Syracuse University Magazine


Christopher Cofer

Summertime Learning

Christopher Cofer is committed to empowering personal growth through experiential education. He first discovered his passion for this work when he was a ski instructor in Park City, Utah, and later solidified it when he served as a director of outdoor adventure programs and team challenge facilitator at a summer camp in the Catskill Mountains. “I see myself as an agent of change,” says Cofer, director of Summer@Syracuse. “Helping individuals grow and build confidence through experiential education is very rewarding.”

Despite his love for the outdoors, and with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and American literature from Northern Arizona University in hand, Cofer decided teaching English was a more practical career path. So he and his wife, Anne, a fine artist from England, sold all of their belongings, packed a camper van, and with their 3-month-old daughter, left Utah and headed east, where he was to begin graduate school at SUNY New Paltz after giving up his spot at Columbia University due to the high cost. But everything fell apart shortly after they arrived in the Catskills for one last summer at camp. “First the van died. Then we realized living in New Paltz was seriously expensive, and the student loans weren’t going to cut it,” Cofer says. “We left Utah to pursue our dreams in higher education, and the math was not adding up.”

This temporary career setback turned out to be life-changing for Cofer when out of necessity he spent a year teaching middle school students in Brooklyn. “It was a real eye-opening experience for me,” he says. “I was able to see what the educational system is like for the majority of American children. For the first time in my life I saw the disparity firsthand, and from then on I wanted to find ways to enact real change in individuals’ lives through experiential education and access to higher education.”

Cofer went on to earn a master’s degree in recreation and leisure studies at SUNY Cortland with a concentration in outdoor and environmental education. After a stint as program director at the Jewish Community Center in Syracuse, in 2007 he assumed the position of director of Summer College at SU, an academic program for high school students. Four years later, he became director of Summer@Syracuse, a division of University College that offers a variety of credit and non-credit summer courses and programs.

As director of Summer@Syracuse, Cofer is responsible for the general direction of Summer Sessions; oversight of such specialized programs as Summer College, SummerStart, and Syracuse SUccess Initiative; and working with academic departments across the University to provide guidance, training, and supervision of residential staff for academic summer programs for minors. He also manages the Innovative Summer Program Development Fund, which provides financial support to encourage faculty and academic departments to design, develop, and deliver new summer courses and programs with little to no financial risk. “One of the main reasons I came to SU is because of the availability of financial aid for students in summer programs and the extensive support services provided for students year-round,” says Cofer, Northeast regional vice president of the North American Association of Summer Sessions and a member of the Association of University Summer Sessions. “I see Summer@Syracuse as a playground of opportunity where faculty and students are able to explore beyond the confines of fall and spring.”

Today, this father of four, ages 2 to 15, says he will continue to pursue his passions while helping others do the same through innovative summer programs on the Hill. “Our family motto is ‘Never Stop Exploring,’ he says, “and I know we never will.”   —Christine Yackel

Photo by Steve Sartori