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Midwest Outdoor Leadership Conference

Becoming pros at conferences

Rec students plan and present event focused on outdoor careers

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

Go to a conference? Meh. Plan and present one? Now you're talking.

The 2018 Midwest Outdoor Leadership Conference wouldn't happen without "seven driven women," all CMU undergraduates in recreation, parks and leisure services administration, said CMU junior Nichole Murphy.

"Overall, this is an incredible experience." — Nichole Murphy

The women make up the all-student committee putting on the Feb. 23-25 conference for about 125 college students and young professionals from several states. CMU is hosting the conference at Mystic Lake YMCA Camp in Lake, Michigan, for the second year in a row.

Murphy, an outdoor recreation major from Mount Pleasant, was inspired to lead after attending last year's event.

"I was like 'I want to do this. How can I be a part of it?'" she said.

The conference highlights professional development for aspiring and beginning outdoor recreation professionals. It also gives CMU students — planners, presenters and participants — unmatched real-world experience in customer service, problem-solving, networking and more.

"I want them to be confident in knowing they can put on a large-scale event," said RPLSA instructor Jordan Bruursema.

He has the title of coordinator for the conference, but don't be misled: "I'm just there for the committee to bounce questions off of me," he said. "I also get to learn a whole lot from them."

Months of effort

The committee includes students in both outdoor and environmental recreation and recreation and event management. It's a coincidence that all are women this year, but it's no accident that they have the work ethic to spend months on the mission and the skills to make their work count.

Students plan everything about the conference, from start to finish: signing up presenters and a keynote speaker; networking with other universities; managing registration and customer service; developing a conference theme and session topics; marketing through social media, email and print; finding event sponsors; developing a risk management plan; and more behind the scenes.

The conference covers leadership, adventure recreation, natural resources, skill development, therapeutic recreation and more, so participants will have "the freedom to choose their passions," Murphy said.

The program is a mix of active outdoor activities and presentations in classrooms — and in this case, the classrooms are yurts, a kind of circular tent.

"It's a really neat atmosphere" at the camp, Bruursema said.

"There's no wi-fi," Murphy notes, "but we make do."


CMU students also planned the 2017 Midwest Outdoor Leadership Conference.

Spreading knowledge

There are 24 presentations in all, including four given by CMU undergraduates. Murphy will address canoeing and leave-no-trace environmental stewardship. Another student will discuss her experience with CMU's Play on the Way mobile recreation unit for children.

"Overall, this is an incredible experience offering interdisciplinary opportunities for students to apply knowledge and skills they have learned in their programs at CMU," Murphy said. "They have naturally developed stronger leadership, communication and teamwork skills." 

Bruursema agrees.

"The students are doing an amazing job putting this thing together for the second year in row," he said. "It's not for class credit; they are doing this in their spare time between classes, work and other responsibilities. The work is truly commendable and a great representation of the quality of students here."

Camp registration is open online through Sunday, Feb. 11.

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