Jess Barber ’20, Outdoor Education, Leadership, and Tourism

Jess Barber found NVU’s Outdoor Education, Leadership, and Tourism program on the Johnson campus when she was ready to take her associate’s degree in adventure sports to the next level. Here she chose the management and administration concentration. It offered the perfect merger of experience and interest for Jess — her love of the outdoors in tandem with her natural knack in the management field. Today, she’s a fulltime teacher in an outdoor nursery program, learning about a different part of the outdoor education field as she looks toward her future in the administrative side.

An Indirect Path to the Outdoor Education Field

Although Jess loves the physical and mental aspects of adventure sports and is an avid backcountry and cross-country skier in winter, and a hiker, trail runner, and rock climber in the warmer months, she started college as a music education major. Jess had played classical violin for twelve years, so it seemed like a natural step. But once there, she realized she was ready for something new. So, she packed up and moved to Chicago – which was a big change both culturally and environmentally for the Walton, New York-native. Settled in Chicago, she managed a coffee shop and high-end retail store. But after three years, she was ready to be outdoors again and headed back to New York and enrolled in the associate’s program at SUNY Adirondack.

Her associate’s degree in hand, Jess knew she needed a bachelor’s to land the kind of roles in the field she wanted. Then Jess learned about the NVU Johnson program, transferred, and 1.5 years later graduated with her bachelor’s.

She found the Johnson campus a good fit for her, and the transition was especially easy as a cohort from her associate’s program accompanied her to the NVU program. “The program was very hands-on, which was what I was looking for,” Jess said. “The classes are very well thought out, and the curriculum made a lot of sense. And the staff had a lot of experience to share and could answer any question you had.”

An internship is a key part of this program, and Jess’s internship took her to Petra Cliffs, a climbing gym in Burlington where she worked as the assistant summer camp director. She found the experience really easy to coordinate — “the relationship between the gym and NVU is so strong,” she said, “that the internship happened even though my classes were remote during the pandemic!”

Just before graduating from NVU, Jess landed a job as a preschool teacher at a nature-based program in Stowe, Vt., a fulltime position just ½ hour away from her home. Not only is Jess learning all about this type of outdoor program from the inside, as the co-teacher for the K-2 afterschool program serving 16 children she’s working with an age group she hasn’t worked with before.

In this all-outdoors program, the focus is on “having fun, growing relationships, working on conflict resolution, and teaching children to mitigate risks,” she said. Jess shared an example: “There’s a tree on the property that’s about 10 feet tall with vines hanging down. We want to let them play on this, and came to the decision that it’s a good way to help them to think about how to manage their own risk. To play on these vines, the kids have to think about how to be safe; for example, what to do if two kids are swinging at the same time.” The varied ages of the children make this interesting, too, as “the younger kids try to mimic what the older kids do while the older kids learn how to work with the younger ones.”

Jess is happy to be where she is right now, she said, and also sees the role as a stepping stone toward the kind of opportunities the NVU program has prepared her for.

“Northern Vermont University gave me the skills and the confidence I needed to feel prepared for a role in the outdoor industry,” Jess said. “I hope to take my degree into the administrative side of Adventure and Outdoor Education in the future.”