Welcome to the Institute for Mountain Research

Mountain Research
The Mountain Commons
5 min readAug 18, 2015


What We Aim For. Why it Matters.

Study Up

The Institute for Mountain Research at Westminster College


The Institute for Mountain Research provides a hub to coordinate and support interdisciplinary research and learning related to the cultural, economic, scientific and political facets of mountain landscapes and the people who live in them. We aim to encourage deep and abiding interests in the mountains, the people who live in and near them, and the connections between the two. The Institute supports thinking across disciplinary and political boundaries in order to foster conversations about the landscapes that are part of our lives. We strive to serve as a home for exploration, a refuge for reflection and thought, and a forum for community conversation.

Goals of the Institute

The Institute will develop a community that includes campus, regional, national and international learners. In order to further our understanding of mountain issues, the Institute will pursue five primary goals:

  • Developing innovative curricula to focus on mountain issues for student learning with opportunities to gain both broad and deep knowledge through fieldwork, internships, coursework, individual research, experiential learning, and community engagement.
  • Supporting undergraduate and faculty study of the diverse systems related to mountains and the people who live in them both locally and around the world
  • Practicing interdisciplinary and collaborative teaching and learning on Westminster’s campus and further afield
  • Promoting and distributing high-quality interdisciplinary research related to mountain landscapes to contribute to more informed and collaborative policy and outreach efforts
  • Fostering partnerships with mountain communities, businesses, educational programs, and organizations so that together we might learn to think like a mountain.

Looking Inward

Opportunities for Westminster students and the Institution as a whole

Programs of Distinction

This proposed Institute takes advantage of our unique setting, strengthens existing community and scholarly ties, and promises to build new ones. At heart, the questions raised by the economic, scientific, cultural, and political issues facing mountain landscapes are tightly woven together, demanding interdisciplinary research and collaborative thinking. Much of this work is already being done on the Westminster Campus and these ways of thinking are deeply connected to Westminster culture. The Institute will ground that work and offer an organizational structure to further it and link it to research beyond the college’s walls. Further, the Institute will combine student and faculty curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular interests under a banner of academic rigor, scholarly excellence, and a collaborative campus culture. We hope to challenge those who already spend time in the mountains and care deeply about them to think more rigorously about the range of issues pertaining to mountain landscapes. As importantly, however, we want to encourage new voices to engage in our conversations, inviting those who have not traditionally been involved in mountain issues into the discussion and into the mountains.

Campus Culture

The Wasatch Mountains to our east and the Oquirrhs to our west do much to shape our unique environment. This place has brought together faculty and students with an abiding and varied passion for mountains. The people engaged in research and learning at Westminster might look close to home and start asking questions and taking advantage of the perspective that mountains give us. Our vision, however, is not limited to the mountains nearby: our interests, care, and curiosity stretch around the world. The Westminster ideals of global awareness and engagement imply a concern for the common nature of these issues, from the mountains of Utah to the deep valleys of the Himalayas, the glaciers of the Andes, and the volcanic peaks of the Pacific islands.

Our location is not the only resource we bring to bear on these questions. As a small, tight-knit community of scholars we also bring with us a history of collaboration and interdisciplinary conversations. As faculty, students, and staff at Westminster we pride ourselves on thinking across disciplinary lines to find common pathways and challenge assumptions. Extending beyond the boundaries of the college, we have fostered lasting relationships that further question our academic perspectives and challenge us to ground our thinking in dynamic communities and connected ecosystems.

Westminster provides an ideal home for the Institute for Mountain Research because the mountains shape who we are and because we want to better know ourselves and the world around us. The Institute will create a place for scholars to share the results of their inquiries. The specific elements of the plan are still being worked out, but we anticpate that they will , include “fireside chats”, student fellows, guest lectures, online research reports, a thoughtful and vibrant social media presence, and an online journal. We look forward to collaborating with a wide range of individuals and organizations to foster interest in, and knowledge about the mountains of our world.

Curricular Innovation

Student learning lies at the heart of Westminster’s mission and at the center of the Institute. Meaningful student learning happens both within the curriculum and outside of it in research, fieldwork, internships,community engagement, partnerships with off-campus study providers, and experiential learning opportunities. We aim to seed the WCore curriculum with innovative interdisciplinary and cross disciplinary classes at each level of Westminster’s new liberal education program. These courses will allow students to explore mountain issues from a variety of different perspectives, gain disciplinary breadth and depth, and pursue ways of thinking that extend beyond their major while they pursue specific areas of interest and offer new pathways for interdisciplinary learning and collaboration. While there are already applicable courses on the books, additional courses may include: “The History and Geology of Mining,” “Recreation Economics and Entrepreneurship,” “Canyon Ecology,” “Mountain Cultures,” “Adventure Writing and Photography,” “High Altitude Physiology.”

Looking Outward

Global Engagement

Globally, mountain landscapes and the people who depend upon them are on the front lines of climate change and demand for resources. Ecosystems, indigenous ways of living, and entire local economies are threatened by these changes. But some mountain landscapes house thriving, sustainable cultures that have lasted centuries. An interdisciplinary approach to the study of mountain landscapes is critical at this time of profound change and in the face of problems that defy simple solutions. The Institute aims to further this international research and to connect Westminster students, faculty, and staff with organizations and institutions engaged in similar work around the world. This may include partnerships with the Nepalese Association of Utah, local ski resorts and outdoor industry associations, local and national land management agencies, outdoor retailers and corporations, off campus study providers, conservation organizations, and international organizations such as the Mountain Partnership.

It has been more than 65 years since Aldo Leopold first asked people to “think like a mountain.” The global, connected, and complex nature of these challenges demands that we take his suggestion seriously. We look forward to taking up that good work.

~The Directors: Brent Olson (@baolson) and Jeff Nichols (@elthehose)



Mountain Research
The Mountain Commons

The Institute for Mountain Research at Westminster College | Study Up