Kim Bateman moved to Tahoe City for her sophomore year at North Tahoe High School. It was quite an adjustment coming from the cultural capital that is New York to a place where the focus was more on recreation then culture. But she loved it, playing three sports, acting in the school plays and making good friends. But in the back of her mind, she said that she always dreamed Tahoe’s friendly people and beautiful natural environment could be combined with a bit more intellectual stimulation. As the Dean of the Sierra College campus in Truckee, Bateman now has the opportunity to help make that dream come true.
“When things fall apart it is an invitation to a connection with something bigger then our own personal story.”
After graduating from NTHS in 1982, Bateman headed off to Sierra College, followed by Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Then, when she was just 23 years old, her 21-year-old brother, Chad Bateman, died in an avalanche on Munchkins Chute near Alpine Meadows.
“It really turned my whole family upside down. My parents had trouble dealing with it, and my Mom is still crying about it,” Bateman said. “It really inspired me to go into psychology as a career.”
She went on to get a masters in psychology from Humboldt State, and then a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. In between her bouts with education: “I tried to leave this place a dozen times, but kept coming back to Tahoe,” Bateman said.
When she returned to the mountains to stay, she worked as a therapist helping childhood victims of sexual assault and bereavement through the Tahoe Women’s Services (now Tahoe SAFE Alliance) and with the organization Well Spring.
Then, she discovered teaching. Sierra Nevada College during the day and Sierra College at night. In 2008, she was named as the dean of the new Sierra College campus. The campus now has 750 students, a quarter of which are high school students getting a leg up on college before they graduate.
“The campus is really thriving.” Bateman says. “It is heart wrenchingly good to see these kids. The success rate is so high with our graduates.” At the graduation ceremonies she says,
“There is not a dry eye in the group.”
Bateman said for many Tahoe kids starting at Sierra College is a good fit. Its small scale and friendly, she says, while the big California universities can be a shock for local kids.
While running a college campus is a big task, Bateman still remains focused as she has for decades on helping people through the grieving process. She did a Ted X talk, “Singing Over Bones” and wrote a paper, “Symbol making in bereavement: The temples at Burning Man,” that she presented at the International Conference on Dying and Death in Athens, Greece.
Interest in the temple concept has led Bateman to develop an idea for an 18-foot-tall tree of life ritual to be held on The Commons Beach. She wants it to happen in November of 2016. Like the Burning Man temple, people will be able to write letters, and deliver pictures and memorabilia to the site, then it will be burned, to release the energy and pain of grieving.
Bateman has also helped members of the community deal with the pain of loss through a series of grief workshops. When we lost our friend, Kevin Murnane, last winter, it was a tough loss for many members of the community, but Kim’s ability to let those in the audience understand why they were grieving was extremely helpful to all of his friends, including me. The next grieving workshop is scheduled for April 2 at Sierra College.
In March, Bateman’s book “Crossing the Owl’s Bridge: A guide for grieving people who still love,” will be published.
“It uses the wisdom of worldwide folk tales to demonstrate how to share, ritualize and transform grief,” said Bateman.
“When my brother died, I was very aware of how psychologically he was still present. We piece them together through memories. The book talks about how to create symbols to be able to pay homage to the deceased. We have a really hard time with relationships that have passed. We need a place for the grief,” said Bateman.
Bateman has dealt with her grief by reaching out to help others with theirs. “When things fall apart it is an invitation to a connection with something bigger then our own personal story.”
For more information on Sierra College, visit sierracollege.edu.