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The Outdoor Recreation Economy Program at CU Boulder

The University of Colorado Boulder launched the Outdoor Recreation Economy Program this week—an innovative online graduate program focused on the intersections of public lands and natural resources policy, economic development and resiliency, and the outdoor industry.

University faculty and leadership recognized an opportunity to develop a program that responds to an existing need for the outdoor recreation industry to evolve and create an inclusive talent pipeline for a diverse and innovative workforce. The program also supports the urgent need to rebuild Colorado’s economy during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program’s online format and structure provide students with multiple pathways to gain professional knowledge and skills including enrolling in individual courses or standalone certificates, or stacking three certificates to create a customized master’s degree.

“Student growth and professional success are at the heart of this program’s design. Our goal is to offer flexible options so students, no matter their experience or background, can advance their careers in meaningful ways – whether they want to break into the outdoor recreation industry, pivot their career or deepen their knowledge in order to move up in their current organization,” said Joel Hartter, associate professor and director of the Outdoor Recreation Economy Program.

The program, which was approved by the CU Board of Regents in June 2020, is now accepting applications and plans to welcome its first students in August 2021.

The Outdoor Recreation Economy program launched with options to earn a master’s degree or individual graduate certificates, but plans to roll out other educational offerings, including non-credit and for-credit professional education opportunities, executive education and training, and professional development workshops, starting in 2022.

Outdoor recreation economy welcomes new faculty
Two new faculty members join the Outdoor Recreation Economy program for its launch.

Natalie Ooi is an educator and researcher who specializes in sustainable tourism and recreation. Prior to joining CU Boulder this year, Ooi taught at Colorado State University for seven years, where she developed and led that university’s first online Graduate Certificate in Ski Area Management.

In her new role, Ooi will teach students various strategies and tools to advance community economic development and diversification efforts through the outdoor recreation economy, and build community capacity and readiness to create greater resiliency within these communities. She holds a Ph.D. in business and economics from Monash University, Australia.

“What drew me to the ORE program is its emphasis on industry relevance and readiness – its desire to meet the professional needs of the growing outdoor recreation industry while also providing students with the skills and knowledge to push the industry forward toward a more sustainable and equitable future,” she said.

Ooi said she is eager to join the program as a way to educate the next generation of industry leaders and changemakers.

“We must consider how outdoor businesses and communities adapt to, and mitigate, climate change; how they can become more representative and inclusive; how they can address issues of equity and access,” Ooi said. “In other words, how they can bring about meaningful change to society and the natural world. I am excited to work collaboratively with industry leaders to address these questions as we seek to grow the outdoor recreation economy and its positive impact in the state and beyond.”

Mark Gasta was most recently a faculty member and director of the Business Leadership Certificate at the University of Colorado, Leeds School of Business. Previously, Gasta served as an associate professor in the Masters of Tourism Management (MTM) Program and program director of the Adventure Tourism graduate certificate, Colorado State University. Prior to joining academia, he was executive vice president, chief people officer and chief sustainability officer for Vail Resorts Management Company.

In his new role, Gasta will teach and mentor values-driven leaders to conduct business with ethical, environmental, social and economic initiatives. He holds an Ed.D. in Organizational Change from Pepperdine University and an M.B.A from the University of Denver.

“When done right, outdoor recreation is a powerful economic development tool and avenue to create profit for shareholders while protecting the environment and improving the lives of those with whom we interact,” Gasta said. “Together, we can create value and a natural environment where all people can not only feel welcome, but encouraged to become active participants as outdoor enthusiasts, industry professionals, and stewards dedicated to the protection of the land.”

Outdoor Recreation Economy:

Masters of the Environment:

Environmental Studies Program:

Personal website: