Young students interested in learning more about Wyoming’s second-largest industry are in luck, thanks to a new major starting this fall at the University of Wyoming.
The degree, a collaboration between UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and the College of Business, aims to expand and diversify Wyoming’s economy, retain graduates in the state and recruit more students to UW. Enrollment is expected to start at 50 students in the first year and grow to 150 by the fourth year.
UW’s board of trustees approved the outdoor recreation and tourism management degree March 22. The degree came about after talks with university deans, President Laurie Nichols and “really strong industry interest.”
Gov. Matt Mead’s Outdoor Recreation Task Force also recommended the creation of the degree.
“As a land grant institution, supporting the second-largest industry in the state is critically important,” said Dan McCoy, degree coordinator.
High school senior Jaxon King, 18, lives in Saratoga and plans to attend UW in the fall.
“I have a goal to work for, own and operate an outdoor hunting, fishing or hiking business in Wyoming or a neighboring state,” King said. “After looking at the big idea behind the degree and its goal, I immediately knew that it would give me the skills necessary to be successful in chasing my dreams.”
Jacksonites are likely enrollees
Jacksonites played a major role in the creation of the degree, among them Jerry Blann, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s president of 22 years who is retiring this year; Adam Sutner, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s chief marketing officer; Anna Olson, president and CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce; and Jim Waldrop, the general manager of The Wort Hotel. All served on the new degree’s advisory committee.
“We’ve also received really generous private support from the Jackson community,” McCoy said. “It’s really been instrumental in our ability to be able to plan for, design and implement a degree like this at this time. This is the first new major that’s come online in a number of years at the university, and we’re really fortunate to be able to do that.”
The new degree comes at a time when the Wyoming State Legislature has cut $42 million from the university’s budget over the past two years.
According to the University of Wyoming, 253 students from Teton County are now enrolled on campus. McCoy said the degree will continue to attract Jackson students.
“Jackson is a prime community,” he said. “There are just so many students that are interested in outdoor recreation, and there are so many businesses tied closely to tourism there.”
Interest seems to be wide
Students from other parts of the state and country are also already interested in the degree. Sophomore Joe Eisenhower, 21, wanted to declare the degree last semester before it even formally existed.
Like many students, Eisenhower is still trying to figure out what he wants to do after college — maybe work for the National Outdoor Leadership School, be an outfitter or, in his wildest dreams, build an outdoor gear store complete with a climbing gym and ski shop.
Whatever he chooses, Eisenhower said, this degree will help get him there.
“It’s exactly the realm of what I want to get into,” Eisenhower said. “Everything is lining up perfectly.”
Students will take a core curriculum that includes courses in business fundamentals, recreation and tourism, environment and natural resources, and social science. They will then choose an area of concentration. Capstone projects during senior year will allow immersion with businesses and organizations around the state.
Alyssa Wesner, 30, is a senior and a student ambassador in the Haub School. It’s too late for her to make the switch, but she is hopeful for the new major.
“Wyoming is such a unique state with all of its wildlife and open spaces. It has an impressive history of inspiring recreation and tourism through the creation of the first national park, the first national monument, and continued conservation practices via many of the current studies on land management, migration patterns, general ecology, and the interactions between humans and the natural environment,” Wesner said. “The outdoor recreation and tourism degree will provide a long-deserved, comprehensive program that will attract both out-of-state interest as well as retain in-state talent for a rapidly growing industry. I’m excited to see it flourish.”