The University of Wyoming is set to launch a new degree program in the fall aimed at training graduates to work in the state’s tourism and outdoor industries.
The UW Board of Trustees voted in March to approve a new interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation and tourism management through the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and the College of Business.
Dan McCoy, who is coordinating the new degree, said it’s aimed at giving students skills and knowledge to become leaders outdoor recreation and tourism.
“This success may, in turn, allow them to reside in Wyoming and help these sectors evolve to meet their full economic potential while enhancing Wyoming’s ethic of natural resource leadership,” he said.
Travel and hospitality is the second largest industry in the state, trailing only energy development. According to the Wyoming Office of Tourism, 8.7 million visitors spent $3.6 billion in Wyoming last year, generating $186 million in tax revenue and supporting 32,000 jobs. Many of those visitors come for outdoor opportunities.
“Tourism is big business in this state, and it’s an export economy,” said Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism.
“We have all these beautiful natural assets and are ripe for developing further opportunities within outdoor recreation.”
Shober was part of an advisory board that connected UW officials with tourism leaders around the state during the development of the degree. The board asked industry members what skills they needed in their workforce and whether they wanted graduates from UW.
She said businesses will benefit from skilled graduates, students will benefit from being ready to join the industry and UW will benefit by attracting students.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Shober said.
Debbie Disney, corporate operations manager for Timberline Hospitalities, which operates Holiday Inn of Laramie, said her company is “very high” on a four-year program with a hospitality element.
Holiday Inn often takes on student interns, who will now have the opportunity to earn a specialized degree without leaving Wyoming. They can then use that degree in Laramie or take it back to their hometowns, she said.
“We just believe that by having this program, that will open the pool even bigger for us to have additional interns and hospitality students that will enter our workforce at the Holiday Inn in Laramie,” she said.
One student ready to major in outdoor recreation and tourism management at UW next year is Jackson King, a high school senior in Saratoga.
He’s grown up hunting and fishing in Wyoming and would love to have a professional career as a guide or working in a related business. The business elements of the new degree caught has eye, as did the opportunity for a professional semester and an internship.
“In the process of looking for a degree that would be beneficial, I got word of this degree,” he said. “From everything I understand, this degree would be perfect for going into that field.”
Erin Barnhardt, a high school senior in North Dakota planning to attend UW in the fall as well, was also attracted by the new degree. She said she could see herself starting a company related to her many outdoor interests, and the degree’s business elements and leadership opportunities are an attraction.
“I like the idea of job opportunities right away,” she said.
The outdoor recreation and tourism management degree requires that students take a core curriculum of classes on business fundamentals, recreation and tourism, environment and natural resources and social science.
Eleven new courses will be part of the mix, along with classes from around campus.
Students will choose an area of concentration from among five options: business and hospitality management, management of recreation resources, cultural and international tourism, outdoor recreation leadership and creative studies in recreation and tourism.
Students will participate in a professional semester, where they work for an agency or business to develop a capstone project. The degree also includes an internship.
The degree will train students for a range of career paths, such as guiding wilderness trips, operating a dude ranch, working for a land management agency or interacting with international visitors.
Dominic Bravo, division administrator for Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails, said the degree “couldn’t come at a much more opportune time” when it comes to the potential of the state’s outdoor tourism economy.
“These student will be very well-rounded when they finish their program, and definitely an asset for agencies like mine,” he said.
McCoy said interest in developing the new degree came from several avenues. There had been talk in the Haub School about such a program during recent years. UW President Laurie Nichols offered a similar suggestion when she came to Laramie.
Gov. Mead’s Outdoor Recreation Task Force, which convened in 2016, listed workforce training as one of its recommendations. The aim of the task force was to find ways to bolster recreation and tourism and thereby diversify Wyoming’s economy.
Additionally, industry support in the form of advice and funding has aided the development process, McCoy said
“We had really generous private support to make this degree happen, from all over the state,” he said.
McCoy said the UW degree is unique among similar programs at other universities because of its focus on developing a workforce for the private sector, not just government agencies.