Students in the University of Wyoming’s new outdoor recreation and tourism management degree program are completing projects in southeast Wyoming as part of an innovative, applied experience called the professional semester.
The professional semester is a suite of classes, taught by the program’s faculty, for students in their last year of the program. This is the second annual professional semester offered through the outdoor recreation and tourism management program, which is an undergraduate degree offered through UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.
Professional semester projects are community-driven and address specific needs or issues. This year, six different agencies or organizations were selected from sites closer to Laramie to minimize travel for students due to COVID-19. The agencies and organizations include the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation, Visit Cheyenne, Visit Laramie, the Laramie Parks and Recreation Department, Snowy Range Ski Area and the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest’s Laramie Ranger District. The projects have mentors from the agencies or organizations who work closely with the student teams to help them develop reports and present their findings.
“The professional semester projects are a great way for our students to apply their years of education, in their final year at UW, to specific needs or issues in the community,” says Dan McCoy, the outdoor recreation and tourism management degree and professional semester coordinator. “We are excited to have such great projects and mentors this year.”
Jaxon King, of Saratoga; Zane Buchanan, of Arvada, Colo.; and Jordan Kobliska, of Oconomowoc, Wis., are working with the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest’s Laramie Ranger District to provide the Forest Service with feedback from the Pole Mountain Community Gateways nonmotorized plan for the Pole Mountain Unit. According to Mary Grace Bedwell, a project mentor and a public affairs specialist with the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, “the Pole Mountain Community Gateways Project is an important process for shaping recreation in southeast Wyoming in the coming decades. Providing an opportunity for students in their professional semester to engage with the pre-project public input process and also provide technical support to our team is an invaluable experience for both students and Forest Service staff.”
“I am so excited to work on the nonmotorized preferred alternative for the Pole Mountain Unit,” Kobliska says. “I’d love to work in public lands management in the future, and this is a great opportunity to get my foot in the door with the Forest Service.”
Maddie Reid, a senior from Loveland, Colo., and Kat Gruner, of Casper, are working with the Laramie Parks and Recreation Department on a bike park feasibility study.
“I am excited to be working on the Laramie bike park feasibility study, because this bike park will give the Laramie community more options to recreate closer to home,” Reid says. “I’ve always had a passion for getting others outdoors, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to help provide a more accessible recreation location for the people of Laramie.”
Chris Floyd, the manager of the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation, is working with students Emma Adams, of Tulsa, Okla., and Cade Bednarchik, of Parker, Colo., to develop a communication tool to convey the economic and social benefits of outdoor recreation to stakeholders across the state.
“We know that the outdoor recreation sector is an important part of our economy, but we need help in compiling and sharing this information in a meaningful way,” Floyd says. “We are thrilled to be partnering with the UW outdoor recreation and tourism management program to do just that. With the increased demand for outdoor recreation over the past year, this capstone project will help highlight the potential for outdoor recreation to be a driving force in the diversification of our economy.”
Students Hailey Moss, of Douglas, and Levi Kaiser, of Casper, are working with Visit Cheyenne on a tourism master plan.
“When we imagined this process of a unique, first-of-its-kind tourism master plan for our county, the students in the capstone class for outdoor recreation and tourism management were first on our mind to help it be successful,” says Domenic Bravo, CEO of Visit Cheyenne. “The students will bring a unique perspective, a fresh examination of strategies and a scholarly polish to this critical document. In turn, they will learn how the practical applications of their degree program directly apply to our industry.”
“I am so excited to be a part of creating the Cheyenne tourism master plan with Visit Cheyenne, because it allows for me to grow my understanding of the tourism industry in Wyoming while also utilizing all of the wonderful skills I have learned throughout the degree program,” Moss says.
Students are in the project investigation phase, wherein they develop comprehensive investigation plans of the documents, reports, individuals and organizations they intend to interview or review. Once their investigation plans are complete, students will implement their plans and ultimately develop reports, and present them to public audiences in May.
“Ultimately, what we want these students to be able to do is make positive, long-lasting impacts in outdoor recreation and tourism-related industries in Wyoming that further economic diversification and support for the second largest industry in our state — tourism,” McCoy says. “In turn, students gain valuable experience and apply their skills to complex issues or opportunities.”
Here is the full list of participating students, listed by their hometowns:
Arvada, Colo. — Zane Buchanan.
Casper — Kat Gruner and Levi Kaiser.
Chaska, Minn. — Kevin Marsh.
Douglas — Cody Blair and Hailey Moss.
Loveland, Colo. — Maddie Reid.
Oconomowoc, Wis. — Jordan Kobliska.
Parker, Colo. — Cade Bednarchik.
Saratoga — Jaxon King.
Tulsa, Okla. — Emma Adams.
Westminster, Colo. — Nicholas Alles.
Wilmington, Mass. — Jillian Troy.