Chris McCart (far left), instructor and coordinator of the outdoor education program at BHSU, was recently selected for a Bush Leadership Fellowship. She plans to use the fellowship to pursue a doctoral degree in outdoor education which will enhance her knowledge of outdoor education practices and experiential learning.

Chris McCart, instructor and coordinator of the outdoor education program at BHSU, was recently selected for a Bush Leadership Fellowship which will have a transformational effect on her career and her sphere of influence in the outdoor education field.

McCart, who oversees one of the fastest growing majors at BHSU, is one of 18 people to be selected for this prestigious leadership program. She plans to use the fellowship to pursue a doctoral degree in outdoor education which will enhance her knowledge of outdoor education practices and experiential learning. She also sees potential for bolstering the outdoor economy and advancing her knowledge of sustainability education.

McCart is taking a two-year leave from BHSU to continue her studies at the University of New Hampshire. For her doctoral work, McCart is especially interested in exploring the concept of nature deficit, a phenomenon identified in recent years which indicates that our population in general, and especially children, are less connected to the outdoors.

“This is the problem I’m intrigued with and I’m considering for my dissertation. Right now it’s a movement in the natural resources field. The data is pretty stark. Children are spending significantly less time outdoors than their parents did. My research will consider what the consequences are of this change and what other changes it will bring forth,” McCart says.

McCart says she was encouraged to apply for the Bush Leadership Fellowship by Dr. Kay Schallenkamp, president of BHSU, who earned her doctorate degree through the program.

“Chris has significant opportunities to make a difference in her career especially in the emerging discipline related to outdoor education and wellness,” Schallenkamp says.  “I am pleased the Bush Foundation is investing in her future.  She is a highly worthy candidate for the Fellowship.”

The Bush Foundation Leadership Program supports mid-career educators so they can advance their education and encourages them to return to their community. There were 110 applicants for the 18 fellowship opportunities this year. The fellowship pays a monthly stipend and up to $18,000 for educational expenses. To be selected, candidates must demonstrate they have the skills and effectiveness to be leaders and must have the potential to expand their sphere of influence.

At BHSU McCart instructs the non-formal education methods classes, including environmental interpretation, outdoor education programs, and technology integration. She also supervises the outdoor education interns and teaches a variety of outdoor skills classes, including canoeing, cross country skiing, fly fishing, orienteering, and rock climbing. She is dedicated to preparing competent, confident, and caring outdoor education professionals. McCart is a leader in her field and recently received the 2008 Region V Director’s Award for demonstrating excellence and commitment in the field of interpretation at the 2008 regional workshop for the National Association of Interpretation.

Since McCart joined the faculty at BHSU four years ago, she has had a significant impact on the growth and stature of the outdoor education program. The number of students enrolled in outdoor education degrees has doubled in that time and interest in the program continues to grow. McCart attributes the growth to a number of factors including a strong job market in this area and the high-quality educational experience BHSU students receive.  BHSU outdoor education graduates pursue careers as naturalists, park interpreters, natural resource agency employees, angler and hunter education program coordinators, wilderness educators, environmental educators, adventure program managers, outdoor writers, and recreational specialists.

The outdoor education program at BHSU is a composite major that combines studies from three areas: environmental science, interpretation and environmental education, and adventure-based education.

“Our program has a strong science background combined with a strong educational component. Our students know about the outdoors, and they know how to educate others in a non-classroom setting,” McCart says.

In addition McCart says BHSU’s location provides the ideal environment for outdoor education. She adds that there’s a lot of potential for synergy with nearby entities including the Sanford Lab at Homestake, area tourism businesses, opportunities with sustainability education, and collaboration with local, state and federal agencies. She noted that BHSU has formed many successful partnerships in the area and created numerous opportunities for future students.

BHSU offers the only outdoor education degree in the state and was recently approved to offer a minor in outdoor education as well. McCart notes that the program is unique and that outdoor education students are getting a variety of job offers as they graduate.  The outdoor education minor will be beneficial to students pursuing a variety of majors including business, psychology, mass communication and others.

McCart knows that the Bush Foundation expects their Leadership Fellows to make significant impact in their field and their community after completing the program. She sees her future influence emanating through her students and her leadership in the outdoor education field.

McCart, an avid outdoorswoman, has always worked in outdoor settings. Previously, she worked as a program coordinator and naturalist for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks at The Outdoor Campus. She also has worked as a secondary science teacher, a camp and residential environmental education program director, and in various outdoor adventure programs. 

The Bush Leadership Fellows Program seeks accomplished, motivated individuals who are eager to prepare themselves for greater leadership responsibilities within their communities and professions. Fellows include women and men in such fields as public service, education, government, health, business, engineering, architecture, science, farming, forestry, law, trade unions, law enforcement, journalism, and social work.

When the first four Bush Leadership Fellows were named in 1965, it was a step toward supporting founder Archibald Bush’s conviction that if his foundation gave smart people with good ideas money, they would grow as leaders and have a positive impact on their communities. Forty-three years and more than 1,300 Leadership Fellows later the motivation, goals, and influence of the Fellows is astounding, noted the Bush Leadership Fellowship coordinator.