Alumni Series: Kit Kocha

In this blog series, you can expect to learn about our Alumni, about our organization, hear some sage advice, and maybe laugh a little bit. We would be remiss to start this series with anyone other than one of our co-founders, Kit Kocha.

Solo Mountain Biking in the Chelan Sawtooths

This year, Backcountry Squatters is celebrating its eighth anniversary. EIGHT years. It’s hard to believe. A LOT has happened in the past eight years. We built a club, which became a dozen clubs, which became a national non-profit with a scholarship program, events, a blog, a social network, and so much more. In those eight years, we’ve had the pleasure of expanding our community nationwide and growing our little family one by one. In our eight years of Squatting, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing so many women enter college, become Squatters, graduate, and thrive in post-grad life. At this point, we’re starting to look like Grey’s Anatomy; many seasons and a large cast. With such a large cast, losing track of everyone is easy. Lately, we’ve felt the need to catch up with our former Squatters and hear what they loved about this organization. We’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane and highlight some of our Squatters alumni on our Squatters blog. In this blog series, you can expect to learn about our Alumni, about our organization, hear some sage advice, and maybe laugh a little bit. We would be remiss to start this series with anyone other than one of our co-founders, Kit Kocha.

As this small but mighty non-profit grows at what seems like warp speed, we’ve been having a lot of discussions about how it all began and what that beginning means to us now. Over the last eight years, our origin story has become a somewhat ancestral, oral storytelling of our mission and how it came to be. When boiled down, the story of Backcountry Squatters’ founding began with a group of effervescent young women who envisioned making their outdoor community at Montana State University a more equitable and diverse space for women. One of these enthusiastic women was Kit Kocha.

Andie and Kit Biking in Bozeman

Kit Kocha, one of the co-founders of Backcountry Squatters and the visionary behind so much of what Squatters is today, is a self-prescribed dreamer. Fortunately, many of Kit’s dreams have revolved around her deep passion for outdoor stewardship and mentorship, beginning with her outdoor experiences in her youth. Kit was raised in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where her love for the outdoors was sprouted. In high school, Kit attended an outdoor education school that cemented her dedication to the environment and outdoor education.

When Kit shipped out west to attend Montana State, she was determined to find her place amongst her peers in the outdoor community in Bozeman. Kit didn’t take long to realize she had waltzed her way into a boys club in ‘Bro’zeman,’ where her outdoor experiences were not as fulfilling as those she had when venturing outside with other women. “I was primarily getting after it with my boyfriend and our male friends, where the experience wasn’t always the most positive… I was really missing that female presence in the group, and I felt like my growth wasn’t being fostered,” Kit says. Commiserating over this shared experience with another student, Squatters Co-Founder Andie Creel, the two saw the great need for a space where women at MSU could find a positive and supportive environment outdoors. Kit was already keenly aware of the link between a powerful education and an experiential outdoor education from her high school experiences and concocted the idea of a women’s outdoor adventure club. Kit, ever the dreamer, was also the visionary behind the title of our organization, “Backcountry Squatters,” it came to Kit in a dream and just stuck after that.

Darby and Kit in Bozeman

At the first Backcountry Squatters meeting at MSU, around 60 young women showed up, blowing Kit and Andie away. The necessity for this type of club was glaring. After that initial meeting, the next four years of Squatters at MSU were a whirlwind of growing the club, developing events and programs, and meeting the members. Kit recalls hearing similar stories from other Squatters members of yearning and searching for something that seemed to escape them in the general clubs or their social groups, something that could be fostered in a group like Squatters. While Kit was the inventor of Squatters’ Backcountry Prom and Winter Prom, her favorite events were those rooted in mentorship and community, like Melinda Turner’s nutrition seminar or Jenny Lowe Anker’s contribution to a storytelling night at the local teahouse. When pressed about MSU’s famed storytelling night, Kit remarked on how campy and fun it was; “Girls got to go on stage and tell stories related to their outdoor experiences… They told a perspective that wouldn’t otherwise be heard in the media we were ingesting…I think mine was about a ghost in the woods.” Events like that, where women just got to enjoy one another and tell their stories about their adventures in the great outdoors, were precisely what Kit and the other founders had dreamed about.

Kit and her mom, Carol-one of our biggest chearleaders.

During Kit’s college career, Squatters flourished at Montana State University, quickly becoming a staple on the MSU campus and in the Bozeman community. Through word-of-mouth and with the help of the MSU Squatters, chapters at the University of Denver and the University of Maine were created. As the community grew, so did the need to raise funds for financial aid and provide an overall organizational structure; thus, the non-profit was born in 2018. Initially, the non-profit board was a labor of love, bootstrapped by a group of freshly graduated twenty-somethings, with Kit serving as the Treasurer. While Kit loved her time as an MSU chapter Co-President, the highlight of her Squatters experience was her participation in forming the non-profit. Developing a non-profit organization with your peers was a priceless adventure for Kit. “There was so much room for growth in any organization, especially with it being young. It was an opportunity to build something and create a shared vision with a group of friends,” Kit says, reflecting on her time on the board. The collaboration between like-minded women to create an inclusive environment was profoundly fulfilling and engaging for Kit and the rest of the board.

A few years out from her time with Squatters, Kit struggles to encapsulate exactly what Squatters means to her. “I’ve spent hours journaling about how Squatters has impacted me and the different things I learned every other day,” she says, “But a big one that always sticks out for me is just in being involved with a lot of projects, and outings, and fun memories that were with a group of majority women.” Now, working in a male-dominated field, her time collaborating with a group of her peers takes on a whole new meaning. For Kit and many of us, Squatters has been an invaluable asset to her professional development. “I was lucky to be part of an ongoing conversation about how organizational structure impacts culture, outcomes, and goals. That’s got to be pretty rare for somebody just coming out of college to get that sort of exposure,” Kit says when asked how Squatters has impacted her. In turn, Squatters was lucky to have someone so deeply invested in creating an inclusive community for women in the outdoors on our board.

Kit’s Family of 4 Girls – The OG Squatters

Kit left her position on the board in 2020 to focus on her exciting career in Civil Engineering with a private engineering firm in Wenatchee, Washington. Kit is currently in her third year of training as a Civil Engineer. She works with public agencies across Washington State on projects involving domestic water, stormwater, wastewater, and hatchery infrastructure, which Kit has learned is a great way to get familiar with a new city. While she misses the time she spent professionally in female-majority environments, she is taking advantage of everything North Central Washington has to offer. Earlier this month, Kit raced in the Ski to Sun Marathon race, a major feat in the PNW nordic arena. On top of nordic skiing, she currently partakes in more trail running than she ever thought she would, as well as climbing and snowboarding. When not working or playing, Kit uses her additional free time to snowboard patrol at Mission Ridge and belay for the Brave Warrior Project’s adaptive rock climbing program, which helps fill Kit’s passion for outdoor education.

While Kit’s time with Squatters seems far away from her now, she still keeps those journals filled with reflections from our organization and ideas that came to her in dreams. We are so grateful for Kit, her spirit, and her creativity, which have left indelible marks on the fabric of Backcountry Squatters and our mission. I think it’s safe to say, once a Squatter, always a Squatter.

Written by Isabelle Selman

Post College Gal Pals – Ellen and Kit

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