Published: Feb. 20, 2024

This month, CU Boulder’s Masters of the Environment (MENV) Graduate Program congratulated partners at multiple Colorado state offices for being awarded the 2023–24 Charles F. Kettering Award from the Cooperative Education and Internship Association (CEIA). This national award recognizes distinguished excellence in applying classroom education in the real world.

MENV nominated Colorado state agencies for this award to recognize the many years of collaboration between the two groups through the MENV Capstone Program, a nine-month collaborative effort between students and partner organizations to advance sustainability and resilience locally and nationally. CEIA expressed that Colorado state agencies are “truly making a difference in the lives of students.”

The award is received by Jonathan Asher, director of the Colorado Governor’s Office of Climate Preparedness and Disaster Recovery, on behalf of the many leaders from the following agencies: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Energy Office, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies Public Utilities Commission, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Charles F. Kettering Award winners

Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Office of Outdoor Recreation team, left to right: Gifford Hall, Dale Henderson, Tori Manogue and Anderson Cole. The students served as representatives for the winning agencies. 

The MENV Capstone Program serves as an immersive learning experience designed for leaders in sustainability and resilience. This mandatory nine-month program involves hands-on projects where small student teams collaborate with various organizations (for-profit, nonprofit and government) to tackle real-world challenges related to sustainability, resilience and equity. Acting as consultants, students work closely with a faculty expert and leaders from their partner organizations.

The Capstone Program is required for all 100 students who enroll each fall, making it an integral part of the curriculum that intentionally combines theoretical knowledge with real-world problem-solving. And the projects undertaken by Colorado state government agencies are at the forefront of sustainability and resilience, offering invaluable learning opportunities for our students.

In a notable 2023 collaboration with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, students conducted a comprehensive review of extreme heat issues in Colorado, applying an equity lens. They also developed a prioritized list of policy recommendations for the state to employ, emphasizing nature-based solutions. MENV students presented their key recommendations to the Governor’s Office of Climate Preparedness and Disaster Recovery, and some of these suggestions are currently under consideration by state policymakers.

In another 2023 project, students partnered with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office to assess the Regional Partnership Initiative (RPI). The team established the Inter-Agency Conservation and Recreation Council to help manage the initiative, which was “created within the purview of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and serves primarily as a grant-funding program to help catalyze and support outdoor regional coalitions across Colorado to ensure that Colorado's lands, waters and wildlife thrive while also providing access to quality outdoor experiences.” 

Through this collaboration, the students showcased their work at the Colorado Outdoor Industry Summit, and a summary is highlighted in the 2024 Colorado Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

These collaborations immerse students in significant projects within public service, guided by the mentorship of agency professionals, allowing them to actively contribute to solving community issues. For many students, this experience marks the initiation of a career in public service. The program owes much of its success to the dedication of these state-level public service leaders.

MENV student Anderson Cole articulates the sentiment of his experience: “My capstone team expresses immense gratitude for our partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. Our connections within these departments facilitated numerous conversations and interviews with key figures in the state's conservation and outdoor recreation landscape. The outcome has been a shared commitment to enhancing the Regional Partnerships Initiative and the Masters of the Environment Graduate Program.”

And it doesn’t end there—many MENV students continue on to work in the state government, bringing new MENV projects to the Capstone Program. Such is the case of Nicholas Garza (MENV 2022), who created a bridge between the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and MENV with a 2023 Capstone Project. The MENV capstone is thus creating an ecosystem of sustainability professionals in the state of Colorado and nationally, who are then excited to come back to the Capstone Program as organizational partners and support emerging leaders in the MENV program.

MENV is truly a unique program that will continue to thrive and solve real-world problems for communities nationally.