Gautier — These are not your mom and dad’s college classes. The new outdoor recreation leadership degree program at the Jackson County Campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) has classes in canoeing, sea kayaking, backpacking and snow skiing. Officials with the school are enthusiastic about the program and believe it’s the wave of the future.
“Even Mississippi is becoming more urban, and people want to go do different things,” said Dr. Wayne Taylor, who heads up the program. “My dad grew up on a farm in Alabama and would have never done this, but people are not growing up on farms anymore. Cities want recreation opportunities because it adds to the quality of life.”
He and Dr. Rick Christmas, vice president of the Jackson County campus, hope to see the program, now in its second year, grow and become well known among the 30 to 40 such programs around the country. They anticipate reaching 10 majors by the end of 2006 and 20 by 2007. There are currently five students enrolled in this major.
The program consists of theory classes in leisure foundations, leisure programming and leadership and activity classes designed to give students sample experiences in outdoor recreation skills and adventure. Two of the activity classes — whitewater rafting and snow skiing — must take place out of the area.
Additionally, Taylor said professionals working in commercial, community, collegiate, therapeutic and military recreation and national parks will speak to the classes. “The professionals come to share ideas on their agencies, how to prepare for careers in their areas, to recruit summer/part-time staff, and to tell students of their preparation history and how they positioned themselves for their careers,” he said.
Students are also required to visit agencies to gather first-hand information, interview staff and return to share this insight with class members through power point presentations. Along with that, students are required to participate in service projects that allow them to give back to nature and the community. In the program’s first year, 20 local agencies were highlighted, and projects performed with the Gautier Migratory Bird Festival, Shepard State Park’s hiking trail, and trash cleanup to name a few.
Christmas taught at Colorado Mountain College’s Leadville Campus for a number of years and returned to his native Jackson County in 1996 to work for MGCCC. Outdoor recreation was a way of life in the mountainous Central Colorado district.
“Outdoor recreation has been a trend in the West for a long time. Due to the very inviting environment, people do a variety of things,” he said. “We have lots of opportunities with our water activities. I believe our program will grow as people become more aware of it and understand its value.”
Christmas says the college didn’t experience any skepticism or opposition to the non-traditional program although there is a general lack of knowledge of what it can be for students. “Our graduates may work with troubled youth or executives and a lot of people in between on ropes leadership courses,” he said. “Many will go on to work on four-year degrees and some won’t do anything in this major but will use these activities and skills in other areas of their lives.”
Residents of the area have embraced the program, he adds, noting that the activity classes earn students one credit each, the same as all sports.
“I’ve been trying to get folks interested in this concept for some time. It’s to help people learn how to do a variety of outdoor things in a coordinated way and it’s timely here. There’s a tremendous opportunity for ecotourism in our area. The area has taken on that challenge and outdoor recreation leadership is applicable for that.”
He points out that the Jackson County Campus’ Estuarine Education Center being developed on 33 acres bordering Mary Walker Bayou will play a vital role in the new major as well as the related environmental science and marine technology majors. This new center will include a leadership ropes course, a lake, and hiking and interpretive trails.
An outdoor recreation leadership center is also scheduled to be built on the bayou. It will incorporate a variety of facets to better prepare students for careers. These will include classrooms, outdoor gear rental and storage, resource area, a climbing wall, computer workstations and staging areas for expeditions.
“I’m very excited about the program and its potential for the whole community. That’s what we’re about as a community college,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have Wayne Taylor lead this program.”
Taylor taught at Middle Tennessee State and started a similar program at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn. The Gautier program is his first experience with a two-year college where students move through quickly. The curriculum prepares students for the world of work and also to begin a junior year at a university. He and other faculty members met with representatives from the University of Southern Mississippi, University of Mississippi and University of South Alabama.
“All three universities have B.S. degrees in one or more aspects of recreation, and our degree plan will, as one professor stated, ‘fit nicely into our programs,’” Taylor said. “We are excited about these partnerships and feel they will serve the students, the college, the universities and the career field in a positive fashion.”
He feels MGCCC’s program will be a stepping stone for graduates and hopes to make them the best they can be by exposing them to many opportunities. “The school is investing a lot of money into the program because they think it will be big,” he said. “If someone can wear many hats, they’re better off and more marketable. We want our outdoor recreation majors to be well rounded.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.