Q&A with new Outdoor Programs Office director Katie Colleran

Colleran joined the College in mid-August after previous roles in student outdoor engagement at Harvard University and Duke University.

by Adriana James-Rodil | 9/15/22 5:00am

Source: Courtesy of Katie Colleran

Katie Colleran began her new position as director of Outdoor Programs at the College on August 15, according to an announcement from the College. Before taking on this role, she worked as the assistant dean of students for student engagement at Harvard University and as Duke University’s associate director for their center for leadership development and social action. The Dartmouth sat down with Colleran to discuss her goals for the future of the Outdoor Programs Office and how she hopes to build student involvement.

What led you to a career in outdoor programming?

KC: I was really led to my career because I love working with students. I love connecting them to their passions and things that really excite them. For me, that is the outdoors. Personally, I find the outdoors to be a really transformative, peaceful place. I wanted to be able to do a job where I get to take students into that space and connect them with their passions and interests. 

How did your experience at Harvard prepare you for your new role? 

KC: My job at Harvard was very different than this one — but not in a bad way. I think one of the things that really prepared me for this role in particular was my job at Harvard because it was the first time I was really doing a lot of facilities management. People might not know this about outdoor programs at Dartmouth, but we oversee a lot of facilities. We have the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, we have cabins and we oversee the Second College Grant. Working with facilities at Harvard helped prepare me for that. I was in charge of our student organization center at Harvard, we had a campus pub that we oversaw, so all those different moving facility pieces. My job at Harvard was also the first time I was overseeing a really large team of people that were doing a lot of different things. 

How have the first few weeks of the role been?

KC: They’ve been so fun. I started at a really, really great time because I started right ahead of First-Year Trips. I think I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I have heard so many things about First-Year Trips and what a pinnacle experience it is for first-years, so to be able to get to see it was awesome. 

When you’re a new professional at a job you have all this onboarding staff. My supervisor and other colleagues understood First-Year Trips were going on, and they kind of paused all of that for me so that I could fully immerse myself in First-Year Trips and be a part of it. It was so much fun. I got up to the Skiway five different times so I got excited about wintertime and getting up there again.

What are some areas of OPO that you’re hoping to improve? 

KC: We have a mission of transforming outdoor experiences for all students, and I think what I’m really interested in is focusing on that “all” piece. When I was here for my interview, I was talking about getting some actual data around who participates in outdoor programming. I heard very anecdotally that we are missing different target audiences of Dartmouth students in our programs, and I’d love to really dig into how we could better connect with all students. I want to make our programs more accessible, making sure that there are a wide variety of things so that students don’t feel like they need to come in with all this outdoor experience to participate. 

We had a great variety in First-Year Trips: We offered Nature and Writing, where you could go to a cabin and write poetry, and that is an outdoor experience. Being able to say that there is such a variety in what we do and what you might be interested in is what I really want to make sure students know. 

Do you have any primary goals for your first month? How about your first year or two?

KC: My first month was definitely just getting to know more of the team and the programming and the students. I think the first year surrounds that deep data dive I mentioned about student participation. I want to do some focus groups with students and look at that data to see how we can better inform our programming. I’m really interested in taking a good look at all of our facilities. We do have some deferred maintenance on a lot of the different spaces we manage, so we need to check out some of those projects. 

How do you hope to build student involvement in OPO? How about female and minority involvement?

KC: I really just believe representation matters. I am trying to get out to meet all the DOC subclubs, like People of Color Outdoors and the Viva Hardigg Club and trying to interact with them and help. If they’re seeing a gap in participation or are looking for different students that they want to pull in, I can help address those issues and needs. I think part of that, too, is working with our campus partners who already worked with those student populations to sort of see what kind of programming we could provide that would be really helpful.