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Students and faculty were immersed in research, internships and special projects this past summer

"No more pencils, no more books” is intertwined with the childhood feeling of freedom that is summer vacation. For adults summertime blends into the work year and for many college students it is a chance to work extra hours or visit family. But for many CMU students and faculty this is the time to expand their knowledge, delve deeper into research interests and set themselves up for success in the future.

These are a few student and faculty experiences from this past summer.

Designing for the real world

During the last week of classes this past May, Associate Professor of Art Eli Hall received a call offering graphic design students an opportunity to work on a “real-world” project. Mars Hospitality Group, CMU’s partner in the Hotel Maverick, was offering $3,000 in scholarships to students whose logo designs were selected for the hotel, restaurant and coffee shop. The on-campus teaching hotel is scheduled to open spring 2020.

Most students had already left for the summer, but Hall knew of three talented students who were spending their summer in town, so he contacted them about the project.

When seniors Cassie Fortman and Logan Wagner, and junior Benjamin Haver met to review Mars’ project brief, they made a surprising decision — instead of competing against each other they would tackle the challenge together.

“We knew we’d produce better work together,” Haver said. “We each had our own set of designs, and we discussed them, asked each other questions and made suggestions.”

The five-week design process included multiple presentations to the other designers, Hall and CMU President Tim Foster. Each presentation was followed by revisions and refinements. On June 25, the students formally presented their designs to the client, Mars Hospitality.

“This was the highest stakes meeting these students had ever had,” said Hall, “and this was the best student presentation I’ve seen.” The Mars group was impressed, too, and increased the total scholarship fund by $2,000.

Haver’s designs were ultimately selected, but the client wanted some changes.

The three split the scholarship, but beyond that, Haver said he learned practical lessons.

“Cassie and Logan are both a year ahead of me. They helped me the most in building the presentation and presenting the work,” Haver said.

But work doesn’t end when a design is selected. The hotel, restaurant and coffee shop logos will be used on signage, merchandise and collateral materials. Adapting the designs to new formats and configurations will require additional work. The students will continue to be involved and will be paid for the additional work.

“My classroom looks across at the hotel,” Hall said. “Four or five days a week, we’ll be looking at that building.”

InterNships: a test run

Internships can happen in several ways for CMU students, according to Vice President of Academic Affairs Kurt Haas, PhD. Sometimes an employer who has hired CMU graduates approaches the school with an idea for an internship or often a faculty member, student and employer work together to structure an internship.

Through CMU’s Career Services, students also have access to Handshake, an online resource that connects students with employers for internships and permanent jobs.

Julia Bremner wouldn’t describe her family as sports-obsessed, but some of her best memories are of watching sports with her father.

Bremner, who played volleyball and ran cross country at Grand Junction High School, didn’t think she could really work in ports. But the senior majoring in business administration and hospitality management said she changed her thinking when she attended her first NFL game.

She got a behind-the-scenes look and saw a bit of the business side at a Broncos game. “It looked like a dream job,” she said. “I started researching sports management.” In her sophomore year she added sports management as a minor.

“I applied for internships all over the country,” she said. “I learned late in the game about internships with the Grand Junction Rockies.” She applied and got the internships along with eight other CMU students, who started June 3 working every home game through September 3.

“You don’t realize how much goes on behind the scenes to get ready for a game,” Bremner said. Her responsibilities included managing game-day workers, setting up for ticket sales, making in-game announcements and helping with on-field entertainment.

She picked up skills that can’t be learned in a classroom: how to work in a fast-paced environment, coming up with quick solutions to customer issues and problem-solving when there’s no boss to consult.

Bremner learned she would love to work for the Grand Junction Rockies after graduation, for the Colorado Rockies or anywhere in the wider world of sports. She encourages fellow students to pursue an internship.

Computer information systems senior Macy Webb-Alexander has spent most of her life in western Colorado. She thought she’d like to move to Denver after graduation so what better test run than to complete a 10-week internship with Charter Communications, the telecommunications arm of Spectrum, in Denver?

