Science Story – August 2019

Go Outside and Play!

Your parents were right. It’s good for you to get out of the house. Besides, you can learn things. Just ask the Pre-K through high school kids that show up for our nature and science camps every summer. We take them to lots of cool spots at RMBL. They participate in hands-on activities. And they have a blast.

Ann Colbert is the education wizard behind our youth science camps. She’s the RMBL Youth Programs Manager, and a short chat with her will reveal just how much she loves sharing her passion for science, nature, and learning with young people. A certified elementary education and secondary science teacher, she grew up in Colorado and, as she remembers, “I played a lot outside.” Ann’s family lived close to the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, so she had a huge natural playground.

She worked at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. That’s where the seed was planted for her life-long enthusiasm for science and education. While working as a program director for the Walking Mountain Science Center, modeled after the renowned Teton Science Schools, she met her husband Travis, a coffee roaster. When he began searching for another place to open a coffee shop, she lobbied for Gunnison, hoping to explore career opportunities at RMBL.

Now in her fifth summer here, she is amazed at how RMBL’s youth camps have grown.

In fact, the programs are reaching a critical mass. The science camps began in the 1980s, and by 2000, enrollment numbers were growing. But only the youngest learners (ages four to seven) were participating. That’s how it was when Ann started. Since then, she and colleagues have built upon the youth program’s long and successful heritage, inventing new programs that extend the learning to high schoolers and beyond. Now, RMBL summer science camps are operating at capacity (roughly 300 students). During the school year the program serves 450 more youth from area public and private schools.

Science campers from Pre-K to high school explore the natural world around Gothic, do experiments, and investigate a universe of living species. Nature Camp sparks the curiosity of younger elementary student with queries like: “Why is the sky blue?” and “Why are plants green?” In the upper elementary Science Camp, students learn about the scientific process by actually doing field science connected to RMBL scientists. Project Eco-STEM puts students from grades six to eight face to face with professionals working in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). The camp also takes students on field trips outside of Gothic for broader adventures.

High school students and graduates can take the Introduction to Field Biology course, which allows them to earn high school and college credits. Even beyond high school, RMBL offers courses for undergraduates where students can actually do intensive mountain field studies with individual research projects while working with a mentor. The beauty of RMBL’s education programs is the wide variety of science topics available — the better to capture more imaginations. Students who graduate from the high-school courses often end up volunteering to help scientists with field research. In all the education programs, Ann says, “we’re growing the K-12 education pipeline to train future scientists.”

She’s optimistic about the opportunities that will open up with RMBL’s second campus. In the meantime, she stays busy inventing new programs for all ages. And she stays passionate. “I love seeing them grow and become independent,” she says. “They’re considering how we use natural resources. They’re thinking deeply about problems. They’re discovering how our world works so they can ultimately take care of it.”

As the seeds of discovery are germinating in their young minds, students are flourishing under the contagious enthusiasm of educators like Ann. After all, she’s one of them. “I love it when students are curious,” she says. “I’m curious, too. I ask a lot of questions. And I like to play.”


Ann Colbert is the RMBL Youth Programs Manager. She has a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources from Colorado State University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Colorado College. Ann has worked as a teacher, field instructor, and program director for public schools, natural resource agencies, and nonprofit environmental organizations in the Rocky Mountains.