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Shrader advances CMU outdoor recreation industry studies degree

Recreation business leader works with CMU faculty designing a unique program

Need an employee with business expertise, environmental awareness and impeccable customer service knowledge? These are the attributes Sarah Shrader developed while building her own outdoor recreation business, and they are the professional characteristics she is working to infuse into the outdoor recreation industry studies program at CMU.

Shrader and her husband own and operate a local recreation company Bonsai Design. The firm designs, fabricates and installs zipline and aerial adventure courses throughout North America. While managing her own company, Shrader founded and leads the local Outdoor Recreation Coalition, a group of citizens and businesses who promote outdoor recreation as both a lifestyle and as a vehicle for economic development.

“Joining the team at CMU is truly an honor,” said Shrader. “Being able to share what I have learned as a business owner in the outdoor recreation industry gives my passion new meaning and potential. I am excited about what the future holds for students and our economy and community.”

While her project at CMU is one among several expanding academic programs on campus, the progress made bringing the degree to fruition has occurred with remarkable speed. The efforts are not going unnoticed. Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs is traveling to CMU on Wednesday, February 12, to learn more about the program. 

“Outdoor recreation is a vital industry for Colorado’s economy and is a strong part of Coloradans identity and why many choose to live and move here,” said Gibbs. “I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about CMU’s interdisciplinary approach to this emerging industry and share the Governor’s and the Department of Natural Resources' priorities on how we can continue to foster outdoor recreation while managing its potential impacts on our land, water, and wildlife.”

Gibbs plans to tour campus, visit with individuals working on the CMU outdoor recreation industry studies program and meet with faculty whose courses will support the program.

The program recognizes the complex nature of the outdoor industry, combining a wide range of coursework in outdoor leadership, business management, innovation and entrepreneurship, adventure planning, tourism, risk management, stewardship and sustainability.

“People assume that an outdoor recreation program is largely a business degree,” said CMU Department Head of Kinesiology Jeremy Hawkins. “The program, though, is housed in the kinesiology department because the majority of outdoor recreation activities include highly skilled and specialized movements, and outdoor recreation activities are directly connected with exercise science principles and community health and wellness.”

At the inception of the program, Shrader assembled an Advisory Council of CEOs and VPs of outdoor recreation industry corporations in order to understand their workforce needs. The feedback from industry professionals was comprehensive and vast: they agreed the program should be multidisciplinary in nature with an emphasis on business, communication, management, leadership, public lands policy and legislation, as well as technical outdoor field skills. In addition, the advisory council members committed to creating partnerships with CMU.

CMU President Tim Foster believes the way Shrader is designing the program will create significant academic differentiation.

“Many universities across the United States offer degrees in recreation, parks, and tourism; outdoor education; and adventure leadership. Colorado Mesa University’s BS in outdoor recreation industry studies is a pursuit to become a well-rounded expert in the outdoor recreation industry, which includes businesses, product developers, innovators, entrepreneurs and service providers," said Foster. "Students will gain comprehensive business skills, knowledge of policy and legislation issues affecting public lands, risk management and programming in the outdoors, as well as technical outdoor field skills as the foundation of the degree. Students will also be encouraged to pursue their own outdoor passion, in which they can develop leadership skills that will transfer to the workforce. We believe this is a “whole package” degree program.”

“There are others who offer similar degrees, but ours will have a geographic advantage,” said Foster. Our students will not only specialize in the business side of outdoor reaction but will also be able to understand the importance of mobility, movement, safety, health and equipment specialization that constitutes the future outdoor recreation businesses.”

Foster’s reference to CMU’s geographic advantage is found in the university’s perfect triangulation between the red rock deserts of eastern Utah, the alpine mountain landscapes of the southern Rocky Mountains and high desert plateaus of the Uncompahgre Valley.

“From the red rocks of the Colorado National Monument to the mountain lakes of the Grand Mesa, the outdoor recreational laboratories at CMU can’t be matched by any other university in the Rockies,” said Outdoor Program Director Ryan Dutch. “From skiing and ice climbing to mountain biking, hunting and rock climbing, and paddling our two rivers that run directly through town, the diversity of outdoor recreation opportunities in western Colorado are endless.”

Shrader believes the integrated, dynamic economy of the western slope can not only create new industries but can enhance existing, legacy outdoor activities sports.

“The outdoor recreation industry studies degree program prepares students to enter the world of outdoor industry business management, sales and marketing, adventure services, guide services, adventure programming, expedition planning and adventure leadership. Through study and experience, students completing this degree will be prepared to work in one of the largest growing segments of the economy: the outdoor recreation industry. At 2.2% of the GDP and $887B in consumer spending per year, the outdoor recreation industry is a powerhouse economic driver that demands a highly skilled workforce. Students will gain qualifications for jobs in such fields as outdoor industry business, including retail and manufacturing, resort and ski area management, state and national park service, outdoor education, camp administration and professional guiding. The potential is limitless.”

Shrader believes the program will provide a future workforce for not only the growing outdoor recreation industry in Mesa County, but will also provide future outdoor professionals to recreation economies all over the country.

“We hope our program can provide businesses with savvy people who can make a living doing what they love and sustaining the corporate structures necessary to sustain this growing industry that has limitless potential.”

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Written by David Ludlam