Steve Spencer reaches the end of the trail

Spencer Harsh

Steve Spencer, a professor in WKU’s Recreation Administration department, is preparing to enter retirement.

On Sept. 19, Steve Spencer was in a barn on his home property located just outside of Bowling Green working on replacing the light bulb of a brake light on his camping trailer. Before the “boat barn” located at WKU’s challenge course was built, Spencer used his barn and property as a classroom and facility for his students.

After nearly 28 years at WKU, Spencer has entered a transitional phase in his retirement from higher education. Spencer, commonly referred to as “Doc” by friends and colleagues, spent his career in the recreation administration department as a professor.

“I come from a PE background, and my experience is more on education,” Spencer said. “My personal interest is outdoor recreation; it’s my play. So why not combine my work and play?”

During his time as a professor, Spencer taught a variety of courses including hunter education, firearms classes, paddling classes and expedition planning. Additionally, Spencer became a certified Wilderness First Responder, Leave No Trace Master Educator, American Canoe Association instructor and American Camp Association Outdoor Living Skills instructor.

Before Spencer had come to WKU, he worked as an assistant football coach at the University of Missouri from 1978-81, a lecturer and assistant coach at Southwest Missouri State University from 1981-85, an athletic director and head football coach at Springfield Catholic High School and a graduate assistant in the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building program at the University of Arkansas from 1988-90.

“I spent time as an administrator, and I didn’t want to do that,” Spencer said, reflecting on his experiences before coming to WKU. “I wanted to be in a position to maybe influence something.”

Spencer’s crowning achievement while working at WKU has been the development of the Outdoor Leadership Program, otherwise known as OLP. The OLP is currently a program students take to earn a minor in outdoor recreation. The program spans an entire semester, typically in the spring, and has students take courses that cover land-based skills, water-based skills, expedition planning and leadership development.

When Spencer came to WKU in 1990, there was already a program for outdoor recreation minors, but Spencer wanted to do more with it.

“If everything’s going perfect, then maybe you need to increase your goals,” Spencer said. “[It’s about] doing it for the program, not yourself. So I did.”

Spencer started the OLP as it is today in 2012. Initially, students and faculty had few resources to work with. As the program went on, it expanded and grew, Spencer said. Students began to have more access to camping gear and resources.

“OLP was definitely my favorite thing to teach,” Spencer said. “I’d been wanting to do the outdoor program in more detail.”

Spencer said the recreation field is always changing.

“I think the recreation field is moving towards a sport venue,” Spencer said. “Our sport administration students and our recreation administration students compete for the same jobs.”

Wherever his students go, Spencer said he hopes they listened whenever he “emphasized experiential learning.” In most of his courses, Spencer said he made the effort to mention the term to his students.

“Experiential learning was a big part of it because it forces you to work in groups,” he said. “You have to work with people in the real world.”

Reporter Spencer Harsh can be reached at [email protected],edu. Follow him on twitter at @ActualSparsh