Western alum credits school for success

Sean Prentiss

When new students come to Western, many are captivated by the beautiful mountain ranges, taken by the welcoming community and staff, and eager for the endless adventures that await. It has and always will be this way. 

Sean Prentiss was one of those students. When visiting his brother, who was enrolled at Western, Prentiss fell in love with the valley and the experiences to be had.  "Western cultivates that experience of adventure and risk taking."  He would later transfer from his east coast college to Western and graduate in 1994 with a degree in Business Management.

Prentiss admits that business was never something he really wanted to pursue.  However, thought it would be a safe bet, considering his parents and brother were in the field.  "I really studied it because that was what my family did. While I enjoyed it, I never really was a business person." His degree came in handy while serving in the Peace Corps in Kingston, Jamaica. In addition to handing out $300 dollar loans to inner city residents of Kingston; Prentiss took a second job creating a business plan with Blue and John Crow National Park.  It was through that experience he realized, melding business with his love for the environment was possible.  "It allowed me to see that I wanted to transition from business for the sake of profit, to environmental work, while still using what I learned to help."

His passion for the environment stemmed from a childhood growing up in Pennsylvania, where Prentiss spent time along the Delaware River. His mother instilled the idea that one should not just love the place they live in, but protect it as well. He began to love his home ground as if it was a family member.  "So maybe another definition of environmentalism, in my eyes, is protecting family and home," explained Prentiss.  Prentiss is still active in environmentalism, whether it be building trails with various conservation corps or just spending time outside. 

Aside from that, Prentiss is an award winning author and professor. He is an associate professor of writing at Norwich University. His book "Finding Abbey: A Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave" won the 2015 National Outdoor Book Award.  He is also the co-author of "Environmental and Nature Writer: A Craft Guide and Anthology."  But writing for a living was not ever on his radar, he admitted he came upon it "very accidently."

When Prentiss went off to college, his mother encouraged him to write in a journal every single day. He said, for the most part he did, but confesses that it was boring, and probably the worst writing one could ever read. However, he still continued to write everyday.  Years after gradating college, a friend read Prentiss' journal that he kept during a backpacking trip. The friend was impressed, and pushed Prentiss to try to publish it. And pushed, and pushed. After a year or so, Prentiss gave in and sent it to a magazine in Durango. To his surprise, it was published. 

He never took any creative writing courses. Something he now regrets, especially after going to graduate school in Idaho, where he studied creative writing.  "I taught myself as a creative writer for eight years and then I went to grad school. In one semester I learned so much more than that eight years," Prentiss recalled. "I would have loved to learn more at Western."  As Prentiss wrote more and more, he noticed that the environment and nature would have a strong presence in his work.  He melded his life long passion for the environment and his new found love of writing, and would eventually become the award winning author he is today. 

Even after career changes, graduate school, and moving back to the east coast, Prentiss credits Western for his love of adventure and leading him on a path of success. He sees it in himself, his alumni friends, and the students of today.  "There's something about the smallness, something about risk taking, something about the isolation, something about the adventurous spirit there that allows Western grads to not just excel, but excel in these really unique and fun ways."

Prentiss' mark on Western continues to grow. In the Fall 2015 semester, Prentiss taught a class as a visiting professor. His niece, Danielle Book, was a student in his class. Book will be a sophomore next year.   Prentiss hopes to point more family members Western's way for years to come. "Who knows which one of us will send someone there [Western] next," Prentiss said of his family. "They get a good education and a great experience out in that beautiful country." 

For more information on Prentiss, visit his website. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016 - 3:45pm