Creating an Out of doors Program at UW Half Two — Classes Discovered


We were proud to share the first part of this story about the University of Washington (UW) experience with a brand new outdoor program. For part two, we look forward to sharing insights and the ups and downs—although there are mostly ups—of designing and running an outdoor program on a campus that didn’t have one before. Enjoy this interview with one of our Associate Directors and the program’s founder, Matt Jensen.

Matt Newman (MN): How did you get on the field? What is your background in campus rec and outdoor programming?

Matt Jensen (MJ): I am a product of a university outdoor program. When I was a student at the University of Nebraska Omaha, a friend spotted a flyer for a kayaking class hosted by the Outdoor Venture Center (OVC), and while I was on the class I was hooked after the first wet exit. I applied for a student job and spent the next four years working in every area of ​​the OVC, from Trip Leader to Climbing Center Student Manager.

After graduating, I did an internship at Idaho State University’s Outdoor Adventure Center and Cooperative Handicapped Outdoor Group (CWHOG). I swam wild rivers, climbed the city of rocks and even became a trainable water ski instructor. It was fantastic!

EXTRA CREDIT: Creativity is key to the success of an outdoor rec program.

I eventually ended up in the Pacific Northwest and accepted the position of climbing manager at UW. There was no outdoor program on campus at the time, which struck me as odd. In a place like Seattle with amazing access to wild landscapes, there was no formal program that would help students find adventure. For the next nine years or more I worked toward the goal of developing a program.

MN: What did you see as an opportunity at UW to develop an outdoor program from scratch?

MJ: By the mid-2000s, it was clear that creating an outdoor program was not a department priority. Knowing it was a long game, I devoted my time to creating a climbing program that was hard to ignore. I would meet with other people inside and outside of our department in hopes that I could build critical mass or just forge partnerships when the program was finally complete. I worked with outdoor recreation club leadership inside and outside the recreation department, focusing on the benefits and opportunities that more resources could offer. Everyone was so supportive of the concept and me, but no one had the ability to push for change.

The origin of UWild Adventures required that stars be aligned at both the administrative and student levels. That moment was in 2015. Our department was under new management and I had the opportunity to apply for a student innovation fund. I’m not sure the program would have come together without those two things.

MN: What is a certain piece of wisdom that you would pass on to others?

MJ: The greatest lesson I’ve learned can be summed up in the famous Eisenhower quote: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” My experience has been that the more time spent planning for the desired outcome, the less time was spent on it Spent making decisions “in the moment” when things didn’t go as planned. The less time it takes to make decisions about alternative paths to our desired outcome, the more time is available for other tasks. Another way to put it is to move slowly to move fast.

MN: Did you learn any lessons to share?

MJ: Some other quick hitters are:

1. The tremendous amount of effort that goes into developing the backend of a program will likely go unnoticed by students, and that’s the best compliment.

EXTRA CREDIT: Forward-looking planning can help keep your facility open, no matter the crisis.

2. Program development and program development are not always the same. Programs require a lot of outside influence, which creates many moving targets.

3. Knowing that a process will have moving targets is half the battle. The other half develops the decision-making process that allows a program to maneuver quickly. It is my firm belief that when any planning process – program or program – begins by outlining measurable desired outcomes, decisions are made around those outcomes. When the most direct route to that result is blocked, it seems easier to just change the result. Don’t change the result, just build a new path around the obstacle.

4. In developing or redeveloping a program, there are gains and losses. However, these losses are opportunities for rethinking. Don’t bother with so-called mistakes. Work on the next achievement.

5. It’s difficult to get state permits, so start somewhere else if possible. We’ve put as much effort into locating state lands as we have into trying to gain access to important state land targets, only to be denied and have to look elsewhere.

6. Build good relationships with your campus risk department staff. You’re going to matter whether you like it or not, so bring cookies and your A-game.

7. There is no such thing as plug and play. What worked on one campus may not work on another.