Providing First Experiences in Outdoor Adventure

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

He might have desk space in the Education Building, but his true office can be found at the peak of Cooper’s Rock, the trails of the Appalachian Mountains and the depths of the Grand Canyon. For Education faculty member and Fairmont native Matt Schmuck, his passion for outdoor adventure has become his career – and students are reaping the benefits.

“Every day I get to introduce students from around the country to the benefits of outdoor recreation for the first time,” says the 1996 graduate of Fairmont State. Providing a first opportunity for students to experience adventure sports and West Virginia geography is his passion. To be able to do it in the classroom is his honor.

“In the beginning, Carolyn Crislip-Tacy was the first to address the need to expand outdoor recreation courses through the School of Education, Health and Human Performance department,” explains Schmuck.

He says the support of several FSU faculty members made the Outdoor Recreation Leadership minor the first of its kind at FSU. Dr. Maria Rose, now Interim FSU President, and Dr. Barbara Fallon of the Center for Teaching Excellence provided the support and funding that developed the first outdoor freshmen orientation program, “Wilderness Explorer.” Dr. Van Dempsey, The Dean of the School of Education, Health and Human Performance, created the first ever Outdoor Recreation Programming and Outreach position at Fairmont State.  Today, the School of Education offers students many opportunities to experience adventure sports as part of their curriculum in the Outdoor Recreation Leadership (ORL) minor. With courses like rock climbing, backcountry living skills and adventure water sports, students gain the knowledge and experience needed to plan their first outdoor adventure.

“Many people are intimidated to try adventure sports for the first time,” Schmuck says. “The ORL program provides experiential education opportunities that help develop skills and environmental ethics necessary to safely participate in a healthy and adventurous lifestyle.”

Understanding that all students may not be able to carry the ORL minor but may still want to participate in the activities, Schmuck created the Outdoor Adventure Club. The club provides an outlet for students to experience outdoor recreation in a safe and organized manner.

“We have about 20 students who are members, in addition to those who may only participate in one of our activities,” he says. Club members have access to camping gear and other supplies needed for club activities, including sleeping bags and tents. “Most students don’t have room for camping supplies in their dorm room, so being able to give them access to the club’s supplies is another way we are trying to provide the safest and easiest outdoor experience possible.”

With activities including skydiving, white water rafting and day hikes, the club offers unique adventure sport experiences for every student to try for the first time. For students looking for even more adventure, Schmuck recommends the National Park expeditions that he and fellow faculty lead. Trips are offered on a four year cycle and occur in the summer. Destinations include backcountry Grand Canyon, Utah’s Grand Circle, Yellowstone/Grand Tetons and the South West Tour.     

Each trip starts and ends in Fairmont with a 15-passenger van towing a trailer. “People always say one of the things they want to do one day is to drive across country, and this is the perfect way to do it. It not only offers safe travel but unique bonding opportunities as well,” Schmuck explains as the reason the group doesn’t fly.    

Outdoor recreation may not be the main reason why students attend Fairmont State, but Schmuck is hoping it is a reason why they stay.

“West Virginia is full of great outdoor activities, and by educating our students on the safe way to participate in them, we hope to help build a lifelong love of the outdoors and healthy lifestyle habits,” he says.

You can share your own be First story ideas with us.