Recreation degree: useful skills or expensive piece of paper?

Story by Jeff Ramsay, Contributing writer 

For those outside of STEM or business majors, the most prevalent question students are asked is simple: “Well, what are you going to do with it?” Some majors feel the strain of this confusion more than others.

Claire Dunlap, from Paducah, Kentucky, graduated from Murray State in May 2012 with a major in recreation and has since had the opportunity to put her degree to good use.

“I am fortunate enough to say that I actually get to use my college degree,” Dunlap said. “I actually had declared other more traditional majors before discovering the REC program at Murray State, and I can honestly say I learned more from my teachers and classes in the REC department than any other major I had before.”

Dunlap has been working at Southwoods, a four-week traditional private children’s camp located in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, since the summer of 2010 while she was still a student at Murray State.

“Every summer I have been a part of the outdoor adventure program and am going on five summers of leading the team as the Outdoor Adventure Director,” Dunlap said. “This adventure program provides campers with the opportunity to connect with nature and provides a safe environment that challenges them to take positive risks and expand their comfort zones.”

Southwoods also offers an extensive tripping program with hiking, caving, canoeing, whitewater rafting, camping and mountain biking, as well as high ropes, climbing wall and the low ropes team building course.

In the summer of 2014, Dunlap was asked to stay on full time, making her summer camp experience a career. But before committing to Southwoods full time, she also had the opportunity to intern with Camp Adventure.

Dunlap explained that Camp Adventure is a program based out of the University of Northern Iowa that allows undergraduate and graduate credit hours for completing the program and is available to students enrolled at any university nationwide. The program seeks out students with all different degrees but focuses mainly on those similar to recreation or those with experience and passion for working with youth in a high-energy recreational setting.

At Camp Adventure, Dunlap worked as an intern for five months and was contracted by the military to work in their Child Development Centers on-base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

She then got the opportunity to work and live in Brussels for three months at the Benelux-Brussels U.S. Army Base, where she worked with children age 3 and younger. She also took a leadership position running their after-school program for middle and high school students. Through this opportunity, she was able to travel to 12 countries across Europe.

“Receiving a recreation degree through Murray State has opened up many doors and opportunities and was a great learning experience where I met people who I will be in contact with the rest of my life, not to mention some of the best mentors I could have asked for,” Dunlap said. “It has led me to meet many great and like-minded individuals and offer me a support group where I can be myself and continue to learn and grow and has opened more doors than I could ever imagine.”

The recreation program at Murray State offers many classes available to both major and non-major students that allow a learning experience outside of the classroom. These courses include scuba diving, wilderness first aid, rock climbing, canoeing, backpacking and outdoor adventure skills.

Kelly Rogers, associate professor of recreation, said the activity classes have dwindled over the years, but the classes that provide skills to major and non-majors students have survived.

Rogers explained that since he has been employed through Murray State and taught recreation courses, the department has switched to an emphasis in adventure leadership to help with the students who like the outdoors and are looking to be employed in that aspect of the field.

“In recreation, there are things you can’t learn truly unless you experience it,” Rogers said. “You can’t always get that experience in a classroom.”

Dana Moore, a recreation major from Helena, Alabama, serves as a teacher’s assistant for a recreation class and has taken many of the classes offered that focus mainly outside of the classroom.

“It is really great to be able to go on outdoor trips with the REC department because the instructors are trained and equipment is available to students for such things as rock climbing,” Moore said. “This is safer than having to go alone and more convenient because you don’t have to buy your own equipment.”

Moore explained that major and non-major students who take recreation courses at Murray State, especially those with the outdoor emphasis, are able to travel and see natural areas they normally wouldn’t be able to on their own. This includes places off the beaten path such as Jackson Falls, Ferne Clyffe and Land Between the Lakes, which are covered in the course fees.

“The department offers great classes to take because you get to go do things on a Saturday such as rock climbing that most students don’t get to do,” Moore said. “I find it more relaxing than regular classes because it is not as stressful like classes with tests and lots of homework.”

If you have any questions regarding the recreation program at Murray State, contact Mike Gowen, Program Director, at