A new tradition helps first-year students reflect about their DU journey

It’s not every year we get to celebrate the start of a new University of Denver tradition. But this fall, our first-year and incoming transfer students are the inaugural cohort to take their First Ascent to the James C. Kennedy Mountain Campus (KMC). Over the course of two nights and three days, these students are immersed in four-dimensional learning and experiences. They meet new friends, engage with a 4D peer mentor and enjoy outdoor adventures. First Ascent also gives students dedicated time and space to reconnect with themselves after a busy start to the year and reflect on all they want to get from their DU journey. 

My wife, Maurin, and I took our own First Ascent to get to know the newest members of our community. I can report firsthand that this experience is proving to be as meaningful and memorable as we hoped. As soon as students get off the bus and head to the dining hall, the crisp mountain air is filled with laughter and giddy excitement. And it’s hard not to be inspired. The Kennedy Mountain Campus at this time of year is stunning and full of autumnal color. During dinner, students sit in groups with many meeting for the first time. Witnessing friendships being made in real time affirmed for me the central role the Kennedy Mountain Campus plays in the 4D Experience—particularly in well-being. There, students experience a unique setting to make the social connections we know are critical to ensuring they thrive at DU. I was particularly moved by one student who told me that when she later spotted fellow “First-Ascentians” on the Denver campus, it made DU feel more like home. That is a special kind of magic.

Over the course of our time at the KMC, Maurin and I watched the students enjoy meditation, creative arts, and testing their leadership skills and courage on the high ropes course and rock wall. We also observed focused 4D learning sessions, led by our skilled staff, where students reflected on what they want out of their education and experiences at DU. It was fascinating to listen to the conversations and gratifying to hear that they were appreciative of the opportunity to “think ahead.” These students, the first cohort for the 4D Experience at KMC, are off to a great start.

Here in Colorado, we know the great outdoors and the Rocky Mountains nourish and challenge, excite and inspire. Many students choose DU because we offer an exceptional education, engaged and passionate professors, and a truly holistic 4D Experience where students grow and learn across all their dimensions—all so they can leave DU with a valuable degree and so much more. Our students are incredibly hardworking, creative and passionate. They come to DU ready to build their knowledge and skills. They come ready to discover how their interests, values and dreams can help them thrive and serve the public good. As I saw over the weekends I spent with them at First Ascent, the Kennedy Mountain Campus is an incredible way for students to discover just how the 4D Experience prepares them for the meaningful careers and lives of purpose they desire—and how it helps them find a place for themselves in the DU community. 

I look forward to all the ways First Ascent will evolve into a beloved tradition, drawing students from all walks of life to DU because they know that, here, we are thinking big about what students need in the classroom and
beyond. I’m already looking forward to “ascending” again next fall.

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