By Kira Cordova and Easton West
Western’s Recreation and Exercise Sport Science (RESS) Department is developing a new degree program in Outdoor Leadership. Candidates, recruited from expensive looking Sprinter vans parked near crags across America, match the typical demographic profile of most outdoor professionals—crusty and musty, with Yeti in tow.
RESS faculty plan to implement new measures to attract a more diverse group of candidates starting in 2023. Western currently has a Recreation
and Outdoor Education (ROE) bachelor’s program and Outdoor Industry MBA (OIMBA), known for its rigorous requirement that candidates complete two whole five-page papers per year to achieve their master’s degree.
These programs teach vital skills like total caffeine dependency and saying “y’all” so much that people think that all ROE students are from the south. However, there is still room for growth in outdoor industry career preparation at Western.
The new degree program will address numerous gaps, detailed below.
Eliminating time-wasting academic preparation
The new program’s admissions requirements will not include the GRE, transcripts, a resume or cover letter, or any background check or references of any sort. Candidates
will be immediately disqualified if they’ve taken a math or science course that isn’t geology within the last five years.
Instead, they’ll demonstrate applied audiovisual and professional writing skills through social media posts that make their friends with actual jobs upset.
Attracting more diverse candidates
The first class of candidates includes almost exclusively White, male climbers trying to pretend that they’re dirtbags and that their parents aren’t paying for their entire tuition, grocery bill, and the bulk of their expensive gear (and beer). Faculty wants to shake things up.
Here’s RESS professor Dr. Guy Grip: “Unfortunately, Outdoor Leadership students are a
really homogenous group right now, but that needs to change. I drive a Toyota Tacoma with a topper, and it’s getting really hard to find my car in the parking lot without looking really closely at the bumper stickers. Where are the Outdoor Leadership students that drive used Nissans?”
On preview days, the department will require that more than half of the ROE and OIMBA students who drive Toyota Tacomas and Subaru Outbacks move their cars from the parking lots around the Paul Wright Gym to other parking lots on campus in order to project a more inclusive image.
While department administrators declined to comment on the possibility of scholarships for candidates from populations underrepresented in the outdoor industry, the RESS department is developing free, extracurricular self-defense and mindfulness classes to help address potential anxiety about being killed in remote areas around the world.
Providing access to support resources
To help address the unique, and very serious, mental health concerns of outdoor professionals, the department hopes to partner with the university’s Counseling Center to recruit a provider with experience in the outdoor industry.
Professor Grip admitted, “at one point, all of our families have told us to grow up and get a real job. It’s tough. They just don’t get that there’s so much more to working in
the outdoor industry than being a summer camp counselor—we also teach ski school in the winter.”
Faculty also hope to give candidates the emotional tools for their personal relationships, like how to resolve conflicts with their partners about their lack of reliable employment and benefits, being gone every weekend, and only going on outdoor recreation dates.
Adequately preparing candidates for the outdoor industry environment
“There’s a fine line between maintaining a relaxed atmosphere and keeping it professional,” says Grip, “so we’re going to implement policies to promote professionalism in the program.”
These policies will include a uniform of ascent shoes, an ROE-branded Melanzana, and a magically refilling Hydro Flask mug of coffee. To graduate, students must complete an extensive (three pages) online think piece about how sick the desert season in Utah is.
Because the Outdoor Industry is all about in-person relationships, in addition to a solid elevator pitch, potential employers should also be able to summarize a candidate’s
entire resume from the stickers and patches on their belongings.
According to Professor Grip, NOLS Wilderness Medicine stickers just don’t go far enough; candidates should apply patches and stickers that represent all their educational and work experiences to their water bottles, cars, phones, pets,
children, and every outer layer in their wardrobe.
Who needs LinkedIn when you can literally put all your certifications, education, and work experience on your sleeve?” asks Professor Grip.