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Professional Outdoor Industry Certificate



Turn your Passion into a Profession

Build a career with purpose and transform the outdoor industry

2024 Series Dates:

The Spring 2024 series will be a 6-day online intensive. Take all 6 courses to complete the certificate or select specific workshops to attend. See course dates below.


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WCU is widely recognized as the Southeast’s premier outdoor recreation and adventure university. We are leveraging and combining our academic excellence and experience in professional education with our outstanding and innovative outdoor-focused curriculum and deep connection to the nation’s burgeoning outdoor recreation economy to offer this affordable, dynamic, and flexible professional outdoor certificate.

WCU's Professional Outdoor Industry Certificate program provides skills, insight, knowledge, and networking opportunities to students and learners from a variety of backgrounds who are interested in a rewarding career or thriving business in the outdoor recreation industry. Our specialized, easy-to-access workshops teach participants how to create real, lasting change in the current outdoor industry to mindfully foster a better future for the field. 

A career in the outdoors means so much more than simply “taking people outside.” In addition to conventional jobs such as guiding and outfitting, the outdoor industry is comprised of a diverse array of technical, operational, and professional disciplines including economic development, leisure and hospitality, product design and development, advanced manufacturing, social media, public relations, advertising, marketing, content creation, policy development, sustainability, retail, education, advocacy, and even construction!

If you are looking for a flexible and affordable way to break into the outdoor industry, enhance your skill-set, stand out to potential employers, grow your outdoor business, or sharpen your leadership skills, WCU's Professional Outdoor Certificate program is for you!

  • We are the ONLY outdoor certificate program to offer live, online instruction from outdoor industry and subject matter experts
  • We offer maximum flexibility: Use our a la carte "pay as you go" option and take only the workshops you want, when you want!
  • No prerequisite requirements to enroll
  • Networking opportunities with outdoor industry professionals
  • General CEUs or Contact Hours upon completion of each workshop
  • You will receive a Professional Outdoor Industry Certificate from Western Carolina University!
  • Full Certificate: $799 per person.
  • Single Workshop price: $175 per person.

You can choose to pay for the full certificate or register for individual workshops during the registration process.

Classes are held all online from 9am - 4pm with a lunch break and additional small breaks

Introduction to the outdoor industry  March 18th
Small Business Marketing and Brand Strategy Workshop March 20th
The Outdoor Entrepreneur Mindset: Business Planning, Start-Up, and Navigation March 21st 
Building Key Leadership Communication Skills March 22nd
Current and Tested Social Media Strategies in the Outdoor Industry March 26th
The Trail Guide to Leadership March 27th 


Register for all sessions


This course - taught by Andy Coburn, WCU Faculty Liaison to the Outdoor Industry; Steven Reinhold, Founder of the Appalachian Adventure Company; and Steven Foy, Director of Outpost Operations for the Nantahala Outdoor Center – serves as the foundation for WCU’s Outdoor Industry Certificate Program and provides an overview of outdoor recreation, outdoor recreation policy, the US outdoor recreation economy, and the primary industries/sectors that comprise the outdoor industry/outdoor recreation economy.
Workshop Learning Objectives:

  • Be versed in major topics related to the outdoor recreation economy,
  • Understand the concept and composition of the outdoor recreation economy and be able to identify the different activities, organizations, and stakeholders that make up the outdoor recreation economy,
  • Recognize important issues and opportunities in public lands policy and outdoor leadership,
  • Be able to critically examine future challenges and opportunities facing the outdoor recreation economy,
  • Understand different career pathways/ opportunities within the outdoor recreation economy and learn how to successfully engage with outdoor businesses and professionals.

Part 1 Introduction to the Outdoor Economy and Outdoor Industry
Part 2 The Outdoor Industry: It’s Not What You Might Think
Part 3 Corporate Social Responsibility in the Outdoor Industry
Part 4 Engaging with the Outdoor Industry
Part 5 “What’s Your Chairlift Pitch?”

