Chris Castilian’s winding career leads him back to DU
When he thinks about the number 180, Chris Castilian isn’t thinking about mileage on his mountain bike or a half rotation on his skis. Instead, the fourth-generation Coloradan uses it to define his winding career path.
“I am 180 degrees opposite of where I thought I’d be in life,” he said with a laugh. “But I’ve certainly enjoyed the journey to get here.”
The reality is that Castilian’s career is somewhat of a 360, as he returns to the University of Denver as the newly appointed senior executive director of the new Leadership in Outdoor Recreation Industry (LORI) program, which sits within the Daniels College of Business.
Castilian’s professional career began on the University’s campus where, in 1993, he graduated from the Sturm College of Law with a juris doctorate. He had targeted a career as a prosecutor before a quick pivot landed him a lobbying job in the natural resources and environmental field.
In the lobbying sector, Castilian developed a passion for the outdoors and found unique ways to further explore that career path. He’d go on to serve as the deputy chief of staff for former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, in leadership roles with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, serving as chair of the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission, and, eventually, in a perspective-altering position as executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).
Appointed by former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Castilian was tasked with granting over $68 million per year of lottery revenues toward Colorado’s parks, wildlife, open spaces and local governments. Among the many grants the organization handed out, Castilian said he was most proud of Generation Wild, which worked with local organizations around Colorado helping to get kids outside.
“We really focused on opportunities to break down barriers for underrepresented populations around the state so they could have the same, simple experience that many of us have had – enjoying the great outdoors around Colorado,” he said.
For one coalition in Leadville, this meant working with the school district and county health department to help children gain an understanding of how to enjoy the outdoors. GOCO partnered Get Outdoors Leadville (GOL) and Colorado Mountain College to create curriculum and support a gear library in Leadville, where young people and their families could check out anything from sleeping bags to snowboards. GOL also created inclusive programming that educated local youth on the basics of enjoying their “backyard” of national forests and Colorado’s highest peaks.
“GOL really gave the kids the confidence to get outside,” he said.
Now, back at the University of Denver, Castilian is ready to continue his work, inspiring the next generation of leaders in the outdoor recreation industry.
The new interdisciplinary LORI program will feature coursework from Daniels, the Sturm College of Law and the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. The launch of this program was made possible through the generous support of The VF Foundation, which is granting more than $3 million over three years to support initial operating costs, curriculum development, as well as scholarships for diverse candidates. This multiyear grant represents the single largest contribution made by The VF Foundation.
The program is launching in May. Its first cohort includes employees from Aspen Ski Company. Students will have the opportunity to complete two 16-credit graduate certificates: A Graduate Certificate in Outdoor Recreation Industry Business targets individuals who are new to the outdoor industry, or those who have operational jobs in the industry and are looking to transition to more business-oriented roles. A Graduate Certificate in Outdoor Recreation Industry Leadership targets experienced individuals looking to expand their leadership roles in the industry.
Castilian is most excited about the program’s potential impact on diversity in the outdoor space, something he said it desperately needs.
“With my experience and background, we’re really looking to diversify this outdoor industry workforce,” he said. “We’re trying to identify what we can do to help people get into this pathway who may not have otherwise found these opportunities.”
Castilian said LORI is perfect for students looking to grow in their current outdoor-focused organization or those interested in branching into a new career, just like the program’s director did. If there’s one thing he’s learned over his traversing career, it’s flexibility.
“Be open minded about what that next opportunity looks like,” he said.