Interview with Andrew Miller, Program Manager for Cottonwood Institute.
What does your organization do and how long have you been around?
Since 2004, Cotttonwood Institute has been transforming the way we empower Colorado Front Range students to be leaders and problem-solvers. We collaborate with schools and youth organizations to provide high-quality, impactful environmental education programs that inspire youth to make change in their communities.
What specific programs, practices, or priorities is your organization most focused on right now on? How have these evolved over time?
Like everyone else, we’re adapting our programs to better fit the needs of the communities we serve during the pandemic. We would love to be out in the field with our students, but until we can do that safely we’ve been offering online and remote programs so students can get off their screens and spend some time outside, reconnecting to the natural world. This year has also given us a great opportunity to connect with new community partners and think about ways we can adapt the things we do well to fit the needs they have right now. It’s been a fun challenge to reimagine some of our programs and I think we’ll come out of this stronger for having done so.
In what ways does being part of The Alliance Center community help you achieve your mission?
Collaboration is everything for us. Nearly all of our programs culminate with an Action Project, in which students choose an environmental issue in their community and then design and implement their own solution. We are always looking for partner organizations to support students’ learning and efforts on their chosen projects. Also, we are looking to develop relationships with private land owners near the Front Range to provide land access for our programs in exchange for environmental stewardship projects.
What is something you bring to The Alliance Center that no one else does?
During COVID, we’ve adapted our award-winning school programs into various new online, in-person, and hybrid formats. We would love to bring these programs to your school, learning pod, or community organizations in your neighborhood. We can also collaborate on grants to fund these and other educational programs for students that need them.
What does success look like for you as it relates to sustainability and your organization’s mission?
We believe that students can’t be expected to care about the environment if they never have a chance to explore the outdoors. Our hope is that by exposing our students to the incredible environments of the Front Range, we can inspire them to become environmental stewards for the rest of their lives. Our programs provide a jumping off point, but we always hope to see our students continuing to find ways to make change long after they leave us.
What is your proudest achievement as an organization?
It all comes down to the things our students achieve. We give out the Ripple Effect Award every year to two students who demonstrate exceptional leadership in our programs and inspire their classmates. You can read about our past winners, including 2020 honorees Sawyer Wilson and Anayansi Barrera Martinez here.
Why did your organization choose the Alliance over other working spaces?
We chose The Alliance Center over other coworking spaces because it is the sustainability hub in the Denver area, it is centrally located, and we can commute in using public transit via Union Station.