The Institute for Mountain Research provides 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. The institute aims 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 supports thinking across disciplinary and political boundaries in order to foster conversations about the landscapes that are part of our lives, and strives 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 its understanding of mountain issues, the institute will pursue 5 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 institute activities, please feel free to visit the institute's blog, The Mountain Commons.

Meet the Directors

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.



Presented by the Institute for Mountain Research at Westminster University, the Mountain Story Podcast will share the stories of people who live, work, and play in the mountains. 

Westminster Expedition: The American West

For the Westminster Expedition, instead of finding a seat in a classroom, students hit the road on a grand tour of the American West. Faculty members Jeff Nichols (history professor) and Brent Olson (environmental studies associate professor) load the students, books, and camping gear into vans for a semester-long journey through which students earn credits in courses while visiting iconic, protected sites, contentious places, working landscapes, and communities from present-day Native nations to "New West" towns. This journey into the field allows students to learn directly from landscapes and ecosystems, as well as from the people who live, work, and study in those places, developing a breadth and depth of experiential knowledge that is equipped to build a better future for the West.

LEARN MORE ABOUT Westminster Expedition