With more than $650 billion in North American retail sales alone, the outdoor recreation industry has been one of the fastest growing product categories within the past few years – despite having been around since the early days of the American Frontier and brands including Pendleton and Red Wing.
Aiming to help their design students become better prepared for designing products and experiences to be used outside, Utah State University has become the first school in the US to offer an Outdoor Product Design Degree, an undergraduate design degree that focuses on the design, development and manufacturing of outdoor products. The degree was approved by the Utah State Board of Regents on July 31st.
The program, which kicks off this Fall semester, will include a focus on courses that cover both product design and development as well as outdoor-based science. These include courses in ethics, natural resources, sustainability, drafting and design, manufacturing, chemistry, outdoor textiles and marketing strategy for the outdoor products industry, among others.
According to Lindsey Shirley, a professor who helped spearhead the new program, there are over 1,000 outdoor product companies based in Utah alone – and the school’s program is the result of discussions with executives to fill a growing void in the industry.
“One of their executives invited me down for a tour just to have a conversation and he kept saying that it was really hard for him to find a trained workforce. They had to do a lot of on-the-job training,” she told USA Today.
“So I said, ‘Well, that’s what I specialize in—preparing a workforce. We can create a degree program at Utah State because we have a lot of the infrastructure already in place.’”
Since announcing the program, Shirley says that 3-5 students a day have been coming into her office to ask about it. She has also received input and interest from a number of outdoor product manufacturers to help develop the program and discuss possible job placements for the first round of graduates.
“What we hope to facilitate is this real-world experience where (students) can get hired and hit the ground running,” Shirley adds.
“They’ll have those employability skills that (these outdoor product companies) need.”