Fully Immersed in a Program that Focuses on Hands-On Learning.

From the start, the opportunities Ben Fournier ’18 explored as a student at Northern Vermont University-Lyndon led to unexpected turns, exciting paths, and new passions.

He came to NVU-Lyndon to play Division III varsity baseball and practiced with the team for a couple of weeks, and then one of his classes introduced him to a new sport — on the rocks.

“I took my first climbing course and fell in love with it,” says Ben, an outdoor education, leadership, and tourism (OELT) major with a concentration in adventure leadership. Baseball was history after that.

“Climbing was a totally new activity for me. There are so many rope systems and technical skills involved. I just grasped that easily and love everything that’s involved with it,” he says.

Real-World Experience is the Best Teacher

As a sophomore, Ben participated in an immersion semester (a semester-long innovative experience that includes four expeditions around the country with a focus on increasing leadership and organizational skills in the field). During his immersion, Ben planned logistics, food, and gear for backcountry trips on Vermont’s Long Trail and in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine as well as whitewater paddling in the Adirondacks.

“You learn all the technical skills involved in traveling the backcountry, and you practice your leadership and teamwork skills,” Ben says. “That semester I thrived and got a lot of good feedback from my professors…That semester locked me into wanting to do outdoor education.”

The next semester, Ben and some other NVU students took an Avalanche Level II course in Jackson, Wyoming, taught by Professor Jake Urban, an adjunct NVU instructor in the OELT program who runs the Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership Institute (JHOLI). Professor Urban was a 1997 mountain recreation management major at Lyndon State College (now NVU-Lyndon). “We were backcountry skiing the whole time and learned about decision-making and how to safely travel through avalanche terrain. That sold me on what I want to do,” Ben says.

Building Career Skills in a Valuable Internship

That following winter, Ben, of Woodsville, New Hampshire, earned NVU credits during a paid internship with Professor Urban. Ben was tasked with doing office work and fieldwork for avalanche education and wilderness medicine courses. The skills he gained in that internship led to his current full-time position with JHOLI, and he recently became an American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education instructor, so now he is certified to teach avalanche education courses for JHOLI.

The faculty in the OELT gave Ben the connections that helped him get his internship in Wyoming and a job he had for three summers as an outdoor educator with the Appalachian Mountain Club. “Networking through professors and people they know has been amazing,” Ben says. “The professors know a lot of people all around the country and the world.”

Opportunities to Earn Relevant Certifications at NVU

NVU also made it easy for Ben to earn certifications in the field. He took additional courses with NVU faculty to pursue certifications in Avalanche Level I and Level II and as a Wilderness First Responder.

In his regular NVU field courses, “We were held to high standards and learned all the modern, up-to-date skills,” Ben says.

NVU’s location near the mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire provides students with opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere. “I’ve enjoyed how small the school is. I like that in the outdoor program, you knew everyone. We were all able to build relationships pretty well because it was a small group of people,” he says.

Preparation to Do What You Love

For Ben, a big value of NVU’s OELT program is that it has prepared him to work doing what he loves most.

“Everything I get to do is fun. My job and what I do for fun when I’m not working are exactly the same thing,” he says. “I don’t ever want to work a 9-to-5 job 40 hours a week. I wanted to be able to go to work and play in the mountains. So far, that’s working for me.”