Now Here is Some Big News at Cowboy State's Smallest College

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Now Here is Some Big News at Cowboy State's Smallest College

Wyoming’s second four–year college of higher learning had an exciting weekend recently when its staff welcomed 52 new freshmen back to ground level after they spent three weeks bonding in the towering nearby mountains.

Wyoming Catholic College is entering its 15th year of existence and welcomed its 13th freshmen class during convocation and matriculation ceremonies Aug. 25-26.

The four-year Catholic school is unusual in many ways. One of the most unique is its expedition program. Each fall, all the incoming freshmen are expected to attend a 21-day wilderness expedition in the mountains. This year, teams attended the expeditions in the Wind River Mountains near Lander and the Teton Mountain Range outside of Jackson.

Another unusual aspect is that all the students take the same liberal arts-based curriculum through their four years at WCC. The program is based on the Great Books and on Catholic Theology.

A third unique aspect of the college is its horsemanship program. All students are encouraged to learn to ride and it is an integral part of their learning.

The student body now has 179 students who come from one end of the country to the other. The goal is to be at 200 students in a few years.

The school uses buildings all over Lander for its housing and activities. Main location is in downtown Lander where it leases three large two-story buildings. It also uses a classroom building that formerly housed students of Riverton’s Central Wyoming College. A former Legion Hall has been re-named Frassatti Hall and serves as a dining room and student union.

Most religious activities are at Holy Rosary Catholic Church and that parish’s religious education building.

The school does not participate in any federal student loan programs and refuses to be beholden to anything from the federal government. It survives on student tuition and a large national base of donors.

The idea of a four-year Catholic college in Wyoming was first mentioned by former Wyoming Bishop David Ricken, now of Green Bay, WI. He spoke of the idea during a summer program called the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought on Casper Mountain in 2005.

Ricken was joined by Casper College professor Dr. Robert Carlson and Casper priest Fr. Bob Cook in figuring out how to bring the school to reality.

They entertained 49 different statewide proposals of where to locate the college before settling on Lander, Wheatland, and Cody. The final choice was Lander, partially because a ranch was donated to the effort by Francey Mortensen, in memory of her late husband Chris. Chris Mortenson had been a prominent real estate developer in San Diageo and they had purchased their Lander ranch from Johnny and Jeanne Lee some years earlier.

The Lander community also raised $300,000 in donations, which a group called the Cornerstone Committee gave to the school with no strings attached. The local Knights of Columbus donated $100,000 of that total.

In 2007, the school had hired a small faculty and enrolled in its first class. It took just two years from its first public mention to where students were taking classes. On May 14, 2011, history was made when those 32 original students received the first diplomas from Wyoming Catholic College and Wyoming could honestly boast it now has two four-year college campus programs. The other being the University of Wyoming in Laramie, a Division One school with over 13,000 students.

Folks at the college are not shy about referring to some amazing coincidences (miracles?) or at least, answered prayers, which have occurred along its amazing journey to reality.

By 2011, with the help of millions of dollars in donations from more than 10,000 families across the country, the college achieved its destiny of providing high-quality education.

Without any alumni or even an established donor base to draw upon, the college succeeded because of thousands of people believing in the need for such an institution.
Fr. Cook, who was the first president of the college, liked to point out that although the first name of the college is Wyoming, it was truly a national college with students from 37 different states by 2011.

Although just about everything involving WCC is conservative in nature, what is provided for its students it what is called a “liberal, classical education” based on the Great Books.

Current president Dr. Glen Arbery says that all students take the same courses. “The goal is to provide at the end of four years a complete person, capable of independent thought and having the ability to be a leader as he or she heads off into the future,” he says. A large percentage of its students will go on to graduate school elsewhere.
From Day one, perhaps the most unique thing about the college, among many unique aspects, is its outdoor leadership program.

WCC originally teamed up with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Lander to provide an outdoor education course for incoming freshmen that educates them on the outdoors, teaches them leadership plus bonds them together as they continue their studies for four years. In recent years, the school had enough faculty and graduates that it now provides its own leaders for these expeditions.

President Arbery reminds that the college is always looking for donors. The college web site is and its mailing address is Box 750, Lander, WY 82520.

It is easy to write a column about the nuts and bolts of the college but the key thing anyone discovers when involved with WCC is the quality of the students.

My wife Nancy and I know these are the finest young people. Incredibly smart and pure of heart, they are almost impossibly optimistic. When you deal with these future leaders, you know the future is in good hands.

As a disclaimer, I should point out that I was on the original local committee that helped get it started.

This is a true Wyoming success story. This is the story of how a miracle can occur out on the frontier, even in pessimistic times.

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