CVU Grad Challenge draws near

Keri Berghan and Peter Wernhoff

Keri Berghan and Peter Wernhoff

By Rowan Beck

Spring has arrived. Crocuses burst from the ground and leaves slowly fill the trees. For seniors at CVU, April break has just concluded and the school year is winding to a close. Seniors are now putting the finishing touches on their Grad Challenges to be presented on May 24 this year.

The Grad Challenge began in 1994 gives each senior an “opportunity to design and carry out meaningful educational programs” with the aid of a faculty advisor and community consultant. During this process, they expand their learning beyond school walls and move out into the community. They may even find a future career path. The program is intense and reminiscent of one’s college senior thesis. Students put in anywhere from 20-45 hours of community work in various areas, followed by a lengthy paper and final presentation in front of three to six panelists comprised of students, faculty, and community members.

This year again there is a wide variety; everything from equine-embryo transfer to building a composite bow. Two Shelburne students happily shared their projects with us hoping to entice readers to become community panelists. Peter Wernhoff and Keri Berghan were able to demonstrate the variety of projects through the diversity of their own. Wernoff created “Into the Wild: Abandoning Society” while Berghan focused on Therapeutic Horseback Riding.

Wernoff was inspired by his American literature teacher while studying transcendentalists, Emerson and Thoreau. He decided he would focus on people’s dependency on electronic devices. He removed them from his life for four days and three nights while camping at Silver Lake, in the mountains near Ripton, Vt. He went into the woods like Thoreau did. Wernoff took little with him—only a loaf of bread, peanut butter, a water purifier, a book, and limited camping equipment. He left all modern conveniences behind, even his watch. He ate when he was hungry and slept when he was tired. While reading Walden Pond he heard a huge branch fall startling him, making him realize how alone he was. “ The nights were the hardest. That’s when paranoia would set in. I didn’t even want to look at a squirrel!” Wernhoff joked. Overall he enjoyed his experience and said that his Grad Challenge had been an “epic learning opportunity.”

Berghan on the other hand chose something vastly different. She volunteered at a local therapeutic horseback farm where she worked with horses and disabled children. She “locked onto her idea as a sophomore” and completed it during the summer prior to her senior year. “I chose to do my Grad Challenge over the summer because I was doing 45 hours and I wanted to be able to start and finish all my hours, while I would have a lot of free time.” She spent her summer learning how to “dress” a horse and how to work with riders with various levels of disabilities. She had a very “hands-on, interactive learning experience.” For her Grad Challenge, she had to be trained to handle a horse as well as to work with disabled children. Some of the kids that she worked with didn’t like to be touched due to their disability. “It was very rewarding. One kid was terrified to go but by the end he had a huge smile as he rode.”

Both students chose things that were outside their comfort zone for their Challenges. Neither are pursuing career paths in either area. Wernoff is going to be a Political Science major at the University of Colorado at Bolder and Berghan is planning on a career as a fashion buyer and photographer.

To learn more about CVU’s Grad Challenge or to see the vast variety of projects visit If you wish to be a panelist also go to CVU’s website tab academics, tab Grad Challenge or contact MaryAnne Gatos at Presentations will occur on May 24 and each presentation will be approximately 18 minutes including a brief question and answer session.

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