Mike Coons, Fort Lewis College class of 2004, was born to travel—and why wouldn’t he be? As the son of a pilot, Colorado was the fifth state Mike had lived in when he moved to Centennial just before his sophomore year of high school. When Mike sat down with his guidance counselor to decide where to go to college, however, he knew Colorado was a place he’d like to stay. “I wanted to go to college in the mountains,” says Mike. “Once I saw Fort Lewis, I knew it was where I wanted to be.”
Though Mike came to Fort Lewis for the outdoor lifestyle, he was pleasantly surprised by many other aspects of the college. “I loved the sense of community,” he says. “And the liberal arts piece helped me improve my people and communication skills. I came into my own at Fort Lewis.” Though he majored in computer science, Mike’s favorite professor was Dugald Owen, Associate Professor of Philosophy. “Dugald has this way of making you question your own thinking, and I loved that.”
After graduating in 2004, Mike simply couldn’t bring himself to leave Durango. He took a position at Durango-based Brainstorm Internet, and after just a year, was lucky enough to land a job in the IT department of his alma mater. Though he was happy where he was, in 2008, Mike applied on a whim to Centennial-based Raytheon Polar Services, which supports the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs (specifically, the U.S. Antarctic Program). Months later, he was called for an interview, and from there, things moved quickly. Mike resigned from Fort Lewis, and within a month was working on a research vessel in the Antarctic Ocean.
Today, Mike runs the information and data collection systems for two research ships, supporting scientists studying everything from plate tectonics to ocean currents to whales. “My role is technical, but we’re a small crew, so everybody pitches in,” says Mike. In January 2009, for example, Mike helped repair the scientists’ weather-beaten study shack on an island home to the largest penguin breeding colony in western Antarctica. When the job was done, he got to spend the day walking around with hundreds of penguins.
When he’s not cruising around the Antarctic, Mike is either working on the docked ships in Chile or in the Centennial office designing new ship instruments. Mike loves what he does, but admits that the job has one significant downside. “I really miss Durango,” Mike says. “It wasn’t easy to leave that place.” However, Mike eventually hopes to become a contractor, so that for the five months of the year that he is in the country, he can be based in the town he calls home.
Mike says his college experience was invaluable preparation for the role he plays today. “I got a lot out of my education—even things I didn’t expect,” Mike says. “The person I became at Fort Lewis is someone who is well-suited to do a crazy job like this. I have a passion for adventure, and Fort Lewis definitely fueled that.”