Christian Outdoor Leadership Colleges

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Major in Outdoor Leadership

Article by Rachelle Wiggins

“When we see creation, we see behind the creation and get a picture of…the Creator.”

 ~John Mark Comer

There is arguably nowhere to see the fullness of God’s glory more perfectly than on a majestic mountain peak, under a solitary night sky or watching the waves crash against the sand of a vast beach. It’s no wonder we come alive when we interact with what He’s made through adventure and outdoor activity! Outdoor leadership, as a college major, explores the unique relationship between humans and nature and prepares you to turn your passion for outdoor recreation into a sustainable career. Whether your preferred activity involves water (rafting, scuba diving, canoeing, surfing, kayaking), snow (skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing, snowmobiling) or land (rock climbing, caving, hiking or mountaineering) an outdoor leadership degree will teach you to survive and excel in outdoor environments. You’ll dive into topics like group dynamics in learning, leadership, risk assessment, wilderness first-aid, decision-making, land management and outdoor counseling technique. You’ll arrive at a place of competence in teaching and guiding outdoor activities in all sorts of settings: camps, state or national parks and adventure-based programs.

A major based on exploration and open-air activity may sound like all play and no work. But, more is required to succeed than first meets the eye. Part of the test is that a love of recreation is only one half of the equation. You must also possess a heart for people and/or mind for business. For example, if you plan to bring others along with you in your outdoor pursuit then you must be highly relational, and possess the strong communication and interpersonal skills necessary to work with diverse populations. Being an expert on your discipline is not enough if you’re not able to skillfully and patiently instruct others. Additionally, a desire for excitement and thrill must be balanced with a concern for safety and professional consideration for those you are leading. Finally, an outdoor leader of any kind must be adaptable to a myriad of surroundings and the changing conditions inherent in nature. It is necessary that you remain calm under pressure and level-headed in emergencies since there is a built-in danger factor when it comes to outdoor adventure work.

It is possible you may tailor your degree to fit your desired learning outcomes. Depending upon your angle of career concentration, you might choose to focus on environmental studies, social work or business. Generally speaking, you will become grounded in the life sciences and engage in plenty of hands on learning which may involve field studies and logging the hours you gain outdoors both learning and leading. It is possible you will complete an internship with a local Park and Rec program or in a state or national park setting. Elective courses you take will be wide-ranging, including options such as:

  • Resource management
  • Ropes course
  • Survival skills
  • Wilderness ethics
  • Ecology

There are a number of career paths you may choose to follow. If your bent is entrepreneurial, you may choose a path of self-employment and become a fishing, hunting or back-packing guide. You may find employment in the government sector, becoming a park ranger or public educator. Or work for a non-profit such as a camp, outdoor ministry or charter school recreation program. Other opportunities include:

  • Search and rescue worker
  • Wilderness therapy guide or field instructor
  • Outdoor photographer/writer/journalist
  • Recreational programmer
  • Outdoor equipment sales/marketing

If your appreciation for God’s great outdoors inspires you to serve and lead others, then maybe the next adventure He has for you is a major in outdoor leadership!





A future in Outdoor Leadership

By Jennifer Bailey

Do you love the outdoors and the thought of sitting behind a desk makes you nauseous?! Do you want to promote the wonders of God's creation and challenge others to grow through adventure? If learning within a community fits your style and you want an intense academic major that prepares you for leading in the outdoors, then a degree in outdoor leadership could be just perfect for you!

As an outdoor leadership major, you will spend much of your time developing outdoor skills, working with small groups developing good interpersonal skills, developing your leadership abilities, researching and participating in class discussions.

Along with your regular courses in English, speech and math, you will likely take several science related classes and will learn about experiential education theory and philosophy, leadership principles and practices, group processing and facilitation skills, wilderness medicine and environmental stewardship - Leave No Trace ethics. You will also gain knowledge on how to prepare for work teaching and guiding activities in parks, camps and other outdoor settings. You’ll investigate how groups work, learn counseling techniques, and take courses in environmental studies. Throughout your studies you will build skills in leadership, wilderness survival, first aid and activities like rock climbing, ropes courses and kayaking. You may also receive a Wilderness First Responder certification and may participate in extended wilderness trips such as backpacking through the Rockies or water trips through the Grand Canyon depending on the school you attend.  Also, depending on your long-term career interests and needs, you may have classes in social work, education, psychology, forestry, art and environmental studies.

Post-graduation opportunities in this field are good. You could find careers in adventure and wilderness education, outdoor education, camp and conference centers, challenge course management, church-related youth ministries, College/University outdoor education programs, commercial outdoor recreation businesses, environmental education, environmental interpretation, Mission organizations, national and state parks and even wilderness/adventure therapy. Not to mention other avenues like adventure travel planners, forestry technicians or outdoor recreation retail business owners or managers.

To help you stand out from the crowd, you should consider participating in an internship program. For example, many camps and conference centers offer 1-3 year paid and non-paid internship programs that help you not only develop a resume while learning practical, hands on experience with customers and clients but you will also learn great real-world team building skills.  Many of these intern programs are designed to invest greatly in you as a person and as a future leader with lots of intentional one on one feedback and guidance. Ultimately, the outdoor leadership degree will provide a strong education that would be based on a Biblical world view and will prepare you for a variety of outdoor leadership opportunities.  If this is your ultimate passion and you are all about the outdoors and God's intricate design in nature as well as helping and teaching others to be active, inquisitive, and brave and to experience new things, then look no further than a degree in outdoor leadership.