Need a Job? It Pays to Play Outdoors

Release Date: 3/6/2013

During a time when most job markets are struggling, there are jobs in outdoor and environmental fields, especially if you have experience.

In February 2013, the Outdoor Industry Association published economic data demonstrating that outdoor recreation in the United States represents "6.1 million direct American jobs" (Read the full report). And, according to a 2012 study by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington, D.C. (Read the study), the degrees resulting in the lowest unemployment rates when combined with experience are:

  • Health,
  • Agriculture & Natural Resources,
  • Education,
  • Law & Public Policy, and…
  • Recreation.

In these degree areas and dozens of others, University of the Ozarks offers its students tailored coursework, in-depth research, internships, study abroad, campus employment and other co-curricular opportunities that can give them career-defining experience that will help set them apart when they hit the job market.

Lauren Ray

Senior Lauren Ray expects to have numerous career options following graduation because her leadership involvement with Ozarks Outdoors, the Planet Club and Ozarks Outbackers as well as an internship with the Illinois River Watershed Partnership.

Ozarks Outdoors is a vital part of supporting these efforts in areas like health sciences, environmental studies, physical education, ecology & wildlife biology as well as in technical skills trainings, environmental education and outdoor adventure.

Jamie Lewis Hedges, as director of Ozarks Outdoors, is passionate about providing much more than outdoor excursions. He wants students to have the opportunity to expand and polish their professional portfolios while at Ozarks.

"Experience is what Ozarks does," Hedges said. "If there's any defining characteristic of our university, it's that we focus on getting our students from the classroom into the real world."

It's Ozarks Outdoors' mission to enrich the student and community experience through above-standard outdoor and environmental experiences, and this is a cooperative effort across Ozarks' academic departments, campus life, and student leaders. Nothing is more representative of the university's efforts to best position students for entering the outdoor/environmental job market than its outdoor leadership minor.

Beginning this fall, the new outdoor leadership minor will provide an opportunity for students of any discipline to cater their degree toward an outdoor or environmental related field. Graduates with degrees combined with this minor will have access to dynamic careers like outdoor recreation therapy, public lands management, environmental law or policy, environmental conflict mediation, and more.

Matt Friant, a junior environmental studies major from Conway, Ark., currently works as a Program Coordinator with Ozarks Outdoors and aspires to a career in natural resource management.

"Participating in Ozarks Outdoors has helped me a great deal," said Friant. "It has given me the training I need to know about what goes into outdoor recreation programs, plus extra training in some of the outdoor activities I truly love, like rock climbing. These are all fun, but I've also gained skills that could be applicable in the industry that I'm heading into."

Morgan O'Neil

Morgan O’Neil, also a Senior, plans to pursue a career in Environmental Law after exploring her options with the US Peace Corps. She participated in a summer internship with Georgetown.

For example, to better prepare for this year's outdoor activities and get a jump start on his career-related skills, Friant attended two professional workshops last summer: a Wilderness First Responder certification course at University of Texas at Austin and a Professional Climbing Instructors Association course in Asheville, N.C.

Ozarks students are no strangers to gaining experience while enrolled in classes that complements and enhance their education in the fields identified by the Georgetown study.

Morgan O'Neil, a senior from Carbondale, Ill., is a triple major in political science, environmental studies, and English. O'Neil plans to pursue a career in Environmental Law. During her time at Ozarks, she took full advantage of avenues outside the classroom to enhance her education. She served as Student Government Association president, the student representative for the university's presidential search committee, and captain of the Lady Eagles' soccer team. She also participated in a summer internship in Washington, D.C. working with a non-profit organization and taking classes at Georgetown.

"Ozarks has given me a thousand opportunities. It has given me the chance to take on different types of leadership roles. It is easy to be involved on our campus," she said.

Several academic departments use professional preparation tracks to help students identify which career, within their academic area, they wish to pursue after graduation and help them select courses that will develop specific, career-related skill sets. These include biology, health science and political science, those degrees that have some of the best employment rates.

For example, Lauren Ray, a senior environmental studies major from Fayetteville, Ark. and program coordinator with Ozarks Outdoors, organized a workday for 11 students.  Most were biology majors who got involved in community service at Bearcat Hollow, a huge parcel of National Forest in Northwestern Arkansas set aside for wildlife habitat. Ray and the rest of the volunteers assisted Arkansas Wildlife Federation in the clean-up and restoration of the land and then returned to Bearcat this spring to help plant 1,500 native plum trees.

"As involved as I am with outdoor activities and conservation efforts, this is different than anything I've ever done. Working with the Forest Service and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation opened my eyes to how many strategies are out there for protecting and restoring our wildlife areas," Ray said.

In addition, Ray used her experience as program coordinator for Ozarks Outdoors as well as club president of both Outbackers and Planet Club to land an internship with the Illinois River Watershed Partnership. She left there in good standing with an option of returning as an employee to their employ after graduation.

"What people should know about University of Ozarks," Hedges said, "is that here you can get an education in the fields where the jobs are, but at Ozarks that education comes with experience that will make your resume stand out from the pile of 75 other candidates."

Matt Friant

Matt Friant, a junior from Conway, Ark., hopes to combine his love of the outdoors, his experience with Ozarks Outdoors and his major in environmental studies into a career in natural resource management.