Adventure program launched at SOU

Southern Oregon University leaders have found one more resource to tap for offering students new programs &

the great outdoors.

The new outdoor adventure leadership program, slated to begin at SOU in January, will integrate courses such as backpacking, kayaking and scuba diving with more theoretical classes to produce graduates ready to work in the rapidly growing field of adventure tourism.

Although the program will recruit mainly regional students like the university as a whole, directors said, it has already attracted students like Bodhi Garvin, who transferred to SOU from a Minnesota school. Garvin cited the uniqueness of the program and its ideal location as reasons for his move.

"You have everything you need in the surrounding area," he said. "You have access to a great natural playground."

Bodhi, who kayaks, surfs and snowboards. He wants to learn rock climbing and mountaineering. He believes he will have numerous career options when he graduates. At the moment, he is considering becoming an adventure guide or going into the emerging wilderness therapy field. He might also pursue a counseling degree, while other classmates could pair their adventure leadership studies with business, psychology or a totally unrelated field.

In addition to using available natural resources, the program also benefited from the adventure faculty already at the university, allowing them to create the program at near-zero cost, said Donna Mills, chair of the department of health and physical education.

"In times when you're cutting everything, you have to be creative," she said. "We are trying to think innovatively about how to attract more students to the region. We thought it was timely. There's just one other program in the state, and we just want to go for it."

Although only two students have officially enrolled in the program, there are 18 students signed up for the introductory class next term. Mills said she would like to see 50 students in the program eventually.

The program is closely aligned with the outdoor program at SOU, a center that has rented gear and led student trips for more than 30 years, and that program's directors will couple as instructors for the new classes.

"If the outdoor program did not exist, we couldn't offer this," said Adam Elson, a trip leader with the program and a health and physical education instructor.

In some of his earlier classes, Elson conducted a few unscientific surveys of his students, and found that many were attracted to SOU by the outdoor opportunities, and not for any academic major the school offered. For him, it made sense to take students' recreational interests to the next level give them job-related skills.

"It's an ever-expanding field," he said. "There are jobs out there that haven't been created yet."

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