Steamboat Springs It didn't take long for Kerry Hart to see something unexpected in Steamboat Springs.
During his first day as the new dean of Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus in Steamboat, Hart met two students who were coming down a long metal flight of stairs outside Bristol Hall.
The unexpected part, Hart said, was that the students weren't coming down the stairs on foot -- they were sliding down the railing on their snowboards.
"That kind of thing doesn't happen in Kansas, Nebraska or Cheyenne," Hart said.
On Thursday, Hart, an avid musician and Colorado native, sat with two longtime CMC professors to discuss his first impressions of Steamboat and his goals for the future of the college.
Hart comes to CMC at a time when its student population is changing.
"We've definitely seen an increase in the number of traditional, college-age students over the past couple of years," outdoor education professor John Saunders said.
Many of those students, Saunders added, are coming to CMC for affordable higher education, especially as tuition costs at four-year institutions continue to increase.
"We're seeing a different kind of motivation," Saunders said.
Terry Hunter, a resort management professor who has taught at CMC for 16 years, said growing student interest -- and growing year-round tourism in Steamboat -- has enabled him to expand courses offered in the summer.
"I think we'll continue to see summers getting busier and busier," Hunter said. "These students know they have jobs waiting for them."
Hart said that although he still is in "the listening stage" during his first weeks on the job, he also is beginning a collaboration with CMC administrators, faculty and staff to develop a Strategic Oversight Plan to guide the school's growth in coming years.
"One of the things I'm interested in is seeing how many partnerships we can form in the community," said Hart, who was hired in January and began as dean March 13. "Not just in music but in art and other areas where we don't have full-time faculty."
Those areas include theater, visual arts, film, video production and journalism, Hart said. He also hopes to expand CMC programs in nursing and medical training.
"I think there's a real need for health care programs across the CMC district," he said. "That's an area that's under discussion right now."
An educator for 32 years, Hart comes to Steamboat from Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyo., where he was dean of arts and humanities.
He said his former school had ample money for educational resources -- unlike most public colleges or universities in Colorado.
"One of the things I looked at very carefully is comparative tuition prices," Hart said. "And CMC does compare very favorably with Wyoming. I would wager that CMC is the most financially healthy institution of higher education in Colorado."
While working in Cheyenne, Hart served on the board of directors for the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra. The lifelong music lover has spent 10 years in the music department at Adams State College in Ala--mosa. He has a doctorate in music and higher education administration from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley and a bachelor's degree in music education from Metropolitan State College in Denver.
Hart said a recent performance by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Orchestra surprised him.
"I was blown away with the quality," Hart said. "It was as good as any I've heard in a community this size and definitely comparable to Cheyenne."
Hart said he has had many pleasant surprises during his first weeks in Steamboat, where he said he has felt "very welcomed."
"The only negative so far is the cost of housing," he said. "I'm still kind of in sticker shock."
Before working in Laramie, Hart was dean of the Mohave Valley Campus of the Mohave Community College in Bullhead City, Ariz., where he also served as vice president of arts and enrichment studies.
Now in his early 50s, Hart said he graduated in 1969 from Englewood High School near Denver. He extended an open invitation Thursday to the Steamboat community.
"I have an open-door policy, and I'm very receptive to listening to community members," Hart said. "I invite the community to visit with me and take the initiative to let me know what they think the college's needs are."
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