Institute for Mountain Research

Westminster Expedition: The American West

Late next summer, on August 23rd, while most of the campus is trying to figure out where to go for the first day of classes, 16 students, Professor Jeff Nichols, Professor Brent Olson, and a program coordinator will load a suitcase, two books, a bunch of camping gear, and themselves into a couple of vans and a trailer. Instead of finding a seat in a classroom, we’ll hit the road on a grand tour of the American West.

Learn More About the Expedition


The Institute for Mountain Research will provide 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 will support thinking across disciplinary and political boundaries in order to foster conversations about the landscapes that are part of our lives. We will 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.

For more information, research reports and updates on IMR activities, please feel free to visit The Mountain Commons.



Jeff Nichols

Jeff is a native of upstate New York and is never going back. After serving as an antisubmarine warfare officer in the U.S. Navy, he earned his PhD in History at the University of Utah. His research interests include environmental, western, cultural, and Utah history. He began teaching at Westminster in 1995. He lives with his wife on the bank of Gordon Creek at the foot of Strawberry peak. They share the house with a dog, cats, and a parrot.

Brent Olson

Brent grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains but didn't really discover a love for the mountains until he spent a year and a half volunteering at a retreat center deep in the North Cascades. Since then he's spent time exploring the Rockies, the Adirondacks, the Central Cascades, the Southern Ghats, the Pyrenees, the Scottish Highlands, and his home mountains, the Wasatch. His research interests include political ecology, resource geography, environmental history, and cultural landscapes. When he's not teaching, reading, or writing, he's likely to be taking photos or exploring the world on a bike or a snowboard.

Westminster Faculty

  • Jonathan Amburgey—environmental psychology
  • Deyanira Ariza-Velasco—Spanish and Latin American studies
  • David Baddley—earth art
  • Matt Baker—environmental journalism
  • Frank Black—environmental biogeochemistry of trace metals
  • Dan Byrne—GIS
  • Rich Collins—environmental economics
  • Russ Costa—cognition, neuroscience, risk
  • David Goldsmith—paleontology
  • Leonardo Figueroa Helland—indigenous studies; political ecology
  • Carol Jeffers—medical anthropology
  • Matt Kruback—landscape and history of American landscape
  • Hikmet Loe—land art
  • Lance Newman—environmental literature
  • Tiffany Rivera—volcanology
  • Liz Rogers—Outdoor Education and Leadership
  • Gretchen Siegler—anthropology

Westminster Staff

  • Dylan Bidez, Asst. Coach Men's and Women's snowboarding
  • Jason Blauch, Outdoor Program Coordinator
  • Kendall Brown, Asst. Coach, Men's and Women's alpine skiing
  • Jaimi Butler, GSLI
  • Kerry Case, Environmental Center
  • Jeremy Elliot, Asst. Coach, Men's and Women's alpine skiing
  • Monica Ferreira, Environmental Center
  • Rick Hackford, Head Coach, Men's and Women's snowboard
  • Chris Hendrickson, Head Ski Coach
  • Gordon Perry, Asst. Coach, Men's and Women's alpine skiing
  • Julie Tille, Civic Engagement
  • Marc Weyerstall, Institutional Advancement
  • Tiana White, Outdoor Programs