“I learned so much about the telecommunications industry,” she said, and although that industry is quickly changing and may not be where she will place her focus after graduation, the opportunity allowed her to absorb big-picture truths about working in a large organization.

She knows she made valuable contacts and had the opportunity to impress with her skills. Perhaps most important, Webb-Alexander impressed herself. “This internship showed me how much I have already learned. I used to think I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t ready, but I was able to keep up with everyone.”


Digging in

For six weeks this past summer sophomore Nathan Mauser explored the possibility of a future focused on the past. As a participant in the archeology program’s summer field school, he found the experience frequently thought-provoking, sometimes exhausting and definitely fun.

The applied anthropology and geography major has taken several archeology classes and is considering it as a minor. So when the opportunity to spend part of the summer doing actual field archeology presented itself, Mauser dug in.

Led by Curtis Martin, lecturer of archeology, the 2019 field school of four students and two Golden Scholars (a program that allows community members 60 and older to audit CMU classes) worked in four sites throughout Mesa County.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) contacts CMU when possible ancient sites come to their attention. These sites require careful examination and documentation. One of this year’s projects was in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, a 123,400-acre area in Mesa County, west of Grand Junction.

“Our job was to mitigate the impact on thermal features, mostly firepits, that have been exposed,” said Martin. Traffic on the trails, mostly foot and horse traffic, digs deeper into the soil and exposes (ancient) hearths.”

The first clue an ancient firepit lies below the surface is usually black streaks of charcoal, burned wood, in the soil. Evidence found in and around ancient firepits can help archeologists attempt to answer hundreds of questions. How long did people stay in this particular spot? When were they here? Where were they coming from and where were they going? How many people were here? What did they do while they were here?

There’s something about field work that breaks down walls between students, between students and professors, and builds confidence, said Martin. “I saw Nathan (Mauser) settle into a quiet role in a supervisory capacity, watched him make decisions, become a kind of crew chief.”

Mauser also identified some life lessons learned in the field. “Nothing is going to be perfect like in a textbook. You learn to roll with the punches and go where the evidence takes you.”

A different tune

For nearly 20 years, summer has been the season of extraordinary piano music for Arthur Houle, DMA. He’s not listening to famous artists or honing virtuoso technique instead he is listening to piano music that is not perfect.

The venue is the annual Festival for Creative Pianists, a piano competition started by Houle in 2001. The festival came with him from Boise, Idaho, when he joined the CMU music faculty in 2006. After a few years in Grand Junction, the summer festival moved to Denver. He serves as artistic director and one of three festival directors who handle the event details.

“We encourage students of all experience and performance levels to participate,” Houle said. They must be 19-years-old or younger on the event’s start date, which was June 5 this year, and be among the first 40 to register online. The 2020 festival will expand to 50 contestants.

Houle has been involved in more traditional piano competitions, but he was troubled by what he calls “second prize syndrome.”

He wanted an event to encourage students rather than discourage them. “We award 40 first prizes, in 40 different areas,” he said.

This is not a classical music-only competition. Students are encouraged to play any type of music they wish. “We want to show that excellence comes in many forms.”

Houle wanted to design a festival that also addressed a wrong turn he feels music education has taken. “We’re taught that what’s on the page is what you play, and, of course, there are times when that’s appropriate,” he said. But many classical composers wrote variants, alternative ways of playing parts of their compositions, and improvisation was expected.

Not surprisingly, Festival for Creative Pianists contestants are encouraged to be creative, to embellish, to improvise in the style of the composer. Above all, Houle wants to encourage young pianists to continue to learn and play and have fun. It seems to be working, as one young contestant told him, “Finally, a festival that’s actually festive!”

The fall 2019 semester is well underway but the lessons and experiences from this past summer continue to influence students and faculty members educational and professional paths. •

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Written by Deborah Dawes