Assistant Director of Outdoor Pursuits & Risk Management, Whitney Dyer, discusses the history of Outdoor Pursuits and the year-round equipment and activities that are available for students, faculty, and staff.
I'll start with my undergraduate work. I graduated from Middle Tennessee State University. I had never heard of that school and it happens to be the biggest school in Tennessee and I only came across it because I live and die for soccer and I was recruited to play there. So I did five years there and about two years into my college athlete experience I was burned out and I was just looking for anything to, you know, separate me from the sport and give me something else to dive my time into other than studies in soccer, work, soccer, work, soccer, and I came across the outdoor pursuits program. It's called MTop at Middle Tennessee. And I went on my first ever backpacking trip with them. I had never grown up camping. I lived in Kansas. So camping was kind of not a luxury there. It was kind of a…
It was literally an elevation shift.
Yes, yes. Yeah, not something that a lot of people do for fun. They usually travel to camp instead of camping in Kansas. Once I backpacked for the first time, I just fell in love with everything that it was. The people that you meet along the way, the preparation that it takes. The grit and the effort and then the reward of wherever you are going to get to. So after that I met a lot of the staff and just tried to go outside as much as I could just whenever I had time or whenever we weren't traveling for away games. And I ended up applying to work for that program, worked there a couple of years and had a couple, you know, major changes in between that figuring out what I wanted to do and I found out that this could be a career.
So I started exploring ways that I could make that a career. That's how I found UNC Outdoor Pursuits, as I became the graduate assistant for this program. And about a year and a half into my two year program, my boss at the time left, took a job in Utah and I was direct appointed into his position and now it's turned into what it is now.
What were you studying while you were a graduate assistant here?
I was in the master's program of sports administration and it was phenomenal. I did have to tailor some of the assignments to fit more outdoor rec or campus rec. But the core of the program as far as all of my core competencies directly applied to all the work that I do here. So it was an amazing experience to have the classroom in theory base and then being able to apply it as a graduate assistant. The management class has a whole new meaning. Legal and sport had a whole new meaning for me. I got to look at things a lot more critically and apply directly what I was learning in the classroom to a graduate assistant experience, which was awesome.
And when it came to Outdoor Pursuits, how long had O.P. Been here?
Outdoor Pursuits started in 2012. So, they were brought to existence because of the quality of life act. Basically it was something that the student body voted on in order to pay student fees to supplement Outdoor Pursuits. And at that point it was approved by the students. And so we are still student fee funded today. Our first location was in the large gym, large gym storage. It's not large at all [laughs]. We pretty much outgrew that space as soon as we moved in. We had one canoe, a handful of kayaks and we still had 50 bikes. I'm not sure how the bikes fit in that space, but we had 50 cruiser bikes, and rentals had always been free. So they're still free today and they started free. And we ran about 10 trips that first year. We were really fortunate at that time, this space that we're in now, the west side of Harrison Hall, which used to be the Harrison dining hall, had been vacant. Did you not know that?
No, I didn't.
Yes, we are in an old dining hall.
So I'm assuming that this metal apparatus over here, is it like where the kitchen used to be then?
Yeah, there used to be a huge industrial sink back where our mountain bikes are hanging. You can see the hood vents and then in our back meeting room, you could see where the serving area was like a window.
Good use of space.
So you mentioned a few things in which outdoor pursuits has - Obviously some trips and bikes. What other equipment, say if a student wants to come in here, they've never been in outdoor pursuits, it might be overwhelming. Would you mind describing what all you have?
Yeah, we have everything you could possibly need to go outside in Colorado. I'll say that just because of weather. You could go a lot of places other than Colorado, but the staples that we've started with since 2012, we still have today and they'd be even grown. So, we now have a hundred cruiser bikes that are free for students to rent out. You can rent them for one week at a time. We have 20 mountain bikes, which can be rented for three days at a time, and those are all free. And then we have a huge fleet of water sports. So we have inflatable stand up paddle boards, which are probably our hottest rental. And then we have Whitewater kayaks, canoes, canoes, a canoe trailer, tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, backpacks, various sizes. Snowshoe snowboards, trekking poles, gators, the whole,
The whole gambit.
Now I see why you're saying weather-wise. We are talking snow or not or wherever you need to go.
Yeah, there's not really a slow time in the gear shop because we have equipment for every season and every sport. And the things we don't have, we have tried to set up partnerships with local companies. So we, for instance, we do not have skis in house, but we have a partnership with Scheels and Garretson's that we will hand you a free rental, that you can go and get skis from either one of those companies. So Scheels is located just off of 34 in Johnstown. And when they were building shields, they decided that they wanted to connect with UNC and we were so excited to be able to share what we do, our vision and how we serve this campus and the city of Greeley that we have a two year partnership with them and we are exploring. We're hoping that they're going to join us for another year or two. But it's been an honor to be a part of it and to share their name and hopefully the students have recognized what they have done for us and for them, and it's something we definitely look forward to or grateful for these past two years.
