Zip line course

OHIO student Clare Palo prepares to experience the zip line course at The Ridges, which is part of Outdoor Pursuits' Challenge Program. Assisting her is Outdoor Pursuits employee Ruth Lammers.

Photographer: Olivia Wallace

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Student employees encourage self-confidence, leadership in others while building life, career skills

Students working in Ohio University’s Outdoor Pursuits program are not only earning a paycheck but also gaining valuable life and career skills while motivating and instilling confidence in others.

OHIO’s Outdoor Pursuits program is part of Campus Recreation, a department housed within the Division of Student Affairs. One of the largest on-campus employers for OHIO students, Campus Recreation holds among its goals student development and aims to ensure its student employees develop skills in communication, leadership, time management and responsibility.

“Campus Recreation is all about empowering students, and student development is at the core,” explained Dan Vorisek, director of Outdoor Pursuits.

Students employed in the Outdoor Pursuits program are not only developing those skills but also inspiring and making a difference in the lives of the individuals they serve through the department’s Challenge Program.

Located at The Ridges, the Challenge Program includes several courses – a low ropes course several feet off the ground; a high ropes course constructed 30 feet above ground; and a 300-foot-long zip line course. One of several adventure programs offered by Outdoor Pursuits, the Challenge Program is designed for teams and organizations seeking to improve their team development and train stronger leaders – all under the guidance of the program’s student employees who help program participants work in groups and develop leadership skills.

“Employees are hired based on how they deal with people and how well they are able to support participants to move out of their comfort zones,” said Vorisek. “Other skills needed on the job can be taught, such as tying rope knots.”

Jamie Mathes is a graduate student who manages Outdoor Pursuits’ equipment rental center year-round and works at the Challenge course in the fall and spring. Mathes considers herself a natural encourager and said staying positive is key to taking the most away from the Challenge Program experience.

Mathes reminds Challenge participants of the self-confidence developed after conquering fears. She recalled a time when a girl was scared on the high ropes course. The girl sat down and asked Mathes to pray for her safety and to help her face her fear.

“Public-speaking skills are a huge part of the job,” said Mathes.

Outdoor Pursuits aims for student employees to leave the University feeling they played an important role and personally made a difference.

“It is awesome to see groups help each other and grow closer,” Mathes said of the customized team-building adventures offered through the Challenge Program.  

Tyler Call, co-manager of the ropes course and a senior majoring in outdoor recreation, described working at Outdoor Pursuits as a good start to his career.

“I love working in the outdoors,” said Call, who plans to pursue a career as a county ranger after graduation.  

Call said he believes his work experience with Outdoor Pursuits has helped him develop better communication skills, as well as rescue skills needed as a ranger. Call said he enjoys instilling personal courage and strength in participants as they undertake a challenge on the ropes of the high course.

“It’s rewarding when you can show people they can do it,” he said. “People are surprised with what they are capable of and that confidence transfers to other parts of their lives.”

Campus Recreation and Outdoor Pursuits does most of its student hiring at the beginning of spring semester. The programs hire students of any major, and all employees attend two training sessions – one on Challenge course skills and the other on motivation.

For more information on Outdoor Pursuits, the Challenge Program or employment opportunities, contact Dan Vorisek at 740-597-1485 or at