Open Sky offers young adult students opportunity to earn college credits and reimburse program expenses using college savings

Open Sky Wilderness Therapy is excited to announce that we are partnering with Western Colorado University to offer a new and unique opportunity for students enrolled in our young adult program. Young adult students may now earn college credits while at Open Sky as well as use college savings to pay for their treatment and education.

“The pressures on young people today are extraordinary. Due to challenges with mental health, substance use, or independent living, many of our young adult students have had to delay or forego college,” said Dr. Melia Snyder, education director and clinical therapist for Open Sky. “Now, they no longer have to choose between academics and seeking treatment. Through this partnership, students have the chance to integrate their education with their therapeutic process.”

Earning College Credits at Open Sky

Young adults who elect to incorporate academics into their Open Sky experience begin by taking Nature and the Human Psyche, a psychology course developed by Dr. Snyder. The course’s robust curriculum is specifically designed to align with the trajectory of the students’ therapeutic work and deepen their experience in wilderness. Through independent study, group engagement, and experiential learning, students strengthen their core capacity for attention, curiosity, awareness, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and connection.

“Open Sky has developed a thorough and thoughtful curriculum to accompany their program,” said Kirky Swift, director of Western Colorado University’s Extended Studies Program. “We have been impressed with the quality and depth of their course materials, which will provide an enriching academic experience for their students.”

Upon successful completion of the course, students earn three college credits from Western Colorado University. Western Colorado University is a small public university located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in Gunnison, Colorado. Powered by a passion for promoting intellectual maturity and personal growth, Western Colorado University’s mission is congruent with that of Open Sky.

“We are thrilled to partner with Western Colorado University to empower students to achieve their full potential through rich educational opportunities and immersive experiences,” said Dr. Snyder.  

Reimbursing Program Expenses

By enrolling in a Western Colorado University course, Open Sky students and families may elect to apply college savings toward both treatment and education. When registered for three credit hours, families can use funds from 529 plans or AmeriCorps vouchers to pay for treatment at Open Sky and for Western Colorado University course credits. We encourage families to reach out to their 529 plan administrator to confirm eligibility for reimbursement of both the Western Colorado University course credit fees and the Open Sky program fees.

“At Open Sky, we recognize the power we hold as educators to help guide the learning and lives of the students we serve,” said Dr. Snyder. “We believe in educating the whole person – body, mind, heart, and spirit – in order to prepare our young people to navigate unique and urgent challenges and to positively contribute to society.”

For more information about college credits at Open Sky and the process for using a 529 plan or AmeriCorps vouchers to pay for treatment, please contact

Open Sky is excited to share that Dr. Melia Snyder, PhD, REAT, education director and clinical therapist, will be transitioning from working with adolescent girls to young adult students at Open Sky.  

Dr. Snyder, a licensed professional counselor and registered expressive arts therapist, brings vast experience to her young adult clients. She has a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and a certificate in expressive arts therapy from Appalachian State University, a certificate program she later directed for four and a half years. She earned her PhD in counseling from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, where she researched factors and behaviors that contribute to wellness and thriving despite life’s inevitable challenges.  

“The world that young adults are emerging into as they grow into independence is fraught with challenge and more distractions, disconnection, divisiveness, and disinformation than ever before,” said Dr. Snyder. “The natural result of entering into a reality where demands exceed an individual’s resources is a stress response—fight, flight, or freeze—often followed by unhealthy coping mechanisms to turn down the volume on the overwhelm.”  

Fortunately, according to Dr. Snyder, Open Sky is a rare medicine for these increasingly unsettling times.  

“Wilderness therapy offers an extended time of decentering from a difficult reality and tuning back into the values, practices, and connections that can help students transition into creating a life that works and is worth living,” said Dr. Snyder.  “I am eager to bring forth this experience and perspective in the service of young adult students and families at Open Sky.” 

In addition to working as a primary therapist for young adults, Dr. Snyder is also Open Sky’s education director. Dr. Snyder has noticed that despite many students receiving academically rigorous education at the high school and even college levels, their self-awareness, emotional intelligence, communication, and executive functioning skills are often underdeveloped.  

“Although necessary for launching successfully into adulthood, these life skills are not often integrated in meaningful ways into formal education,” said Dr. Snyder. “Nor are parents given a handbook on how to model and practice these skills in daily life.”  

In response to these clinical patterns and needs, Dr. Snyder has developed a curriculum available to young adult students at Open Sky: Nature and the Human Psyche. The course, which is offered through Open Sky’s partnership with Western Colorado University and worth three college credits, is designed to align with the trajectory of students’ therapeutic work. Each student who chooses to enroll in the course will explore their internal landscape as it relates to their experience in and connection with wilderness.  

“The course is intended to draw out the inherent potential in students,” said Dr. Snyder. “It gives them opportunities to build on the core competencies needed to successfully launch into an adulthood where, rather than just endure, they can thrive.” 



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