“I love that MSU’s slogan is ‘Mountains and Minds,’” said Josh Meyer. “I want to see more of that.” Meyer, a young adjunct instructor at Montana State, whose eyes crinkle at the corners in a perpetual smile and from years of outdoor sun, personally manages to embody the slogan better than anyone or anything else.
First graduating in 1999 from Colorado State with a bachelors degree in biological science, before earning a masters in mental health counseling from MSU. In 2010, he completed a second masters degree, this one from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, called mind, brain, and education.
He now teaches at MSU, owns and operates his company, Innovative Adventures, and is working on seven different Ph.D. program applications.
“I grew up learning about the world experientially, [and I wondered] how I could recreate that in my professional life,” Meyer recounted, referencing his childhood growing up outside of Kalispell, exploring the fields and foothills around his family home.
The original goal was to “somehow work with troubled youth in the wilderness,” Meyer said. Then he took a course at MSU called adventure based counseling. “It exposed me to using games and activities as a mechanism for learning and therapy,” he said. “That’s when I found my niche.”
Meyer’s field of expertise is psychobiology. He describes it as a combination of education, medicine and psychology. “It’s all about changing the brain through purposeful experience and activities … it’s exciting to think about using activities to turn on a part of the brain, to open another way of thinking,” Meyer said.
“There’s an infinite amount of factors influencing how we live and exist,” he said. “If we view behaviors and emotion as a form of evolution, I believe it allows for more empathy … If we can look at the decision making, and what’s driving that, we can learn a lot.”
Whether it’s taking a group of young women with criminal records into the backcountry, or leading a discussion on emotion in the classroom to a group of MSU faculty, facilitating an anger management group, or teaching a group of students in US 101 or UC 202, Meyer’s believes in utilizing education to help others develop “self-awareness and self-respect.”
He uses situations and experiences, like hiking through a thunderstorm, or seemingly simple group games, to encourage introspection. “With self-awareness, we have infinitely more understanding, which allows for self-respect and better decision making.”
“If you can get through the challenge of the moment, the initial freakout, things slow down,” said Meyer, describing the challenge of the backcountry. “Just slowing down is sometimes what people need.”
“So many people are afraid of nature, but my hope is to show them it is one of the safest places to be. It’s a place you can fall apart.” According to Meyer, moments of overcoming hardship, and allowing yourself to “fall apart” create opportunities for experiential learning, something the wilderness is ideally suited to provide.
Meyer said he strives to “change our mindset and broaden our frame of reference” to find out how people operate. “I want to understand how people work, how people live in the world, how people be.”
One thing Meyer has learned throughout his career is how much alike we humans are, whether a student in the Leadership Fellows program, or a veteran newly enrolled in classes, a perpetrator of domestic violence, or a suit-wearing human resources manager.
“I realized that people are people. We all operate in similar ways,” Meyer said. “I’ve gotten to know so many people over the years, and it is amazing how similar we all are, but how unique and amazing all the stories are.”