people. "But the work is very rewarding."

Pam helped push for a memorial of the Northern Ute Tribe at Rich Weiss Park in Steamboat, and she helped bring Larry Cesspooch and his tribe back to the Yampa Valley for the dedication ceremony in November 1999.

Olive Morton, director of community education at CMC, said Pam's connection with the tribe "clicked" and another community project became another part of her soul. Her contributions to the college have been remarkable, Morton said.

"I think she's a real special person," Morton said. "I like to think I mentored her to keep going in her education."

After three years and an unfinished degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Pam married, moved to Steamboat and began a construction business with her husband.

Sixteen years later, Pam was raising her three children, Nina, Eliza and Matt, by herself. Times were tough, but accepting a job at CMC in 1988 made a world of difference.

"You just put one foot in front of the other and keep going," she said.

While working at the junior high school in the mid-1980s, knee surgery after knee surgery from a skiing accident had opened Pam's eyes to the world of massage therapy and how effective it is to injuries.

But her eyes didn't shut to the world of opportunities. Although she could barely walk, Pam discovered photo-realism drawing and began selling her portraits as a commissioned artist while the knee healed. Working as a massage therapist for Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center for 10 years didn't sidetrack her desire to return to school. When she got the job at CMC as the business manager, the sponge in her brain began soaking in everything.

"The incredible mentoring, caring faculty, staff and administration convinced me that it was possible to follow my dreams 'and help my work become my bliss,'" Pam said, quoting Joseph Campbell.

After eight years, Pam and her daughter walked down the aisle together to receive their associate of art degrees. Like a drug, learning became something Pam couldn't put down.

"Learning at 38 years old that you can make your dreams come true is a truly remarkable experience," she said.

Through a long-distance degree program at Regis University, she was able to stay in Steamboat and complete a bachelor's degree in Comparative Religion and Asian Studies in 1995.

"It's great when you're raising kids. They model (distance learning) so you can be working full time while getting a degree," Pam said. "I took two classes a semester. Once I took three and I would never do that again."

It's been six years since her graduation from Regis and she has since obtained a master of arts in Asian studies from the University of California, Dominguez Hills, through a second distance-learning program.

Why not go all the way?

"I'm exploring the possibility," Pam said with thought. "I really thought I deserved a break. I needed to figure out which direction life was leading me."

Painter, meditator, teacher, martial artist, massage therapist, traveler, mother and wife her list is endless.

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