The long and often unpredictable roadways of Wyoming had changed Troy Archuleta’s fate. Wedged in the driver’s seat of his 2006 Toyota Camry, miles from anywhere and without cell service to share his plight, Archuleta grumbled as the chances dwindled of keeping every appointment on his busy schedule.
All he could do was watch out the windshield as a bizarre scene unfolded in front of him.
A Wyoming native who has experienced all the bitterness that winter has to offer, Archuleta was no stranger to a whiteout. But this one was different. The skies were clear. The winds were calm. There wasn't any snow. "I came around the corner," he says, recalling one of his most memorable trips across the worn asphalt trails that link the far-flung towns of southwestern Wyoming, "and there was just a wall of sheep."
The University of Wyoming's longstanding commitment to educational outreach, a pledge that dates to the late 1880s, when some professors rode on horseback from Laramie to surrounding settlements to teach classes, isn’t without obstacles. But neither rain nor sleet nor snow—not even a herd of way ward wooly mammals—will stop UW in its quest to provide opportunities for learners in the farthest reaches of this place we call home.
The UW Outreach School, anchored today by the UW/Casper College Center (UW/CC Center) in the heart of the state and six strategically placed regional centers, has long carried out one of the university’s most important missions—whether that has meant sending professors on Union Pacific passenger trains in the early 1900s, flying professors to and fro in the 1930s and 1970s or enhancing technological infrastructure in recent years to deepen the educational experience of site-bound students.
If you can’t come to the University of Wyoming, the University of Wyoming will come to you.
“Wyoming needs well-educated citizens and workers, and we are committed to serving students wherever they live and want to learn,” says Maggi Murdock, dean of the Outreach School and associate provost for academic affairs. “The university’s commitment to the state is real. That commitment stretches from the Board of Trustees and the university administration, to the faculty who teach courses delivered statewide, to the staff that supports all UW students’ learning.
“We believe in this statewide commitment, because it’s clear that we have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives and in the vitality of our communities.”
The future of the university’s outreach is bright, too.
The UW/CC Center will move next year into a spectacular, 95,000-square-foot building being constructed centrally on the Casper College campus, and UW is progressing on plans for new facilities to house its regional centers in Cheyenne and Sheridan.
The Outreach School also has partnered with UW’s International Programs Office to enhance the university’s international learning opportunities for students across the state.
“UW is a land-grant institution, and that means our mission is to reach into the whole state and provide educational opportunities for all people,” says John Kambutu, a Casper-based associate professor who serves as chair of the UW Department of Educational Studies. “We have a campus here. We have centers in Cheyenne, Sheridan, Rock Springs, Jackson and other places. We’re very visible across the state, and I believe that’s proof of our commitment to the land-grant mission.
“We’re not the University of Laramie,” he says. “I think it’s very clear that we’re the University of Wyoming.”
It’s a brisk February morning in Rock Springs. The radiant rays of the sun gleam in the blue sky and a light breeze blows in the air as Troy Archuleta makes the familiar
trek from his office on the campus of Western Wyoming Community College to his second office.
A large cup of coffee in his right hand, his fuel for the road, Archuleta walks into the parking lot in search of his trusty maroon Camry. The four-door sedan has carried Archuleta more than
80,000 miles over the past five years while zigzagging Carbon, Sweetwater, Uinta, Lincoln and Sublette counties.
Inside his car, Archuleta buckles the clasp of his seatbelt and calls out, “Let’s go!”
If there’s anybody who epitomizes the University of Wyoming’s commitment to outreach, it’s this man.
A 1999 UW graduate whose family roots in Rock Springs stretch across five generations, Archuleta may log more miles than any university employee to fulfill his job as academic coordinator at the Southwest Regional Center.
“I think our biggest challenge is making sure everybody knows we’re here,” says Archuleta, who travels up to 10 days each month to meet with UW distance learners and prospective students in Afton, Evanston and Pinedale, among other places. “I hear from people who say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know we could get a bachelor’s degree without going to Laramie.’ They can, not only here but at any of the regional centers.
As Archuleta guides his rolling office along Interstate 80 and White Mountain fades into the distance, he says, “The priority is students and, particularly, the students in the state of Wyoming.”