And all it takes is a student I.D.?
You mentioned some trips. What are, what are some of the trips that O.P. has hosted or that O.P. is planning at the moment?
Yes, we are in the process of planning the 2019 2020 academic program. We try to plan everything a year in advance. One of the core trips to our program that has been in existence ever since we started was the Moab spring break trip. We've since added to spring break and we try to have a cheaper option, which Moab typically is and then a more high priced option, which will probably travel further.
So the last couple of years we've gone to Peru We're going to try to expand our international reach and look at a couple other areas and then maybe we can rotate for international trips every year. It just takes a lot of extra planning and then price points very important on what students can afford, which we're all always cognizant of. Some other trips that we will continue to do will be the ski trips, the overnight cabin retreats, the Thanksgiving cabin retreats, which is always really popular amongst our international students that can't go home or any student that can't travel home or doesn't want to go home for Thanksgiving. It's a perfect opportunity to spend it with some friends in the mountains.
When you say cabin, what cabin?
We change cabins, but the last couple of years we've gone to winter park cabin and Frazier, so it's about 10 minutes away from a park and we'll stay there. We've also had some trips at old man mountain that we go to. So, that's really the only on-campus lodging that we utilize is Old Man Mountain.
And you'd mentioned Peru. How did that come to be of all the areas in which you can go?
Yeah, Peru was one of my dream trips. So when I was a graduate assistant, I told Daniel, I said, we need to go international. And my degree at Middle Tennessee was global studies and I studied abroad in Peru and I had built a lot of connections during my time there. And, I always wanted to be able to lead a group of people there. So that was kind of a dream come true to be able to do that. And the trust that Daniel had in me and Scott Schuttenberg who was the previous director was really, I mean that was a reward in itself for them to allow a graduate assistant to lead their first international trip, and then I made that apart of my internship for my masters degree. So all of the planning for that, the implementation and then actually conducting the trip and coming home. So that's been our first ever international trip, which was two years ago. We've gone or three years ago. So we've gone three times now. And so now we're looking at going to another location. I'm not going to say that we're never going to run Peru again because it's an unbelievable trip and it would be so hard not to do it, but we are ready for a new area.
Did you have any in mind already?
I don't want to tease people. We do have a couple. Two locations that were flirting with, so one is Patagonia. And then one we have a relationship with in Taiwan. So we've actually, the campus rec is actually hosted students from there for the last few probably might've even been a part of it. I think it's been almost 10 years. So we've built a lot of friendships and that's really kind of how I choose where we're going to go or that's how I want it to direct where we want to go. We could go anywhere in the world, but something that makes the experience really personable, personal, and memorable is being able to interact with the local community. And so that's a goal of mine whenever we're planning a trip, especially international, is to have a local connection that we can spend the whole time with. Because I've learned from Peru that that's really what makes the trip is the people that you're interacting with. So those two are ones that I have personal connections to. We're exploring both of those. We just need to see if we can hit the right price point to make those happen for the students.
My name is Whitney Dyer. I'm the assistant director of Outdoor Pursuits and Risk Management.
There is one very important aspect to outdoor pursuits they haven't mentioned and it's probably one of the coolest parts of the program is that it's completely student ran. So I'm the only full time, but this program doesn't exist. I cannot do this on my own. And honestly a lot of the ideas, policies and the trips come from the students. So we have two graduate assistants and then we have about 25 student employees and all of our trips, including the international trips have been student led. So that is extremely valuable. It makes the experience so much more valuable, not only for the student employees of outdoor pursuits, getting that leadership experience and just the art of planning and cooking for a large group of people driving and everything that goes into a trip, but also really, really unique experience that you can't get anywhere else for the student participants that are participating in. So that helps us allow trips to be lower cost, so we're not outsourcing everything, so they can be really cost efficient and it also adds to a lot more value for both. The leader and the participant think.
I would just like to invite anyone that's a part of campus or it's coming to campus, or is a part of the bear community in any capacity. There's a lot of things that we offer to the community and a lot of things we offer just to faculty, staff, and students. So we'd love for you to just stop in and say hi, see what we have available, how we can serve you, and if anything, then we might be able to help you plan your next trip if that's something that you're looking for. But we love being a part of this campus. We've loved the response that we've had. We're going to continue to try to grow and offer as many things as we can for you all, but we're just proud to be a part of it.
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