Baylor recreation hosts outdoor classroom

Manhattan Beach, Calif., junior Marie Lauzon hang glides over Rio de Janeiro. Lauzon participated in Semester at Sea last fall.

By Emily Ballard

The Baylor outdoor recreation department will use the great outdoors as its classroom this summer. The previous two years the department has made trips to North Carolina to study outdoor recreation and leisure theory and practices, but this year they are taking it to the next level. They will journey from the rugged peaks of West Texas to the southern Rocky Mountains in Colorado, reaching elevations of over 14,000 feet.

The group will consist of about 10 students and two guides, including Kelli McMahan, lecturer and coordinator of outdoor recreation at Baylor, and Daniel Ezell, graduate assistant for Baylor outdoor adventure and manager of Baylor’s famed rock wall — the tallest collegiate indoor rock wall in Texas.

The educational part of the trip will cater to Baylor’s recreation leisure services majors, as well as other students seeking elective and lifetime fitness credits.

Non-recreation leisure services majors can get credit for beginning climbing, intermediate climbing and backpacking and camping, McMahan said.

They will leave campus May 15 to travel to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma for rock climbing.

“There is one formation called crab eyes that has two round boulders perched right on top of a vertical wall as if it’s a pair of eyes watching over everything,” Ezell said. “WMWR is also a great area for teaching students the basics of climbing skills and safety. The park is never crowded.”

The itinerary also includes rock climbing in New Mexico, attempting to summit Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas and backpacking in Gunnison National Forest in Colorado.

“We will be doing some summit attempts,” McMahan said.

With 20 peaks over 13,000 feet and 2 peaks over 14,000, they will have endless opportunities for exploration.

Both McMahan and Ezell have credentials as well-travelled and experienced mountain-trekkers. Ezell climbed a 1,200-ft. face rock this past summer in the Wind River Range in Wyoming. ”It was the most committed climb I have ever done in the sense that once we started going, the only way off was up and over the top,” Ezell said. “It was a really long day but totally worth it in the end.”

“Skill-wise, the students will benefit from him,” McMahan said of Ezell.

McMahan said she summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and almost made it to the top of Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America.

Ezell hopes to find a balance between learning and having fun in his teaching methods, he said.

“I love teaching in the outdoors,” Ezell said. “It is much easier to get undivided attention in a natural setting. Distractions like cell phones and computers do not work and the only possible distraction is nature itself.”

Certifications as Leave No Trace Master Educators will be awarded to students at the end of the trip. The nonprofit organization works toward minimalizing human impact on the environment and teaching people how to enjoy nature responsibly, according to

“The lessons really require the students to get creative in how they will present their topics because they will not be in a traditional classroom setting but rather in the wilderness,” he said.

McMahan and Ezell will use a hands-on, do-it-yourself approach to education since the group will not have access to classrooms.

“With rock climbing, they will need to learn how to set the climbs up before they can climb them, so there is a natural progression of learning a new skill, then getting to enjoy the benefits of practicing what they just learned.”

Ezell most looks forward to the backpacking portion of the trip, as he appreciates how the experience of backpacking can bring groups together, he said.

“Every moment is devoted to getting to know one another and working together,” he said.

In contrast to the ordinary professor-student relationship, McMahan said she forms deep friendships with the students on these camping trips. The wilderness has a way of forcing people to lower their barriers, she said.

“It’s fun being with the students and watching them grow. Maybe some of them never slept in tents before,” she said. “Being with students outdoors is my passion.”

The recreation industry is growing. Even institutions with serious objectives recognize people’s need for leisure activity. Recreation and leisure services majors can find jobs in the recreation departments of churches, city parks, universities, hospitals, camps and even prisons, McMahan said.

“I think it could be a rewarding experience socially and possibly professionally in their long-time leisure,” she said. “It can have long-term benefits.”