You Want to Major in WHAT?!
Thirty years ago, as I was in the process of choosing a college to attend, I might have heard that very question had I told my parents I wanted to go to Young Harris College to major in Outdoor Leadership. Fortunately for me, my parents would have been supportive of whatever I chose to major in, but you have to admit, a degree in Outdoor Leadership doesn’t sound quite as mainstream a degree in…oh, let’s say, English, History or…Math. Maybe Outdoor Leadership isn’t exactly what most kids think about when they start thinking about what to major in in college, but it definitely sounds like something that would be a lot more interesting and fun than most other majors. As it was, after my two years at YHC, I ended up a geology major at Furman…another major that’s not exactly mainstream. As I look back, I can’t help but wonder what life would have been like today had YHC been a four-year school with an Outdoor Leadership program back in the day.
According to the Young Harris College website, “The Bachelor of Science degree in Outdoor Leadership provides students with an innovative curriculum rooted in the philosophical, historical and theoretical foundations of experiential education. In the spirit of the liberal arts, students engage in a comprehensive educational experience that emphasizes a holistic approach to learning and development. Students benefit from a learning environment located in the southern Appalachian Mountains, ideally situated between the Chattahoochee, Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. The access to premiere rivers, trails and rock faces is immediate. Students integrate theory and application through classroom and field experiences that utilize the campus resources and the wilderness areas surrounding the College. Graduates of the program are competent, ethical leaders who are prepared to provide effective, environmentally sound, outdoor education programs in a variety of social service settings.”
One day, eight or ten years ago, I happened to be looking at the YHC website and noticed that a young prof named Rob Dussler was hosting a fly tying clinic for interested YHC Students. Being a YHC grad and an avid fly fisher and fly tier myself, I wondered if there was a way I might be able to do something to help and to give back a little to the institution that’s had such a profound impact in my own life. To make a long story short, I fired off an e-mail to Rob, Rob responded, we tied flies with half a dozen of his students one afternoon and we’ve been doing it once or twice a year since. As a side note, Rob has since developed a Fly Fishing class that can be taken as part of the Outdoor Leadership program or as an elective by any interested student.
While I was working on the YHC Outdoor Adventures/ Q&A with Dr. Bryan Hayes post a few weeks back, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to do a similar interview with Rob. Rob said he was up to the task so here we go…
SD: Let’s get this Q&A started, Rob, tell us a little about yourself, what brought you to Young Harris College and what your role is on campus.
RD: I am originally from Texas, so outdoor adventure growing up usually related to hunting and fishing with the occasional weeklong trip to Colorado. I moved to Georgia in the early 90’s to attend graduate school. I fell in love with the southeast. It amazed me that I could be in a major metropolitan city, Atlanta, and in a very short drive be in the mountains kayaking, fly-fishing, backpacking etc… I decided to attend Georgia College and State University for a Master’s Degree in Outdoor Education Administration. My job search led me to YHC. I felt like I could make a difference here and was encouraged by the intimate feel of the campus. I was also surprised that the College did not have a formalized program at the time and I was excited to get it going. This is my 12th year at YHC. I currently serve as the Chair of the Outdoor Leadership Department and as the Director of the Outdoor Leadership Center.
SD: Tell us more about what Outdoor Leadership is and what it’s about, let’s go beyond what we see on the YHC website.
RD: Outdoor Leadership is about human growth and development. We have small classes and they are very personal in nature. Real life happens in our program. People think it’s all about the activities, but the activities are just vehicles to propel folks into a new understanding of themselves, others and the world around them. Obviously, you can’t facilitate that for another if you are not really sure who you are. We spend a considerable amount of time processing and reflecting on experiences and having students explore their strengths and challenges in life, where they are going and why. I think it serves them well no matter what they end up doing.
SD: By now I suspect there are some folks reading this post, maybe a parent of a student trying to decide on a major or a student trying to decide on a major that are thinking “All of this is pretty cool but want can I do with it beyond college? What kind of job or career can an Outdoor Leadership lead to?”
RD: There is plenty of work in the field. We have students working in some impressive careers all over the world. Some of these students are in management positions as well. Some are choosing to pursue graduate school. I am very pleased with our graduates and am getting very positive feedback about the opportunities that were available to them after they graduated and their level of satisfaction with their current work position.
SD: I’m guessing becoming a college professor and teaching Outdoor Leadership to other young folks is a pretty good gig too.
RD: It’s darned hard work for sure – don’t let a simple photograph of a canoeing or fishing trip fool you into thinking it’s not. That said, I love it and yes…. it is a lot of fun too.
SD: OK Rob, one last question. Say I’m a student at YHC who (unfortunately) isn’t majoring in Outdoor Leadership, what classes are offered that I could take as an interesting and fun elective course?
RD: Classes that are open to non major – some on a wait list basis are: Introduction to Outdoor Education, Backcountry Living Skills, Canoeing, Kayaking, Fly Fishing, Rock Climbing, Tree Climbing.
Many thanks to Rob Dussler for putting up with my questions. For anyone interested in Outdoor Leadership at Young Harris College, check out the Outdoor Leadership page on the YHC website at http://www.yhc.edu/outdoorleadership or contact Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also…check back here in the future for guest posts by YHC Outdoor Leadership students who will tell us what they’ve been up to lately.