Ryan '11, Outdoor Education | Earlham College
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Ryan Stewart '11

The Mountain Institute and Voyageur Outward Bound School


Ryan -StewartAt Earlham, what did you major in and in what kinds of activities were you involved?

At Earlham I majored in Philosophy, but really just took a ton of classes in pretty much every non-science discipline I could. When I started there was an "Outdoor Club" but it was just a couple of guy's personal climbing fund, so my senior year I tried to make it into a legitimate club for people who wanted to go on backpacking trips on the weekends - I wonder if it ever took off?

What did you do right after graduating from Earlham?

Right after graduating from Earlham I spent a few months panicking... and then started working for the Desert Restoration Corps (DRC) through the Student Conservation Association (SCA). It was 9 months of living in a canvas tent in the Mojave with the same 7 people. The actual work mostly involved making ATV tracks disappear by building fake bushes. It was a very surreal experience. It got me off on good footing to start doing work in the outdoors. A lot of my friends who graduated at the same time as me spent that whole 9 months just continually panicking about not having a job in the field that they wanted, so I felt like I came out on top.

What are you doing now and what is awesome about it?!

Right now I am migrating seasonally between Minnesota and West Virginia. In West Virginia I work at a magical little place called The Mountain Institute. It's an outdoor education center nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. It's a pretty small community of very wonderful, peculiar humans. We do a whole lot of different sorts of programs but mostly they involve hiking, caving, stream studies, orienteering, and team building. I just finished course directing my first course up here, which means that rather than managing the students and implementing the programs I am managing the staff and designing the programs. In Minnesota I work for The Voyageur Outward Bound School. I've been working there in the summer leading character-education courses. Outward Bound courses are canoeing and portaging expeditions that are all about personal growth through challenge and self-reflection. This winter I am headed up there to work as a "Wintern" where I'll be learning how to lead dogsledding expeditions.

Any other words of wisdom?

The two things that I wish someone told me when I was at Earlham:

1.) If you're interested in working in the outdoors, your grades really don't matter all that much. Since graduating, my GPA hasn't done anything for me. At Earlham I spent so much of my time writing papers that catered to what the professors wanted to see rather than spending time working on projects and subjects that mattered to me - and I got really good grades... but now I wish that I had spent more time taking advantage of all the awesome resources at Earlham - taking lessons, joining clubs, building relationships with international students, ect.. Instead of spending so much of my time holed away in a study carol in the library. 

2.) If you are worried that by working in the outdoors you are going to be continually stressed about not having enough money, don't be. The reality is that you will most likely worry about money 100% less than your friends who are living in a city paying ridiculous rent. Having room & board covered is an enormous help. Also, by living in the outdoors and spending time in the field you will learn how to live beneath your means, which is really the key to financial responsibility anyway. Many people will ask you "when are you going to get a real job?" but what they don't realize is that your job is 100% more real than anything they are doing.


If you are interested in Ryan’s line of work, you can contact him at ryanwalterstewart@gmail.com

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