See full course description

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Instructor: Matt Godfrey, Executive Director of the Outdoor Business Alliance – WNC and the Lead Facilitator of the Waypoint Accelerator

This workshop will explore the entrepreneurial journey and what it takes to start, operate, and grow an outdoor business.  Whether starting a business, focusing on strategic planning, or taking your business to the next level, it's critical to understand the entrepreneurial mindset.  Outdoor industry experience is not required!  If you have a collaborative spirit, a love of the outdoors, and a desire to solve problems, then the potential exists for you to become the next great outdoor entrepreneur.  Expect a workshop format that is more “campfire discussion” than lecture.

Workshop Learning Objectives

  • Demystify the process of starting and growing your own business
  • Evaluate key characteristics and skills of successful outdoor entrepreneurs
  • Create a “trail map” for your business idea that outlines vision, mission, value proposition, target market, revenue streams, and expenses
  • Learn how to apply the principles of customer discovery and design thinking to test your outdoor business idea
  • Explore the legal, financial, and operational aspects of running a business
  • Discover a network of entrepreneurial support providers that exist with the sole purpose of helping you launch and grow your business
  • Understand the importance of network collaboration for flattening the learning curve and accelerating growth
  • Review tools & resources for planning and growing your business

Part 1 Route Planning 
Part 2 At the Trailhead 
Part 3 On the Trail
Part 4 Approaching the Summit


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Instructor: Dave Petri, Owner/Principal Consultant, Cynosura Consulting

This workshop provides the aspiring outdoor industry entrepreneur with essential marketing and branding basics to develop a marketing plan and brand strategy. Next, the workshop also explores real-world examples of marketing in practice. It concludes with an overview of related marketing topics for new outdoor business owners to consider as part of their marketing efforts.

Workshop Learning Objectives:

  • Comprehend and apply the fundamentals of marketing analysis, segmentation, targeting, positioning, and consumer behavior.
  • Recognize the elements of the Marketing Mix and how they are used in developing the marketing strategy.
  • Learn the marketing plan components and their role in executing the marketing strategy.
  • Develop an understanding of branding essentials and the necessary elements for creating a brand.
  • Recognize marketing and branding essentials in practice.
  • Learn the role other topics have in developing a brand’s marketing strategy.

Part 1 Marketing Essentials
Part 2 Branding Essentials
Part 3 Marketing in Practice
Part 4 Related Topics

See full course description

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Instructor: Sarah Benoit, Lead instructor of JB Media Institute and President of Creative
Original, Inc. and specializes in SEO, social media, and web design expert as an educator

This workshop provides outdoor industry entrepreneurs, marketing and communications professionals, and sales staff with social media strategies that can create a more holistic online presence, build brand loyalty, drive audience engagement, increase sales, and quantify social media success. Social media is about more than marketing and communications, it is also about customer service, relationship building, impactful storytelling, and being relatable and shareable. Social media is often challenging, stressful, and confusing, but it can also be fun and an integral part of solidifying and enhancing a brand’s reputation.    

Workshop Learning Objectives

  • Learn how to identify the social media tools that can achieve brand goals and are worth an investment of time, money, and manpower
  • Explore social media trends that can increase reach, engagement and sales
  • Develop a simple strategic action plan for making social media more efficient and effective
  • Gain a clear understanding of how social media algorithms work and the key to attracting new fans and customers
  • Have fun building connections and having conversations with your audiences

Part 1 The Truth about Social Media
Part 2 Strategies for Increasing Social Reach and Engagement
Part 3 Social Listening and Advertising Best Practices
Part 4 How to Create Your Own Social Media Strategic Plan

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Instructor:  Sarah E. Minnis, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Human Resources

 Workshop Overview

This workshop provides outdoor industry entrepreneurs, marketing and communications professionals, and sales staff with an overview of leadership skills and competencies as well as strategies for engaging their teams in leadership development. Leading people is about motivating them to work towards goals with you, and that means you need to understand your capability to lead and identify the ways you can best connect with and teach your people. Build your capacity for leadership so you can maximize your organizational impact.  

