Divide Native Wins Western Colorado’s Most Prestigious Alumni Award

Matthew Harris Recognized as One of Only Seven Recipients in 2024


This week, Matthew Harris of Divide will receive Western Colorado University’s highest honor for graduating seniors at an awards ceremony on Friday, May 3.


As one of only seven recipients of the 2024 Alumni Award for Excellence. Harris, a Divide native, who lived in the area for 18 years, will join the ranks of some of Western’s most distinguished alumni.  In addition, he will be remembered for his contributions to the campus community.


“This event truly exemplifies and celebrates the unique bond created between our faculty and students made possible by the care, dedication, and inspiration our intimate classroom environment offers,” Western’s Vice President for Advancement, Mike LaPlante, said. “This connection is what makes Western truly transformative, so we take the opportunity to honor and commemorate this at the Alumni Awards for Excellence.”


For the last 27 years, members of Western’s Alumni Advisory Council have met each spring to consider the nominations of students from every department. The committee’s goal is to find the most select group of nominees who have spent their time on campus committed to being the best version of themselves and exemplify what it means to be a Mountaineer.


In May, Harris will graduate Summa Cum Laude with a Master of Science in Ecology from Western’s Clark Family School of Environment and Sustainability. After graduation, he plans to continue his work as a park ranger for the Bureau of Land Management’s Gunnison Field Office.

“Receiving this award is a recognition of my contribution to the Western and, more broadly, Gunnison communities,” Harris said. “Over the years, it has been a pleasure to work with many friends and wonderful mentors in the pursuit of new knowledge and improving equity through providing renewable energy to those in greatest need.”

Unlike the Latin honors granted on graduation day, the Alumni Award for Excellence (AAE) doesn’t only reward a high GPA, although an outstanding academic record is necessary for consideration. Instead, the award is a reward for students willing to give their time and talents to make Western an exceptional community.


While at Western, Harris competed on the freeride ski team for two years and was a founding member and vice president of the Western Solar Society. The Society’s mission is to educate the public about renewable energy and engage with the community to promote the adoption of renewable sources of energy.


“The Alumni Awards for Excellence celebrates our most outstanding graduates while also recognizing the faculty and staff who inspired and motivated them,” LaPlante said. “Matthew is a great example of the kind of student we want to honor with this award.”

 As for his ties to Teller County and Divide, Harris stated that, “I lived in Divide my whole life before moving to Western (College). I have a special tie to the mixed conifer forests on the backside of Pikes Peak, specifically Mueller State Wildlife Area. I have also been intrigued by the Hayman burn scar since I was a kid, as you could see the fire from my house, and I spent many days exploring the barren hills in the years following the fire.”