News

SUU to Offer Degree in Outdoor Recreation in Parks and Tourism

February 01, 2006
Category: Academics


Southern Utah University will begin offering a new bachelor of science program in Outdoor Recreation in Parks and Tourism (ORPT) in Fall 2006!

The ORPT program will be an interdisciplinary curriculum, taught by at least 13 professors in 11 different disciplines, including Physical Education, Agriculture Science, Biology, Communication, Geology, and Hotel, Resort and Hospitality Management. Incidentally, it will be the only program of its kind in the state to join curriculum forces with Hotel, Resort and Hospitality Management. Todd Petersen, Assistant Professor of English, says the institutionalization of this kind of degree program at SUU, recognizes “recreation and
tourism as a significant part of the economic future of Southern Utah.” He is enthusiastic about the fact that SUU will be training professionals to “respect, and work in the field.” Gayle Pollock, Executive Director of Bryce Canyon Natural History Association, says the program “will be a catalyst in the preparation of recreation professionals.”

Upon completion of the ORPT program at SUU, students will graduate with skills in outdoor and experiential education, adventure programming, leadership and tourism and recreation service.
Administered through SUU’s College of Education’s Physical Education Department, the ORPT program is designed to make students marketable and readily-employable in this burgeoning industry. Ideal job placement will likely include positions at state and national resource agencies, protected natural areas, outdoor recreation service programs, and commercial recreation enterprises.

“This degree is the perfect blend of curriculum,” Pollock says, “to enable students to be highly marketable, giving them a tremendous advantage because of the constant exposure (in southern Utah) to world-renowned public lands and high-quality training by superior professors.”

The Occupational Outlook Handbook 2004 suggests that the overall employment of full-time recreation workers is expected to grow faster than the average of all occupations through 2012. Thus, the SUU ORPT program will fulfill, with deliberation, a desperately-growing industry need. Gordon Topham, Deputy Director of the Utah State Division of Parks and Recreation (USDPR), concurs. He explains that it has been difficult to find qualified employees to fill professional positions, a situation that is made “doubly complicated” especially in the southern Utah region because there have been no nearby higher education programs available until now.

SUU has been planning and developing the ORPT program for the last 18 months, in preparation for the Board of Regents approval, which came early last month. One confirmation of the need and desire for a program like the ORPT came from the reaction to SUU’s still-young Outdoor Recreation Center, located in the Sharwan Smith Student Center on campus. “The Outdoor Rec Center,” SUU Provost Abe Harraf states, “is the fastest growing entity of student life on SUU campus.” Center activities span from incorporating tips on biking safety to scaling the rock walls of Cedar Mountain, for students and community members. “A significant number of students choose Southern Utah University to have access to outdoor pursuits,” Petersen shares. “They have been very vocal in wanting more programs both recreationally and educationally.”

SUU alumna, Anna Davis, (Art Education 2005), was one of the pioneer students who helped develop and operate the SUU Outdoor Rec Center. A self-proclaimed lover of both SUU and outdoor recreation, Davis comments, “The Outdoor Recreation Center has worked hard to help give students the resources--such as equipment, information, and organized trip--to help them get out there and enjoy it. But the outdoor rec degree will produce. . .people who are trained to manage and protect our awesome natural resources.

“Cedar City is paradise for the outdoor enthusiast,” Davis states. “There is no place in the world more perfect for studying outdoor recreation than at Southern Utah University.”

Additional confirmation came after extensive consultation between faculty and local business leaders, agencies, officials, citizens and students. They also reviewed the outdoor recreation programs at some 15 universities across the country.

But most obvious is that SUU and the ORPT program were made for each other because of those three key factors of location, location, location! SUU’s proximity, which is unparalleled in the United States for access to national parks, monuments and wilderness, is the most sensible breeding ground for professionals in the field of park management and tourism. “It’s certainly a program that is probably long overdue, but one we are very anxious to be starting next semester,” Dean O’Driscoll, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, states. “I believe this consummation of one of the greatest resources in southern Utah--the geography—right next to one of the greatest resources in southern Utah—SUU, will be one of bliss and meaning for quite literally, tens of thousands of constituents.”

Faculty and administrators expect the SUU ORPT degree to be an especially strong and high-quality program because of the innate provision to interface with other substantial outdoor recreation facilitators. An ORPT Advisory Committee will be formed that will include students, faculty, internship partners, alumni and representatives of the service industries, like the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition, for example.

SUU alumnus, Pollock graduated from the institution in 1988 with a degree in geology. He, who will surely be an active contributor to the success of the ORPT program, believes that “the creation of this degree is a proactive acknowledgement of Utah’s future.

“Graduates from this program will have the opportunity to become active participants with land management agencies and private sector organization, in meeting the ever increasing demand for qualified ORPT professionals.”

Petersen, who has been heavily-involved in presenting to students the link between art and the outdoors, agrees. “This program is grounded in the needs of SUU, the region, and the state.” He is intrigued as to how ORPT degree will complement the “Maymester Gone Wild” academic program in which students are exposed to a discipline like writing poetry, or drawing, for examples, out in the midst of nature. “We are planning on ORPT students to help in leading and planning the trips as part of a practicum for their major.”

This degree, too, will promote inter-institutional collaboration, as encouraged in recent initiatives of the Regents. The ORPT planners at SUU are already collaborating with Utah State University’s Institute for Outdoor Recreation and Tourism (IORT) to make sure all programming is consistent with contributing to the economy of the entire state. As far as local businesses and governmental agencies are concerned, Petersen believes that “Having a strong customer service aspect to the outdoor and recreation leadership training is an important, maybe even critical dimension to this program.” Pollock recognizes further that, “This degree provides an additional opportunity for students to be able to reside in southern Utah and become engaged in building the economy, strengthening local communities, and visibly articulating the mission of this great University.”

The SUU degree will give solid, ideal preparation for graduate studies in master programs like those of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and Recreation Resources Management at the University of Utah. Additionally, SUU fully intends to seek accreditation of the ORPT program and has begun preparing, now, for the detailed and lengthy process that can officially begin once the program is three-years-old. “Our readiness to pursue accreditation is predicated as curricula and faculty for the ORPT are already in place,” Harraf reports.

Obtaining the SUU degree in ORPT will be an adventure unto itself! The curricula will include comprehensive courses in outdoor skills like canyoneering and rock climbing, wilderness survival, backcountry travel and navigation, mountain biking, kayaking/canoeing, water/river safety, fishing, winter camping and survival, snowshoeing, and cross-country-skiing. The crucial area of Risk Management and Safety will study of the laws affecting recreational services, protocol and procedure. Natural Resources Interpretation and Experiential Education will include instruction in issues factors like teambuilding and visitor education programs. Other training will be in natural history, geology of national parks, natural resources management, wildland recreation behavior, hospitality management, leadership, planning, communication, organization, theory and application, as well as technical skills.

Conclusively, SUU’s ORPT degree is uniquely positioned to be able to provide students with an essential mix of classroom and place-based learning, in some of the most magnificent landscape in the world.

Pollock, particularly anticipating the launch of the ORPT program, cleverly summarizes the timeliness and value for SUU students: “Bottled Water--$1; Full Tank of Gas--$50; Sturdy Pair of Hiking Boots--$90. Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon as your personal outdoor laboratory—Priceless!”

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