 Workshop Learning Objectives

  • Learn about the foundations of effective leadership and differences from management
  • Understand the traits, skills, behaviors, and ethics that comprise impactful leadership
  • Build confidence in relating leadership practices to organizational culture
  • Develop a plan for implementing organizational change through leadership
  • Implement problem-solving strategies using leadership practices

Part 1 Understanding Leadership
Part 2 Organizational Culture and Leadership
Part 3 Teaching Leadership
Part 4 Case Study on Using Leadership for Organizational Change

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Instructor: Scott Eldredge - Associate Professor in the Communication Department at Western Carolina University

Learn "The 10 Commandments of Effective Leadership Communication" and develop your active listening skills. Participants will identify the nonverbal communication cues that signal leadership competence and set tone and will build a speaking "presence." It is also important to analyze the critical role of leadership communication during crises, which will be done through case study examples and how to prepare for the spotlight: How to respond to media inquiries.

Workshop Learning Objectives

  • Understand and communicate the significance of analyzing interpersonal communication in personal and professional contexts.
  • Demonstrate interpersonal skills in areas such as listening, ethics, verbal and nonverbal communication, among others within personal and professional relationships.
  • Evaluate positive and negative effects of communication behaviors and their impact on relationships.
  • Bridge differences using communication skills such as active listening and expressing empathy.
  • Identify and explain the roles group members may enact through communication, including leadership.
  • Understand how components of culture can lead to conflict and misunderstanding.

Part 1 What is Communication?
Part 2 Communication and Relationship Skills
Part 3 Teamwork and Group Dynamics
Part 4 Conflict Resolution

See full Course Description

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Sarah Benoit - Social Media Strategies for the Outdoor Industry - Sarah Benoit has worked in the web design, SEO, and social media fields since 2003 and has been teaching classes on related subjects since 2006. As President of Creative Original, she has built a wide variety of small business websites over the years. As Co-founder and Lead Instructor for the JB Media Institute, Sarah Benoit leverages her years of experience as a digital marketing strategist to create timely, relevant, and engaging training content. Sarah speaks, trains, and presents on digital marketing topics at conferences and events throughout the year in the Southeast and beyond. Sarah received the 2017 Woman Executive of the Year award from WomanUp at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She was inducted into Asheville’s 40 Under Forty in 2013 and is a graduate of Leadership Asheville 31. She is also a 2017 graduate of the Hive Global Leaders program.

Andy Coburn - Introduction to the Outdoor Industry -  Andy Coburn is a member of the Graduate and Research faculty at Western Carolina University (WCU) where he serves as Associate Director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Faculty Advisor for the WCU Sustainable Campus Initiative (SCI), and Faculty Liaison to the Outdoor Industry. Andy teaches courses within WCU’s Environmental Sciences Program, Political Science and Public Affairs Department, and was instrumental in helping to create WCU’s innovative Outdoor Industry Certificate and Training Program. Andy is originally from New Jersey, relocated to Durham, NC North Carolina in 1993, and arrived in Cullowhee, North Carolina - and WCU - in October 2006. Coburn holds degrees from Penn State University and Duke University, and when he isn’t in the classroom (or on Zoom), you can find him hiking, backpacking, camping, or travelling within Iceland – anything that involves being outside!

