L is for Leadership: Student learns leadership in ‘back country’

Nashville graduate student Mike Bowen is majoring in recreation and sport administration with an emphasis in outdoor leadership. Bowen, who has had outdoor training in Alaska and Patagonia, is an “Outdoor Facilitator” for WKU’s Outdoor Recreation Adventure Center. “My favorite thing about taking people outside is witnessing their new-found appreciation for the outdoors,” Bowen said.

Zirconia Alleyne

Nashville graduate student Mike Bowen decided that he wanted to be in the “back country” his senior year of college at Middle Tennessee State University.

He said the “back country” is anywhere that takes you away from an urban setting.

Bowen didn’t literally want to pack up and move out to the middle of nowhere, but he decided to continue his education in outdoor recreation at WKU.

“I really liked the fact that Western offered the outdoor program,” he said. “It’s a program where you use the outdoors as a compass for recreation skills.”

The Outdoor Leadership Program (OLP) has been offered since 1991. In 2006, WKU began offering a minor in outdoor leadership.

Students spend about 30 days participating in outdoor expeditions that equip them to become certified outdoor leaders through the Wilderness Education Association.

Students embark on five, 10 and 15-day overnight trips that push them to use what they learn from course material.

Bowen said he can’t wait to participate in the program and enhance his leadership skills by gaining more experience.

“I was interested to advance my hard skills like canoeing and backpacking,” Bowen said.

Under the instruction of professors Steve Spencer and Tammie Stenger-Ramsey, he will develop whitewater rafting, canoeing, hiking and backpacking skills.

Adam VanZant, Bowen’s coworker at WKU’s Outdoor Recreation Adventure Center, has already been through the program. He said Spencer and Stenger-Ramsey are definitely what he considers to be leaders.

VanZant, a senior from Glasgow, said he felt like he grew as a leader while in the program.

“It gave me the confidence to be able to take people in the back country,” VanZant said.

La Grange graduate student Dan Wilson said he found out about the program in 2007 from Spencer.

“I learned a lot of stuff about leadership and communication skills, camping and wilderness hygiene techniques,” Wilson said.

As a leader of WKU’s Challenge Course, Wilson said uses the skills he learned on a daily basis to keep his team motivated.

Like VanZant and Wilson, Bowen will become a certified canoe instructor and a “Leave No Trace Trainer” through the OLP.

“‘Leave No Trace’ training shows you how to camp and make it seem like you were never even there,” Bowen said.

Through ORAC, Bowen has led skill clinics, outdoor activities and adventure trips.

At one, he taught students kayaking basics and how to roll a kayak in a swimming pool.

He said the main way he has grown as a leader this semester was being in charge of the ORAC Weekly Ride series.

He was in charge of getting necessary gear together, making sure everyone was safe and mapping out the bike route.

“That was my baby, my project,” Bowen said.

From the leadership positions he’s held, Bowen has learned what traits a leader should possess.

He sees himself as a relational leader, or one who gets the task accomplished while building a relationship.

“A leader should be caring, competent, trustworthy, prepared, organized and passionate and seeks the council around him/her,” Bowen said.