HES, Great Outdoor Provision Co. Breaking Down Barriers With Outdoors For All Award
NC State's Department of Health and Exercise Studies has partnered with the Great Outdoor Provision Co. to provide an award that reduces the costs for students to take Outdoor Leadership courses.
NC State’s Department of Health and Exercise Studies (HES) and the Great Outdoor Provision Co. (GOPC) are working to break down barriers where none were ever meant to exist: the great outdoors.
Through the Outdoors For All Award, which started last year, the partnership between NC State HES and the GOPC is opening opportunities to take Outdoor Leadership minor courses and experience life-changing trips into the wilderness to a much wider variety of students.
“We never wanted the economics of it to prevent someone from having the opportunity to get out there and experience the outdoors,” said GOPC owner Chuck Millsaps.
We never wanted the economics of it to prevent someone from having the opportunity to get out there and experience the outdoors.
Senior Lecturer Scott Schneider explained that the partnership between NC State and GOPC began to expand last year in efforts to provide more opportunities for students. That includes internships with the GOPC, but HES staff wanted a chance to do more.
With the exception of Rock Climbing I, all of the department’s outdoor leadership courses include an additional fee to cover an outing during the semester. In a discussion with Millsaps, outdoor leadership faculty including Schneider, Tommy Holden, David Crye, Chris Hendricks and Terry Dash stated they wanted a way to remove some of those economic barriers for students.
Millsaps said he would donate $2,500 per semester, and the two entities created the Outdoors For All Award. The award, which students can apply for each semester, is capped at $200 per student to maximize the number of students who can benefit, and covers the outdoor leadership course fees up to $200. In the 2023 spring semester, Schneider said that all of the money was used, and 16 students received a grant.
“It’s just a cool way we can help our students out,” he said.
As part of the award’s official description, “Through HES courses and other events, the GOPC hopes to diversify who interacts with the outdoors and how they experience outdoor spaces. Outdoors For All Awards focus on providing financial support and expanding access within the outdoors for NC State students and communities from historically underrepresented populations.”
Schneider said that the department also referenced journalist and media producer James Edward Mills’ book The Adventure Gap, Changing the Face of the Outdoors in making these determinations.
“Historically, college-educated white males were predominantly the users of these public spaces like national parks and national forest lands,” Schneider said. “These are public places where everyone should feel welcome and safe. Our job is to educate people so they can have the tools to comfortably climb, kayak or pursue whatever activities they want to pursue. So I think we all just care deeply, and, like any healthy ecosystem in nature, it’s got to have diversity with it. These places are healthier when we have all walks of life enjoying them.”
Like any healthy ecosystem in nature, it’s got to have diversity with it. These places are healthier when we have all walks of life enjoying them.”
In addition to removing financial barriers for classes and trips such as ice climbing in New Hampshire’s White Mountains (Mountaineering), the hope for HES and the GOPC is that the Outdoors for All Award helps create a more welcoming, inclusive environment for students who want to experience these outdoors experiences and adventures.
“We’re using this to not only pay the course fees, but also to welcome students in and have a larger conversation,” Schneider said. “We want to say that we want everyone to be a part of this community. Part of that is diversifying the students that come into our program, as well as trying to use this one tool that we have to chip away at some barriers to entry.”
Millsaps said that GOPC has stores in university cities and towns throughout North Carolina, and works closely with the outdoor recreation programs for those universities.
In 2019, Millsaps and his staff participated in a training program with Earl Hunter, who founded the Brevard-based outdoor inclusivity program Black Folks Camp Too.
“At some point, we’ve all benefited from the fact that someone took it upon themselves to take us out in the woods,” Millsaps said. “All of us that work at Great Outdoor Provision Co. have benefited from that. We just wanted to make sure that we’re doing everything we could to ensure that there was equity and no barrier to entry. So this seemed like a practical way to put our talk into a walk.”
For people like Millsaps and Schneider, who love the outdoors, one of the major reasons that expanding inclusivity and access to these open spaces is so important is the need to protect those spaces.
“In 2022, a thousand acres of green canopy were eliminated from the Triangle with development,” Millsaps said. “So open space and wild places have continued to be in short supply as a limited resource. It’s constantly under threat. The advocates for open space are people that love it. So if we can help introduce people to the outdoors in a manner that helps them fall in love with it, then they’ll make decisions that keep that open space around.”
As part of the application for the Outdoors For All Award, students write about how they’d use the award money, and its benefits for them.
Schneider said it’s been gratifying to hear from students who received the award and stated that they never could have taken some of these outdoor courses and had these experiences without the award.
“I think the word is getting out that the Outdoor Leadership instructors are welcoming and want to create an inclusive space to learn, grow and share these wild places with every student,” he said. “We feel very fortunate for our partnership with GOPC that we can offer this to students and help eliminate the financial barrier for most of the classes.”