Jess Barber

Jess Barber found the Outdoor Education, Leadership, and Tourism program on the Johnson campus when she was ready to take her associate’s degree in adventure sports to the next level. Here she chose the management and administration concentration. It offered the perfect blend of experience and interest for Jess — her love of the outdoors in tandem with her natural knack in the management field. Today, she’s a full-time teacher in an outdoor nursery program, learning about a different part of the outdoor education field as she looks toward her future in the administrative side. 

An Indirect Path to the Outdoor Education Field 

Although Jess loves the physical and mental aspects of adventure sports and is an avid backcountry and cross-country skier in winter, and a hiker, trail runner, and rock climber in the warmer months, she started college as a music education major. Jess had played classical violin for 12 years, so it seemed like a natural step. But once there, she realized she was ready for something new. So, she packed up and moved to Chicago – which was a big change both culturally and environmentally for the Walton, New York native. Settled in Chicago, she managed a coffee shop and a high-end retail store. But after three years, she was ready to be outdoors again and headed back to New York and enrolled in the associate’s program at SUNY Adirondack. 

Her associate’s degree in hand, Jess knew she needed a bachelor’s to land the kind of roles in the field she wanted. 

She found the Johnson campus a good fit for her, and the transition was especially easy as a cohort from her associate’s program accompanied her to the new program. “The program was very hands-on, which was what I was looking for,” Jess said. “The classes are very well thought out, and the curriculum made a lot of sense. And the staff had a lot of experience to share and could answer any question you had.” 

An internship is a key part of this program, and Jess’s internship took her to Petra Cliffs, a climbing gym in Burlington where she worked as the assistant summer camp director. She found the experience really easy to coordinate. 

Just before graduating, Jess landed a job as a preschool teacher at a nature-based program in Stowe, Vt., a full-time position just ½ hour away from her home. Not only is Jess learning all about this type of outdoor program from the inside, as the co-teacher for the K-2 afterschool program serving 16 children she’s working with an age group she hasn’t worked with before. 

In this all-outdoors program, the focus is on “having fun, growing relationships, working on conflict resolution, and teaching children to mitigate risks,” she said. Jess shared an example: “There’s a tree on the property that’s about 10 feet tall with vines hanging down. We want to let them play on this and came to the decision that it’s a good way to help them to think about how to manage their own risk. To play on these vines, the kids have to think about how to be safe; for example, what to do if two kids are swinging at the same time.” The varied ages of the children make this interesting, too, as “the younger kids try to mimic what the older kids do while, the older kids learn how to work with the younger ones.”