When your office is the Great Outdoors: WVU Tech bets big on adventure tourism with Adventure Recreation Management degree program

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The outdoor industry is exploding. In 2017, it grew faster than the national economy, picking up 3.9% in growth and accounting for more than $427 billion of the country’s GDP.

It’s continuing that trend as more and more people take to the Great Outdoors in search of adventure, particularly in West Virginia.

After all, the “Wild and Wonderful” earned it’s reputation as an outdoor adventure powerhouse thanks to a world-class whitewater rafting scene, caving and climbing opportunities, snowsports, 1.8 million acres of public land and more than 430 hiking, running and mountain biking trails.

In a state where 67% of residents regularly participate in outdoor adventure activities, the need for skilled professionals in the industry is growing.

A small college in Southern West Virginia is doing something about it.

Paddling into a New Career

Two years ago, WVU Tech launched its Adventure Recreation Management degree program. The four-year program is designed to train students in managing organizations and enterprises that offer outdoor adventure activities and equipment.

Naturally, the curriculum is hands-on. Students balance classroom coursework with field-based learning. Working alongside field-trained, expert instructors, program students dig into outdoor recreation essentials. From aerial adventure basics (think ropewalks and ziplines) and camping preparation to field medicine and climbing equipment, students explore the methods of maintaining a safe outdoor adventure.

But there’s a lot more than tying proper knots and fitting life vests that goes into the successful management of an adventure program. There’s a business side to adventure, and the new program’s graduates will be ready to deal with it. Courses focused on business management, program design, risk management, budgeting, staffing, permitting and support operations ensure it. 

The Outlook on Working Outdoors

They best way to learn is by doing. And what better way to learn the adventure recreation industry than by taking the plunge and landing a job while you’re learning the ropes?

That’s why students in the program are also required to become instructor or guide certified in an area of focus during their studies at Tech – everything from ski instructing to hiking. The task requires them to familiarize themselves with an area of interest, local offerings and opportunities in that area and the process for obtaining the necessary licensures and certificates to work in the field.

The program takes experiential learning a step further. With a required field practicum built into the curriculum, students will undertake a comprehensive professional field experience in the adventure recreation industry or a related field. The experience will give them real-world, working knowledge of the ins and outs of their chosen field.

When it’s all said and done, graduates will walk into their careers with a full suite of essential adventure skills, industry connections and business acumen. The degree program offers graduates a shot at landing some incredible jobs in the adventure industry:

  • County/city adventure programmer
  • Challenge course manager
  • Commercial outfitter operation manager
  • Therapeutic adventure counselor
  • Rafting river manager
  • Ski school director
  • Climbing guide service manager
  • Outdoor retail store manager

Learning in the Center of it All

WVU Tech’s location in Beckley puts adventure recreation management students in the heart of adventure.

The region gives students access to the mighty New and Gauley rivers, extensive rock-climbing sites, hundreds of miles of recreational trails, lakes, aerial adventure sites and a number of national parks. It’s the perfect staging ground for adventures in the southern Appalachians and the Blue Ridge region.

Students will also study in the heart of activity of dozens of private tourism businesses, land management agencies, recreational service organizations and the 12,000-acre Boy Scouts of America high-adventure base, located at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve just 12 miles from campus.

As a new generation is embracing a “do what you love” mentality in how they select their jobs, spirited adventurers are looking at new ways to turn their love for the outdoors into a full-time career. They want to work outdoors. They want to give back to their communities and to the environment. They want to connect others to the joys of nature and to the thrill of adventure.

Now there’s one more way to do just that.

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