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Montevallo encourages students to get outdoors

Many students keep a tradition of leaving school to go hunting or fishing whenever they can. However, for some young people attending the University of Montevallo, the school not only allows them to take great outdoors adventures, but even encourages – and pays them!

Dr. John W. Stewart grew up exploring the salt marshes of Delaware, but missed the outdoors when he attended college away from home. Now the University of Montevallo president, he began the UM President’s Outdoor Scholars Program in 2015 to encourage students to learn about future employment opportunities in the outdoor industry with an emphasis on conservation and game management.

“The University of Montevallo’s President’s Outdoor Scholars Program is committed to educating the next generation on the values of work ethic and conservation to lead the way in protecting our heritage for the benefits of our wildlife, lands and natural resources,” Stewart says.

The program awards scholarships averaging about $2,500 a year toward their education for up to four years. In the first year, the program provided eight students with more than $20,500 in scholarships. In the second year, 22 students received $43,000 in scholarships. This year, about 40 scholarship recipients began the 2017 school year.

Students enrolled in the University of Montevallo’s President’s Outdoor Scholars Program participate in various outdoors activities including fishing and hunting. Here, Ashley Hawk, J.T. Russell and Porter James learn shooting skills and gun safety at a firing range. (Photo courtesy of the University of Montevallo’s President’s Outdoor Scholars Program)

The outdoors scholars must maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average. In addition, they must attend monthly on-campus meetings and other activities related to hunting and fishing. They must also complete coursework on the outdoors and the environment, learn how to prepare fish and wild game for the table and attend periodic lectures related to the outdoors.

“It’s a scholarship for students who have a passion and desire for the outdoors,” says William Crawford, program director. “We have scholarships for people with athletic skills or music skills. Why not have a scholarship program for students who love the outdoors and are good at it?

“We’re educating our students on different career opportunities in the outdoors industry by bringing in different speakers. As part of the program, the students also get involved with doing conservation projects to try to teach them how to put back something in the lands and natural resources and make things better.”

The outdoors scholars and the UM bass fishing team participated in the “Gone Fishin’, Not Just Wishin’” event at Oak Mountain State Park. The students taught about 1,000 young people from Jefferson and Shelby counties how to bait hooks, cast rods and catch fish. They also released about 2,000 fish.

The outdoors scholars also participated in a Kidz Outdoors event at Soggy Bottom Lodge in Linden, Ala. The event helped children with disabilities take part in various outdoors activities. The Kidz Outdoors event raised $54,000 to be used to take terminally ill children on a hunting trip of a lifetime.

Probably the most popular part of the program, besides receiving money to attend school, is that the students take various “field trips” through the year. These trips aren’t just to a museum. Since 2015, students fished for redfish and speckled trout in Venice, La., and caught blue marlin in the Bahamas. In Alabama, the students hunted ducks, deer and quail as well as caught largemouth bass.

“Anything we can do to introduce our students to the outdoors, we try to do it,” Crawford says. “Most of our students grew up hunting white-tailed deer and bass fishing. We’re trying to introduce them to new things as well as let them do the things they’ve grown up doing. It’s so fascinating to see these students start to love and understand the importance of everything in nature.”

Any high school senior with a desire to become involved in the outdoors or go into an outdoors-related industry can apply for a scholarship. Students can also transfer in from community colleges. The scholarship money comes from various individual, corporate and foundation donors.

“We’re looking for any students who want to further their education and be associated with a program tied to the outdoors,” Crawford says. “We appreciate any help we can get from donors who want to support the program and help these students stay connected to the outdoors. If not for them, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”

In August 2017, the Alabama Wildlife Federation honored the University of Montevallo President’s Outdoor Scholars Program with its Conservation Educator of the Year award. The university also plans to build a lodge on campus to house scholarship students. It should open in 2018.

“The lodge will be our little hangout where we can have meetings and students can store their outdoors equipment,” Crawford says. “It will also have a boathouse where our fishermen can store their boats. We’ve very excited to have that addition.”

For more information, contact Crawford at 205-665-6216 or email Wcrawford1@montevallo.edu. Visit outdoorscholars.montevallo.edu.

 

John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who writes from Semmes, Ala. Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com