Formalizing an outdoor education

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Formalizing an outdoor education
Question: I'm interested in graduate programs in wilderness and outdoor education. I've run an outdoor and wilderness education program for youth for several years and now I'm wanting to formalize my passion for teaching outdoor skills and a love for the wilderness to young people. Can I make a legitimate career out of this? Any recommendations for schools or organizations?

Bob Nydam
Altadena, CA
[email protected]

Adventure Adviser: I have a good friend who has chosen the career path you're considering, and it's been interesting to listen to her comments about formalized education in outdoor recreation.

Her goal is to become a professor of outdoor education, and for her, she's found that a master's degree in outdoor education (from Mankato State University in Minnesota) coupled with five-plus years working in the field as a canoe and bike guide haven't been enough to get her into a reputable PhD program.

I don't want to discourage you, but the field of outdoor education seems to be a tough nut to crack. That said, have you ever heard of Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona? One of the premiere outdoor-education schools in the country, it offers a very unique curriculum, integrating traditional academics with classes such as "Group Processes for Wilderness Leaders."

Every student who enters the resident degree program must take a three-week wilderness expedition during the first month of school. The expedition is meant to give students a chance to become acquainted with the Southwest, as well as to provide the student with a deep understanding of Prescott College's commitment to environmental ethics.

Prescott College also offers a master of arts program, which is largely designed by the individual student. The interdisciplinary study can include classes in everything from counseling and psychology to outdoor education and wilderness leadership. For more information on Prescott College, call 520-778-2090.

Another option, which I'm sure you're aware of, is the long list of outdoor leadership schools such as the National Outdoor Leadership School (307-332-6973) and Outward Bound (800-243-8520).

Both organizations offer intensive wilderness-skills courses, however, NOLS tends to attract a mid-teens to early-twenties audience, whereas Outward Bound seems to attract a mid-thirties to mid-forties crowd. I'm pretty sure you can earn college credit through both courses, but you can't earn an entire degree through either program.

If your sole desire is to formalize your wilderness skills and you don't necessarily care about degrees, NOLS and Outward Bound may be a good place to start. Good luck.

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