Warner College instructor Rocky Coleman retires after 42 years of teaching

Colorado State University Instructor Rocky Coleman came to the University 42 years ago to teach forestry, but his love for the discipline began long before that in his childhood. In junior high school, Coleman was introduced to a book that would inspire his career.

“I grew up in the city in California, and I read this book called ‘The Forest Ranger,’ Coleman said. “I really like the background of where the story took place; there were trees involved in the forest, and just that was the beginning.”

Over four decades later, Coleman is set to retire from the Warner College of Natural Resources department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship on December 31, 2021. In his time at CSU, Coleman taught courses in geographic information systems, global positioning systems and forest ecogeography and dendrology, teaching thousands of students at both the CSU main campus and Mountain Campus.

Coleman cites the Mountain Campus as a particularly important place in his career at CSU for himself and his students.

“The mountain campus, it’s meant a lot. It’s like a third home away from home. I spent the last 30 years there teaching,” Coleman said. “The important thing about the Mountain Campus for the students is the experiential learning aspect of being able to get out of the field and measure things, learn the plants and the animals.”

Coleman said the mountain campus might be the thing he’ll miss the most

“I’ll miss just being in the outdoors, up there in that beautiful place with students who are engaged, happy to be there and may think those are the best times,” Coleman said.

A legacy of friends and students

Students and faculty alike have been impacted by Rocky’s dedication, humor and insight, said Wade Tinkham, assistant professor in the department of forest and rangeland stewardship.

“Working with Rocky has helped me gain perspective of where students are coming from throughout the different parts of our program,” Tinkham said. “What Rocky has brought to CSU and Warner College is a sense of levity to the atmosphere, never taking things overly seriously and making sure everybody’s enjoyed the process.”

Rocky retirement party
A group of students and friends pose at Coleman’s retirement party held on Thursday, December 9.

Students also found Coleman to be extremely knowledgeable about forestry albeit unconventional at times, said Amanda Hastings a graduate student at the Geospatial Centroid who has worked with Coleman. When she and other grad students and were having a debate about a tree on campus being either a limber pine or bristlecone pine, she knew Coleman would have the answer.

“I figured the best thing to do would be to pop into his office; however, he was on a ‘dendro walk’,” Hastings said. “I cycled on my bike and yelled to Rocky from afar. Sure enough, he knew which tree I was talking about without even looking. It was a bristlecone pine.”

While Rocky said he’s greatly enjoyed teaching countless students all things forestry for these four decades, he looks forward to retirement with excitement for what lies ahead—at least once the strangeness of leaving CSU wears off.

“It’s going to be kind of strange not coming here every day, but I think I can honestly say that I had a good run, and I had a good time,” Coleman said.

In his retirement, Coleman said plans to “enjoy not having to be anywhere,” spending time with his grandchildren, traveling and paying attention to some of his other interests.

Author Ben Beichrodt is a former student of Rocky Coleman who has written this piece and produced the video above as a tribute to Coleman’s great impact on him and many of his other students throughout the years.