Students learn to climb academic mountains

Outdoor recreation can hold many lessons for West Virginia Wesleyan College students, a graduate assistant and the director of campus life told the Buckhannon Rotary Club Tuesday.

Director of Campus Life Alisa Lively and Graduate Assistant Lance Heinen appeared at Rotary’s weekly luncheon meeting to discuss the endowment-funded outdoor recreational opportunities available through WVWC at accessible prices for students.

“We try to incorporate education into what we do, so it’s not just us going out and having a lot of fun,” Heinen said. “We have guidelines, some learning outcomes, that we want to get to with these students, whether they realize it or not right away.”

Heinen said participating students learn about environmental awareness, and the program helps them to connect what they accomplish in outdoor recreation to the larger world.

“There’s tons of valuable life lessons that can be learned,” Heinen said. For instance, she said a student who had never been rock climbing got to a point in the trip where she wasn’t certain she could continue.

After some encouragement, that student was able to overcome the challenge.

“The next step for us is to connect that back into the real world,” Heinen said. “We’ll get her out on the rock maybe once or twice the whole time she’s at Wesleyan, but how can we connect those skills and those experiences that she learned on that rock back in the rest of her life?”

The initial fear, and then the feeling of overcoming the challenge, can be a positive lesson that the students may experience with many other goals and objectives in life.

“At Wesleyan, we strive to make our students well-rounded,” Lively said.

Through the college’s outdoor recreation program, students have gone whitewater rafting, zip lining, skydiving, paint-balling, skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, skeet shooting, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking and have even participated in a mud obstacle course.

“We’re trying to keep all of our trips in West Virginia,” Heinen said. “There is just a ton of stuff to do in the outdoors in West Virginia. I’m from Texas where we have to drive eight hours to find a tree. Just coming here where I don’t have to drive forever just to be able to do something has been fabulous for me.”

Heinen said that the outdoor recreational opportunities are a huge boon for the economy.

“A lot of people don’t realize how substantial the economic recreation world is to our economy,” Heinen said.

Data from the Outdoor Industry Association that Heinen presented reports that outdoor recreation adds about $646 billion annually to the economy. Heinen also said that the pharmaceutical industry brings in $331 billion, the motor vehicle and parts industry brings in $340 billion, the health care industry brings in $767 billion and financial services brings in $780 billion.

Heinen said that outdoor recreation employs 6.1 million people, whereas the oil and gas industry employs 2.1 million people, and the education industry employees 3.5 million people.

“Everyone knows that coal in West Virginia is a pretty big industry,” Heinen said, adding that it employs about 30,000. “The tourism industry in West Virginia (employs) 44,000 people and (has an economic impact of) $4.27 billion.”

The graduate assistants involved in the program, including Heinen, are responsible for the planning, promotion and implementation of the outdoor recreational programs.

“One of the main things I’m thankful for is that I have two graduate assistants,” Lively said. “They go on all these crazy trips and I don’t have to go.”

This year, students have had the opportunity to go ziplining, rock climbing/camping, rafting, skydiving/camping, paint-balling and backpacking. This weekend, students also have the opportunity to go hiking. Heinen said that about 14 outdoor trips are available to students each year.

“We get to introduce our students to a variety of things that they’ve never done,” Heinen said.

Some students who have taken part in the outdoor trips come from foreign countries and are looking for the American experience, Heinen said. Other students who are native to the United States come from so far south that they have never seen snow.

Contact Melissa Toothman by email at