CMC Steamboat’s Jimmy Westlake retires with ‘stellar’ teaching honors |

CMC Steamboat’s Jimmy Westlake retires with ‘stellar’ teaching honors

Retiring Colorado Mountain College professor Jimmy Westlake says this photo is his favorite self-portrait, taken at Arches National Park in 2009. Westlake, who has taught physical sciences for the Steamboat Springs campus and online, was recently honored as the colleges' online, full-time Faculty of the Year for the college.

Jimmy Westlake has retired from his longtime role as professor of astronomy and chemistry at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs with recognition as the college's full-time online faculty member of the year.

But Westlake, who for many years has penned a column on seasonal celestial events for Steamboat Today, isn't about to retire his longtime practice of introducing the community to the wonders of the cosmos through telescope viewing events.

"I'm working on some musical star programs, blending my love of the stars with my love of playing the guitar and singing," Westlake wrote in an e-mail this week.

Westlake said that as an online teacher, who doesn’t have face-to-face meetings with his students, he has learned how important it is to keep them engaged and on schedule. 

"Because there is so much one-on-one interaction with online learners, I actually get to know some of my distance learners better than my traditional learners," Westlake said. "I've found that online learners are generally very motivated and self disciplined."

Another challenge he has overcome from teaching science classes online is how to take the laboratory to his students.

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"I have developed an astronomy lab kit, so that each student has the same equipment to use in their home — a telescope kit, spectrometer and light sources, orbit charts and star charts," Westlake said. "My goal has always been to make my online class experience equivalent to that of my traditional classroom experience."

However, it's time for Westlake to leave the laboratory behind.

"In retirement, Linda and I are going mobile,” Westlake said. “We have a 40-foot fifth wheel RV and diesel truck to pull it. We'll spend the fall and winter months down in Georgia close to our children and grandchildren and then we'd like to work in the national parks during the spring and summer months."

Over the past 10 years, Westlake has led seven student groups from CMC to the Big Island of Hawaii and always wished he could take his adult children and grandchildren there.

Earlier this month, nine members of the extended Westlake family spent 10 days in Hawaii where they experienced multi-colored beaches, hot lava, coqui frogs, coffee mills and macadamia nut farms. They jumped off the cliff at South Point, witnessed the green flash of the setting sun and plucked fresh mangoes from the tree.

They even went snorkeling with Hawaii's state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapua.

And of course there was constellation gazing to be done  – Jimmy pointed out the Southern Cross and Alpha Centauri to his grandchildren.

So, don't be surprised if the Westlakes end up working a season at Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park in their retirement years. 

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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