Nestled in the mountains of Banner Elk, N.C., Lees-McRae College is a hub for outdoor adventure and recreation for its students and staff.

Our past 2018 winners, Lees-McRae College, put up a great fight against Western Carolina University in this year’s Top Adventure College Contest. Staff, alumni, and students all came together to proudly showcase Lees-McRae’s vast outdoor programs and the deep roots the school has with the surrounding mountains.

Photo of Lees-McRae students on a hike from early 1900s

“Adventure has been in our roots since the very beginning! Did you know that when Mountain Day was first established by the college’s founder, the Rev. Edgar Tufts, it involved a five-mile hike to the top of Beech Mountain? Our campus continues the hiking tradition today by taking Hemlock Trail to Wildcat Lake for Mountain Day festivities each semester.”

-Lees-McRae Facebook Post

Lees-McRae College was officially the first “small school,” with an undergrad of fewer than 5,000 people to claim the title of Top Adventure College.

We caught up with avid cyclist Nina Mastandrea, who currently works at Lees-McRae and answered a few of our questions about outdoor life at the school.

Nina Mastandrea

BRO: Whats your favorite outdoor activity?

Mastandrea: I’m a cyclist! I ride road, cyclocross, and BMX (and mountain biking when I can get my hands on one)!

BRO:Votes hit record numbers for our annual Top Adventure College Contest this year. Over half a million! How does it feel to be a part of the biggest voting year yet?

Mastandrea: It just goes to show that though we are small, we are mighty. We are proud that we get to call the High Country our home, and that our roots are steeped in the outdoors. Every year, our Bobcats come together as a community, and even though we didn’t land on the top this time around, we are still extremely proud of what we have been able to accomplish.

BRO:What makes LMC stand out from the rest? What is it’s greatest and most unique quality?

Mastandrea: So much! We use our incredible outdoor venue and elevation to our advantage every single day. At 4,000 feet, the possibilities are endless. From hands-on learning in natural laboratories to outdoor recreation in world-class destinations, our adventures never stop.

Our academic approach places a large emphasis on experiential learning. We want to get our students outside of the classroom to learn, either figuratively or literally, out in the field! This gives our students the most hands-on opportunities that will directly benefit them in their futures. Some examples include our Outdoor Recreation Management program’s various courses up at nearby Beech Mountain Resort! It sounds obvious, but when you are learning skills for use outdoors, you have to be outdoors! You can read more about those classes here. Another great example is our mock emergency simulation that involves students, faculty, staff, and community members from the nursing and emergency medical services and management programs as well as the criminal justice and theatre arts programs. You can learn more about the incredible event here. For bike lovers, Lees-McRae was recognized by The League of American Bicyclists with the Silver Bicycle Friendly University (BFUSM) award, joining more than 150 visionary colleges and universities from across the country and one of a few in the state. At Lees-McRae, we aren’t scared to get out there, get our hands dirty, and learn!

BRO:What percentage of the school’s population participates in taking advantage of LMC’s ideal outdoor surroundings?

Mastandrea: In one way or another, everyone. Whether it is walking to and from class, studying in their hammocks in Swank Park or conducting research at our field station and preserve, all students are immersed in the incredible outdoors we call home. Staff and faculty, too! We all embrace the values our motto states so clearly: In Montibus, Ex Montibus, Pro Montibus, which translates to In the Mountains, Of the Mountains, For the Mountains. Even our president is an avid fly angler and leads weekly trips with our students to the river! Our community cherishes the outdoors, and we hope we can continue these traditions.

BRO:What outdoor program is LMC most proud of?

Mastandrea: Our Outdoor Recreation Management program is the only one of its kind housed in a school of business. This dynamic combination of environmental education and leadership and management continues to expand and grow every year. If you are a student that wants to simply enjoy the outdoors, you can take classes in mountain biking, hiking, climbing, skiing, and snowboarding, just to name a few! But if you are someone that is looking for certifications that will give you the upper hand come graduation, you can pursue any number of outdoor certifications, including wilderness first aid and responder, leave no trace master educator, or North Carolina Environmental Education.

On the campus recreation, wellness, and outdoors side of things, students, faculty, and staff can enjoy free equipment rentals to fuel their adventures whether that be mountain biking, camping, climbing, fishing, and so much more. We are lucky to have so many faculty and staff right here on our campus that are experts in every sport or recreation you can imagine, and our students are direct beneficiaries of that.

BRO:How has LMC grown since their last victory?

Mastandrea: We welcomed President Lee King and other new faculty and staff that fully embody the outdoors lifestyle and bring more and more opportunities to our campus and students each semester. Beginning in the fall, we will offer two new minors in the Outdoor Recreation Management program: Ski Industry Business and Instruction, and Wilderness Medicine. Every day, we take advantage of our surroundings and we want to be known as fierce champions for outdoor adventure.

“For the four-year journey of college, Lees-McRae provides so many options to our young people, with the close proximity of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail, not to mention the trails, waterfalls, campsites, ski slopes, hiking and biking trails within minutes of our residence halls. It provides them a great outdoor student experience.”
– Craig McPhail, Vice President of Athletics and Club Sports

To get a better look at Lees-McRae College, be sure to check out their website.