Sean Prentiss

Sean Prentiss backpacks through the desert

Western alum credits school for success 

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

Sean Prentiss was one of those students. He thought he would just be visiting his brother one spring break at Western, but instead he fell in love with valley and the experiences it offered. 

"Western cultivates that experience of adventure and risk-taking," Prentiss said. 

Prentiss would later transfer from his East Coast college to Western, and he graduated in 1994 with a degree in business management. 

Prentiss admits that business was never something he really wanted to pursue, but 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," Prentiss said. 

But his degree came in handy while serving in the Peace Corps in Kingston, Jamaica. Along with handing out $300-dollar loans to inner city residents of Kingston, Prentiss took a second job creating a business plan along with Blue and John Crow National Park, where he was able to use his degree to assist with finance, marketing and advertising. It was through that experience that 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," he explained. 

Prentiss' passion for the environment stemmed from his childhood growing up in Pennsylvania, spending 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. Prentiss explained that 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," Prentiss said. 

Prentiss is still active in environmentalism, whether building trails with various conservation corps or just spending time outside. 

Aside from that, Prentiss is also an award winning author and professor. He is an Associate Professor of Writing at Norwich University in Vermont. His book "Finding Abbey: A Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave" won the 2015 National Outdoor Book Award, as well as a few others. He is also the co-author of "Environmental and Nature Writer: A Craft Guide and Anthology." 

But writing for a living wasn't ever on his radar, and 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 Prentiss admits that it was boring, and probably the worst writing one could ever read. But he still continued to write everyday. 

Years after graduating college, a friend read Prentiss's journal 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. 

"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 in those 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 had a strong presence in his work. So he melded his life-long passion for the environment and his newfound love of writing to 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 (of Western), 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 said. 

Prentiss's 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. And Prentiss hopes to point more family members Western's way for years to come. 

"Who knows which one of us will send someone there 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. 


Article by Roberta Marquette-Strain, University Communications.