Published: Feb. 7, 2017 By ,

Josh Edelmann at CU BoulderJosh Edelmann finished his six years of service with the U.S. Air Force and enrolled as an undergraduate student at CU Boulder last fall. He wanted to find a sense of camaraderie with his peers at the university that felt similar to what he experienced during his years in the military.

Edelmann decided to join INVST Community Studies, a leadership training program for young people who are passionate about social and environmental justice.

“When I was deployed overseas with the Air Force, a friend of mine sent me a link to INVST and suggested I look into it. I read the homepage and it was something I knew absolutely nothing about,” explains Edelmann. “I saw INVST as an opportunity to broaden my horizons and become educated on environmental and social justice issues. From my personal experience, these things had never been taught to me or discussed.”

At first, Edelmann admits, he felt nervous among his new INVST community. He was unsure of what to expect, and it had been six years since he had been in school. But he quickly felt at home with the other students in his INVST cohort.

Each summer, an incoming cohort of INVST students participates in a Climate Justice Summer program and travels throughout the southwestern U.S., including parts of Colorado, to learn about climate change, environmental sustainability, energy and power. During that trip, Edelmann says, the students in his cohort really got to know each other.

“After the first day or two my nervousness subsided,” Edelmann says. “It was nice to go from one tight group of people in the military to another here at CU Boulder,” he reflects. “Now, that tight group is INVST for me.”

Edelmann also believes that the INVST Climate Justice Summer program helped prepare him academically for the year ahead. “The conversations I had on the summer trip helped prepare me for the lectures I have in my classes. The summer trip really helped me develop my critical thinking skills. It helped me think outside the box and pushed me to learn new things,” he says.

During INVST’s Climate Justice Summer program, students meet with many different people, including community organizations, coal miners, farmers on the western slopes of Colorado, and representatives from the Oil and Gas Association. For Edelmann, hearing directly from so many different people about environmental, climate and energy issues was revelatory.

“We got to hear all of these different perspectives, and they really impacted me on a personal level. All the people we spoke with, they each live different lives and they are all affected by the policy decisions that other people make. I could really see how a coal mine or a fracking operation upstream could really damage a farmer’s farm downstream. Or how the construction of a coal mine in a rural town can disturb the population and the farm animals. Experiencing all of these perspectives has made me more able to use critical thinking skills in my classes at CU,” he states.

Edelmann credits his years overseas in the Air Force with planting the seed that led him to be curious about human rights and environmental justice. “My travels in the Air Force really opened my eyes to the injustices that people face in society, and I wanted to know more about that. I wanted to learn more about the inequalities and human rights issues I saw abroad, and this led me down the path to where I am now,” he says.

Josh and ChicoEdelmann, a North Carolina native, enlisted with the U.S. Air Force in November of 2009, right after he graduated from high school. He trained in San Antonio, TX and then served in Japan for 2 years before being deployed to Qatar where he provided basic law enforcement and base security. He then worked in Cheyenne, WY protecting nuclear weapons sites. In April 2014, Edelmann was transferred to Aurora, CO where he trained to work as a military dog handler. Edelmann was paired up with his dog Chico, and together their main goal was working on detection of drugs or explosives. Edelmann and Chico were deployed back to Quatar for a year, where they served providing law enforcement and working to detect bombs and explosive odors. When Edelmann’s commitment with the Air Force ended in 2016, he was living near Denver and decided to enroll at CU Boulder.

When asked whether he would recommend the INVST Community Studies program to other students with military experience, Edelmann says: “Absolutely!”

“During my time with INVST, I’ve learned about developing facilitation skills. I didn’t even realize when I was in the military that this could be taught. I have been learning about nonviolent communication and thinking about how this could be applied in a military setting. I was a supervisor in the military and it would have been so helpful for me to have known how to use nonviolent communication, and for my supervisor, and for his. That’s just one example, but it’s such a great tool to know,” Edelmann explains.

The way Edelmann sees it, his time at CU Boulder is a time to experience new things, to get out of his comfort zone, and to learn about ways of seeing the world that he’s never considered before.

“In INVST, everyone’s here to learn. There’s definitely space in the program to challenge what’s being taught, and you might have a different perspective from somebody but you can voice that.” he explains.

“The way I see it,” Edelmann says, “You’re at CU Boulder to learn. So why stay in your bubble?  Why do something you’re familiar with when you’re here to grow?”


INVST, a program of CU Engage, is now accepting applications.

INVST’s two-year program combines classes with skills training and community-based action in a unique, small-group setting. In the INVST Community Leadership Program, undergrads can find their community at CU, in small classes; meet others who are committed to making a positive difference; and learn practical skills through internships with local non-profits. Plus, INVST offers two summer travel opportunities, a Climate Justice Summer and an Economic Justice Summer, which expose learners first-hand to two of the most complex challenges facing us -- immigration and climate change.

Applications to INVST are due on Monday, February 27, 2017.