Through the use of innovative distance education technology—including audio, video and web conferencing, online web-based platforms, podcasts and streaming video, as well as on-site instruction in some locations—the UW Outreach School offers nine undergraduate degree programs, 12 graduate degree programs, two doctoral degree programs and 14 certificate and endorsement programs through its network of regional centers. Enrollment has increased each of the past five academic years, peaking at 2,608 full and part-time students in spring 2012.
The outreach offerings are especially critical to non-traditional students, many of whom have jobs and families and are unable or unwilling to move to Laramie to pursue their educational desires. “I like that I can do my whole program through outreach, that I don’t have to go to the Laramie campus at all. The convenience works for me so well,” says Joel Schroeder, an elementary school art teacher in Green River who is finishing his master’s degree in Rock Springs. “I like the video conferencing classes, because you do actually get to see other people and I think that makes you feel like you’re part of a class.
“What I learn is equal to being in a classroom,” he says. “There is something lost in the experience, compared to being in a room full of people, but there’s nothing lost in the education.” In Casper, Kira Barnett admits she feared her dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher would be sidetracked unless she uprooted her family and moved to Laramie.
“But then I found out I could get my bachelor’s degree through UW, and that changed everything for me,” says Barnett, a mother of two young children who has lived in Casper for eight years after growing up in Kemmerer. “I want to be a successful person for my kids, I want them to see me have a career, and I want to give them a good life. To know that I didn’t have to move, that I could continue my education right here at UW/CC, has been an amazing thing for me.
“I think it’s like that for a lot of people,” she says. “They don’t have to uproot their families. They can stay right here and seek the same level of education as they would at Laramie or another university out of the state. Everything is right here, and I’m thankful for that.”
Well, almost everything.
“You just don’t have the football games and the basketball games,” says Drew Zwieg, who left Laramie after high school to pursue a degree in technical education, a program offered only in Wyoming at the UW/CC Center.
“But there’s still the same level of pride. You still wear your UW gear, your hoodies and your hats.”
The traveling conditions on I-80 couldn’t be more ideal this morning. The roads are clear of ice and snow. The wind has found another place to blow. The traffic is light but for the occasional tractor-trailer.
If only it was always this easy for Troy Archuleta, the traveling man who has come to expect the unexpected on the Wyoming highways.
“Cattle drives have slowed me down,” he says. “And, I don’t know, do you call it a sheep drive?”
Archuleta takes a peek at his rearview mirror and continues to share. “Right outside of Laramie, I saw a semi trailer blow over in the road.”
As a car passes on the left, Archuleta remembers another odd encounter. “Near Kemmerer one time, they were moving a house on a two-lane road. I couldn’t get around it,” he says, chuckling. “You don’t expect to see that, let alone between Kemmerer and nowhere.” Still, Archuleta has it easier than the UW professors who climbed into Fred Wahl’s biplane in the 1930s to fly to various locations around the state to teach mid-day classes before a nighttime flight back to Laramie.
The roads Archuleta travels are paved, not the narrow dirt trails that UW professors likely navigated aboard horses in the years after the university’s founding in 1886.
Then there’s the greatest advantage of all—for Archuleta and for every UW outreach coordinator and educator.
“Technology has deconstructed the spatial boundaries of the past,” says Kambutu, the UW/CC Center professor who leads a department that’s headquartered more than two hours away on the main campus. “There was a time when I first started here that I would travel to Laramie for meetings. But, now, I don’t have to do that anymore.
“The faculty used to travel to remote sites to teach. They’d hop in a car, drive four hours, five hours. Or they would fly to different sites,” he says. “But, now, with technology, we can teach anybody from anywhere.”
Wyoming’s university might be based in Laramie. But UW has a presence everywhere—from the shadows of the Big Horn Mountains in Sheridan and Campbell counties to the Wind River Indian Reservation in Fremont County—in a state that some describe more simply as one big community with especially long roads.
“The main campus doesn’t forget about the rest of the state, and it never has,” says Richard Ward, a UW graduate who works as academic coordinator at the Southeast Regional Center in Wyoming’s capital city. “The university understands that we live in a large state, that not everybody can or wants to live in Laramie, and they’re trying to look out for everybody.
“This is a university that has always been so student-centered,” he says. “I like that we don’t want every student to drive over the summit or uproot their lives to get an education. They can come to our
campus in Cheyenne or another regional center, or even work on their own home computer, and still get a degree.”
With pride sparkling in his eyes, Ward smiles and adds, “I like that. I like when we take care of our own.”