The Outdoor Leadership Department

Our Mission
The Warren Wilson College Outdoor Leadership Studies program is committed to achieving the highest standards of teaching, service, and research to enable students to gain knowledge, values, and specific skills which enable them to respond to and shape their future opportunities and circumstances.

Our mission is to develop leaders who understand the moral responsibilities of leadership and are prepared to exercise leadership in service to the world.

Our Vision
Warren Wilson College will continue to be a national and international center for excellence in the education of people who want to understand and undertake leadership roles in the fields of outdoor and environmental education.

Program Philosophy
Effective leadership education is built on three pillars: a broad liberal arts education, specialized education in leadership theory, and experience in leadership positions.

A solid grounding in history, philosophy, and the behavioral sciences and communication provide future leaders with the skills, perspective, and flexibility to adapt to new roles that they must confront in the future. Specialized education in outdoor leadership theory and practice focuses learning from the liberal arts and provides a proving-ground for the development of values.

Experience provides the opportunity for ideas to come alive and for deep understanding to develop.

As an outdoor leadership major, you will:

  • Increase your understanding of the moral and ethical responsibilities of leadership.
  • Discover how you can shape public attitudes towards relationships with the environment.
  • Combine theory, practice, and service.
  • Focus on education, facilitation, and experiential learning methodologies.
  • Study group process, conflict resolution, program planning, and effective administration.
  • Gain technical skills in backcountry medical protocols, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, orienteering and challenge course facilitation and management.

The Warren Wilson College Outdoor Leadership program prepares motivated and innovative graduates who have the academic background, skills, and experience to plan, implement, and administer outdoor adventure education programs.

In the words of an Outdoor Leadership alumna:

“In the curriculum, we learn how to lead and effectively use group activities and games to encourage teamwork and trust. This concept is genius. People like to have fun and people generally do not equate learning with fun. As a matter of fact, in my studies in this program, I have often thought, ‘this can’t be real’. We are having way too much fun to be learning anything.’ Well, we are learning something. It goes far beyond the technical and philosophical aspects of outdoor leadership. We are encouraged to take a closer look at ourselves. We examine our spiritual, as well as our intellectual beings.”

-Missy Levine


The Major
A quality outdoor leadership curriculum offers more than rote memorization and exams; it integrates experiential practice into a curricular framework. As an outdoor leadership major, you will take courses such as History and Philosophy of Outdoor Adventure Education, Wilderness First Responder, Backcountry Skills and Techniques, Group Process, Universal Adventure Programming, and Program Planning and Design, which will challenge you to develop a professional adventure education program.

In addition to outdoor leadership courses, you will chose coursework from other disciplines such as social work, education, psychology, Spanish, religion, or environmental studies for a total of 56 credits. You will also complete an internship in a non-profit, governmental, or corporate setting.

The Minor
Minor in outdoor leadership with 21 credits earned in selected courses.

Apply your interest to your work on campus as a part of the Outing Program, Student Activities, Athletics Department, Greenhouse, or Conference Director work crews.

Work on projects such as:

  • Guiding environmental education nature walks with the Mountain Area Child and Family Center and Evergreen Charter School.
  • Organizing team-building workshops at WD Williams Elementary School.
  • Teaching fly-tying classes to Reynolds Middle School Students.
  • Leading a weekend camping and climbing trip for high school students in the Earth Service Corps of Asheville YMCA.


Marty O’Keefe, Ed.D. (Department Chair)
Mallory McDuff, Ph.D.
Jill Overholt, Ph.D.
Annette Black, MS

Special Opportunities


You might intern as a:

  • Rock climbing, backpacking, and canoeing instructors at camps throughout the United States.
  • Challenge course facilitator.
  • Program Coordinator for adventure education programs.
  • Assistant Instructor or Logistics Coordinator for Outward Bound programs.
  • Therapeutic wilderness program field staff.
  • Environmental Education Instructor for the Audubon Society Summer Camp.

Outward Bound School

The Outdoor Leadership program cooperates with the North Carolina Outward Bound School (NCOBS) – one of the premier outdoor education centers in the United States – with offices adjacent to the Warren Wilson campus. The collaborative program offers an intensive Instructor Development for Outdoor Leadership course through NCOBS, as well as internships and volunteer opportunities.

The Laura Gossmann and Tim Cannon Memorial Adventure Lab

This is an accessible challenge course on campus. The course was designed by Alpine Towers, Inc., a business owned by a Warren Wilson alumnus, and consists of several challenge structures.

International Programs

Our department continues to offer international/cross-cultural courses that focus on adventure education. Faculty-led study abroad courses to complement your studies have included the following:

  • Scotland: Outdoor Education in the Scottish Highlands
  • Chile: Mountaineering in the Andes and Impact of Adventure Tourism
  • New Zealand: Outdoor Culture and History
  • Costa Rica: White water paddling and Adventure Tourism
  • Armenia: Environment, Culture, & Adventure Tourism in Armenia