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Evan Higgins, BA | Transport Manager

July 3rd, 2019

Driven by Success: The Important Role of the Open Sky Transporter

Evan Higgins, BA | Transport Manager

Featured Team Members: Evan Higgins, BA,

Open Sky transporters are the first faces of the company for new students. Transporters are responsible for welcoming new students and walking them through the arrival process until they join their team in the field. We recently sat down with Transport Manager, Evan Higgins, to discuss the student arrival process and how transporters set the tone for the student experience.

Open Sky Transport Manager Evan Higgins


Q: Describe the role of a transporter. Why are transporters an integral part of the student experience?

A: As the first staff members students meet upon arrival to Open Sky, transporters are a key part of the student experience. We are sensitive to the fact that arriving in a new place can be challenging, so it is our goal to welcome each student with awareness and intention. To set the tone for students, we hold clear boundaries, demonstrate genuine care, and listen attentively. This first impression builds the foundation for a lasting impression, and we take that to heart. We are completely honest and create a nurturing environment from the moment students arrive, which we hope leads to a positive and productive stay.

Q: How do transporters create a supportive environment for students coming to Open Sky during a difficult time in their lives?

A: Transporters create a welcoming, supportive environment for new students from the moment we meet them by welcoming and accepting them without hesitation. We introduce ourselves and ask questions to get to know them, without judgment. We simply accept them as they are. It’s about being authentic, establishing trust, validating and reflecting them, while keeping things light. Where are you from? Are you a cat person or a dog person? Do you like music? Sports? This type of light interaction can be surprising and almost a relief for many students…oh wow, these people aren’t so bad! We are kind, compassionate, and understanding, all while holding firm boundaries.

Transport Team in front of Open Sky vehicle.

Q: What exactly does arrival day look like for a new student?

A: Each incoming student is met by a team of two Open Sky transporters—at least one being the same gender as the student. We usually meet the student at the Durango airport, the Open Sky office, or a local hotel, depending on the arrival itinerary. Upon meeting the student, we greet each other and introduce ourselves. We immediately offer a water bottle to help the student stay hydrated and adjust to the altitude. We then describe what the day will look like, emphasizing that we will be there for support until the student has reached the team in the field.

The day begins with completing paperwork and dropping off medications (if applicable) to our pharmaceutical coordinator for processing. Next, we go to Durango Urgent Care, where the student receives a basic physical examination in order to confirm that he or she is healthy enough to participate in our wilderness therapy program. Here, the student also receives labs and a tetanus shot if needed. After the physical is complete, we head to lunch at one of two local restaurants: Zia Taqueria or Raider Ridge Cafe.

At lunch, we always encourage students to enjoy a nice meal. Whether or not they want food right at that moment, we go ahead and purchase an extra meal, so they have something to eat later in the day. We are always thinking ahead. At Open Sky, we build on the foundation of meeting our students’ basic needs—plenty of water, food, and sleep. Throughout the day, these needs are at the forefront of all that we do. We are always making sure our students are hydrated, fed, and rested.

After lunch, we drive to our operations ranch. We collect and inventory all of the student’s personal items. We thoroughly go through all belongings, record and store all articles, and have the student review and sign off on what is collected. Personal items are returned upon graduation. Following inventory collection, the student is outfitted with brand new Open Sky gear. This detailed outfitting process sets our students up for success, ensuring they have all that they need to participate in all facets of the program.

Once the student is outfitted with the appropriate gear and clothing, we pack everything up and head out to the field to meet the student’s team. When we get to the field, we provide guides with an update on how the student is doing, pass along medications to the appropriate staff, and detail any dietary, medical, or wellness needs. Once the student is with the team, we reach out to his or her admissions counselor to provide a detailed update on the intake process.

Gear room

Q: What kind of collaboration occurs between the Transport Team and other departments?

A: Each Open Sky transport team is in regular communication with every department upon a new student’s arrival. This communication begins with the admissions counselor and transport manager connecting at least one day prior to admission to discuss arrival details and all pertinent information. Once the student arrives at Open Sky, we contact the student’s admission counselor every hour to provide an update on how the student is doing. Admissions counselors are in regular communication throughout the process with parents and referring professionals to relay these updates.

We also work with the Medical Team throughout the day, communicating with the health director, pharmaceutical coordinator, field medic, staff MD, and staff psychiatrist as necessary. We communicate about the urgent care visit, medications, and any medical needs the student may have. If students have specific needs relating to medications, they often meet with our team psychiatrist. Our medical staff are in contact with the Admissions Team early in the process and provide all necessary information to transporters prior to student arrival.

Throughout the day we are also in communication with the field manager, providing regular updates on estimated arrival time and to provide a sense of how the student is doing throughout the process. We are also communicating with the Operations Team regarding special gear requests as well as the food coordinators to inform them of any specific dietary needs. Additionally, we are communicating with the family care coordinators and administrators in the office, ensuring all necessary paperwork has been completed.

Throughout the day, we are in contact with all departments, integrating all of the moving pieces, and adapting to each student’s specific needs. There is a clear flow of communication and flexibility to meet the needs of any student entering the program. All departments work in tandem to fully support each student as he or she enters the program. We believe this level of care and depth of resources set Open Sky apart and set students up for a healthy, productive, and meaningful experience.

Vehicle drives to Utah base camp

Q: What would you say to a parent who is worried about the initial arrival and transport process?

A: I think knowledge and understanding help to give parents peace of mind. By letting parents know where we will be and what we will be doing throughout the day helps them to feel confident and informed. We assure parents we have all of the resources necessary to care for their child and that throughout the intake process, we will keep in constant touch and provide updates. We let parents know that they are not alone and we will be by their side throughout the process. We are here to support.

We take to heart the fact that as transporters, we have the opportunity to set the tone for a student’s experience here. As Transport Manager, I have successfully completed hundreds of transports over the last three and a half years at Open Sky. While many transports have a similar flow, each transport is unique. I value how, as a team and an organization, we are able to adapt to meet the specific needs of each arriving student. We have a highly professional team at Open Sky and can individualize care from the moment a student arrives, throughout the entirety of his or her stay, and even after graduating. Our ability to set boundaries, combined with our authenticity, training, compassion, and care, is representative of Open Sky as a whole—the culture, the resources, and the heart of people who work here. This is the level of care families and students will experience throughout the entire process. This is the culture of Open Sky; it is felt from the moment you begin this journey and become part of the Open Sky family.

Parents and staff shake hands at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy

Evan Higgins, BA | Transport Manager

July 3rd, 2019

Evan Higgins, BA | Transport Manager