A chance to grow with Outdoor Rec
By Megan Sexton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-1421
Liz Jones has twice climbed Washington’s Mt. Rainier, she commutes to work most days on her bicycle, and she has led backpacking and canoeing trips for more than a decade. But USC’s director of Outdoor Recreation doesn’t consider herself an accomplished outdoorswoman.
“That’s not who I am. At the heart of it, I’m an educator,” Jones says. “Outdoor recreation has the power to help people change how they think about themselves. That’s what happened to me.”
Jones arrived at the University of South Carolina in March, after three years in Omaha, Neb., where she helped establish an urban center for Outward Bound, the non-profit experience-based outdoor leadership program. The Tulsa, Okla., native had earned her master’s from the University of Arkansas, expecting to pursue a career in higher education recreation.
When her husband pointed out the job posting from USC, he told her it sounded like a perfect fit for her. Jones said she was impressed with the emphasis on sustainability and education in Carolina’s Outdoor Rec program, along with its headquarters in the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center.
“The first couple of weeks, every time I would walk in I would say to myself, ‘I can’t believe I get to work in a building this amazing,’” she says. “This is the right position at the right time in my life. We were looking for a place we could be for a while. And I get a chance to be able to get back on the path I originally wanted to be on.”
She believes the program’s greatest asset is the talented group of student employees who love their jobs and the outdoors programs offered through the department.
“This program is so impressive. At a time when outdoor recreation programs at big universities are struggling to fill their trips or come up with funding, our trips are full, we run strong programs and we have a great model for funding.”
Among her goals is making the Outdoor Recreation programs – from canoe trips to mountain bike rides to rock climbing – more accessible to the university’s students, faculty and staff.
“We need to make sure we offer experiences that welcome even the most novice participants, not just the outdoorsy ones,” she says. “We want to make our programs as successful and welcoming as possible. The reason we do this is to transfer the skills learned outdoors to everyday life.” Jones understands how outdoor recreation can help people improve not only in physical ways, but also as individuals.
“I was never a natural athlete, but I’ve been able to do these things,” she says. “I’ve been able to get out of my comfort zone and to get people to do things out of their comfort zones.”
As the tattoo on her arm proclaims: “Audentis fortuna iu vat” or “Fortune favors the bold.”