Scott Eldredge - Building Key Leadership Communication Skills - Dr. Scott Eldredge is an Associate Professor in the Communication Department at Western Carolina University. Prior to moving to Western North Carolina, Dr. Eldredge spent 20 years working for some of the world’s largest advertising and communication agencies including J. Walter Thompson and Lowe Campbell-Ewald. His background includes experience working for a diverse list of clients including General Motors, Ford Motor Company, OnStar, Novartis, and M&M/Mars. Dr. Eldredge now teaches public relations courses including Introduction to Public Relations and Public Relations Campaigns, as well as topic classes in Health Communication, Conflict Resolution, and Social Media Management. He also serves as the faculty adviser for the WCU chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, and for Catamount Communications, WCU’s student-run Public Relations firm. Dr. Eldredge holds a Ph.D. in Communication and Information from the University of Tennessee, a Master of Arts in Advertising from Michigan State University, and a Bachelor of Science in Telecommunication (News & Public Affairs) from the University of Florida.

Matt Godfrey -The Outdoor Entrepreneur Mindset: Business Planning, Start-Up, and Navigation - Matt Godfrey is the Executive Director of the Outdoor Business Alliance (OBA), supporting over 140 outdoor businesses and organizations throughout Western North Carolina.  He is also the Outdoor Entrepreneur in Residence for Mountain Bizworks, where he co-developed and currently leads the Waypoint Accelerator, the first outdoor entrepreneurship and innovation accelerator east of the Rockies that launched in 2019.  Matt has a broad range of experience in sales, marketing, finance, operations, leadership, and organizational development.  A common theme of his teaching centers on collaboration, demonstrating how it leads to innovation and positive outcomes within our businesses and communities.  He loves being outside fly fishing, paddle boarding, hiking, camping, and skiing. The Appalachian Mountains hold a special place in his heart, having spent the majority of his life living in Western North Carolina with his wife and two boys. Matt studied business and outdoor recreation management at Appalachian State University and earned a graduate degree in business administration from Western Carolina University.

Sarah E. Minnis Trail Guide to Leadership - Sarah E. Minnis, PhD, has more than 25 years of career advising and organization development experience in higher education, non-profit organizations, and traditional corporate entities including more than 15 years specializing in military veterans’ civilian reintegration and employment. Sarah’s ongoing research and practice provide support for employment communities to better understand the value, and more effectively utilize the skills, of veterans. Her work has been published and presented in journals and workshops nationally and internationally.

Through a lens of ethical and equitable practices, Sarah specializes in organization development and career development to help organizations build on their strengths to support growth and capability throughout. With a sensitivity to the unique needs of employees, she uses research-based content to help organizations focus on supporting their people to maximize their talent to be vital assets to the organization. As a native of the Pacific Northwest, Sarah enjoys finding connections between exploration in nature and supporting the development of strong organizations.

Sarah is an Associate Professor in the Master of Science in Human Resources program at Western Carolina University and holds a PhD in Human Resource Development from Texas A&M University, a Master of Arts in Education degree in student affairs from Western Kentucky University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Central Washington University. She is qualified to speak on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice issues, leadership, disability and accessibility, and how to balance employee and employer needs in turbulent times.

Steven Reinhold - Introduction to the Outdoor Industry -  Steven Reinhold is the Founder and Steward of the Stoke at The Appalachian Adventure Company which specializes in custom outdoor experiences and content collaborations in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. He has worked in the outdoor industry for over a decade starting with his role as an ambassador for Big City Mountaineers’ Summit for Someone program which gave him the opportunity to work closely with renowned mountain guiding outfits and outdoor brands on America's most iconic peaks. During these Summit for Someone fundraising climbs he quickly realized that he excelled at sharing the stoke of adventure with others and that he wanted to become a mountain guide. Steven founded The Appalachian Adventure Company in 2014 and in 2015 he created the #trashtag social media cleanup effort which has since been utilized over 250+ million times worldwide! He has served as a brand ambassador for Backpacker Magazine, Nemo Equipment, Gerber Gear and UCO Gear and has also served on the board of directors for National Cleanup Day and the Outdoor Business Alliance. 

Supports, Modifications, and/or Accommodations for Participants

All participants are welcome. For questions regarding access and accommodations, please contact WCU Educational Outreach at or by phone at 828.227.7397.

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