A community college tucked along Maine’s St. Croix River is equipping students — including veterans — to lead others into the outdoors with two new program concentrations.
Washington County Community College (WCCC) in Calais launched its Outdoor Leadership program in 2002. The program trains students for entry-level positions in the nature- and adventure-based tourism industries and offers the chance to easily transition to a similar four-year program elsewhere. To date, the program has been a success, launching dozens of wilderness-ready men and women into careers such as river and hunting guides, camp directors, outdoor educators, park interpreters, and more.
WCCC is taking things a step further by offering an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Adventure Recreation & Tourism and Adventure Therapy — students can also earn a certificate in the former. Each AAS consists of either 63 or 63.5 credit hours of courses like “Intro to Sea Kayaking,” “Wilderness Advanced First Aid,” and “The Maine Environment.”
“Maine’s natural resources allow us access to an amazing outdoor classroom comprised of mountains, rivers, and the ocean,” said Scott Fraser, the lead Outdoor Leadership program instructor. “Within two hours of our campus, we have access to Acadia National Park (world-class rock-climbing venues), three river systems that provide multi-day opportunities for teaching paddling and rescue skills, Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin, which provides high-quality mountaineering and winter skills development opportunities, and of course, right in our own backyard, thousands of miles of ocean coastline that provide sea kayaking and sailing venues.”
The program certainly has come a long way since its beginning, when someone handed Fraser a piece of paper with a few course names on it and asked him to build the program. Though he is the only full-time instructor, a small group of expert adjunct professors who specialize in outdoor leadership and recreation complete the teaching roster. Fraser expects the number of both students and instructors to grow quickly in the future.
“Tourism is among the leading industries in the world, and adventure-based and nature-based tourism is the fastest growing sector of that industry,” he said. “This is certainly true in Maine, and there are thousands of related jobs in our state.”
The Adventure Therapy option is especially exciting, Fraser added, because it provides students with the opportunity to combine training in outdoor leadership with counseling and facilitation skills. This unique blend allows graduates to lead and facilitate adventure- and wilderness-based therapeutic experiences that help clients manage and overcome various behavioral, cognitive, social, and affective disorders.
One group fits that description perfectly, Fraser said: military members and veterans, who already possess team-based skillsets in the outdoors, for starters. Plus, nature is often used as a setting for healing from PTSD and war trauma — and both ends of these types of programs benefit.
“Although our program is not specifically designed to be therapeutic itself, students have reported that the program has been therapeutic for them and has helped them transition back to a healthier lifestyle,” said Fraser. “I think this would be a very attractive program for many of today’s veterans, whether they want to be challenged to learn more about themselves, or whether they want to learn how to help others suffering from PTSD and related disorders.”
A small-yet-growing number of former military members have gone through the Outdoor Leadership program. Fraser hopes it continues to climb.
“I appreciate the service that our veterans have made to this country, and I hope that this program in some way helps provide a service to those men and women who have made sacrifices so that we can enjoy the freedoms our country provides,” he said.