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Ecotourism & Outdoor Leadership Program Celebrates Earth Day Every Day

To celebrate Earth Day, Mount Royal’s Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership (ETOL) faculty and students participated in the Calgary Climb and Run for Wilderness at the Calgary Tower last weekend and will be picking up the trash later this month in the Calgary Mountain Club's Big Rock Clean-up at Okotoks.

But really, Earth Day is every day in ETOL, which focuses on sustainability and environmental science along with business and outdoor pursuits. And when you have a passion for the environment and love the thrill of hanging off rock cliffs and backpacking through the Rockies, what better place to learn and share those passions than in the ETOL program?
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Mount Royal's ETOL student's set an example for everyone by living their program.

“Environmental stewardship, cultural sensitivity and social responsibility have long been passions of mine,” says Lisa Heffernan, a fourth-year student. “I was elated to find a program that had those values as cornerstones.”

Heffernan was a nature lover long before she realized it was something you could major in. Some of her favourite childhood memories are of climbing trees and building forts. Since those days, not much has changed.

“It was definitely the outdoor classes — like biking and rock climbing — that first caught my eye.” She’s quick to point out it’s turned into so much more."The ETOL program has encouraged and empowered me to do things I had never dreamed of doing before,” Heffernan says. “I’ve scaled mountains, paddled rivers, led clients through caves, travelled to Africa, spoken in public and taught my peers.”

First-year student Paul Ribi chose the program because it’s unique and offers a well-rounded curriculum. “This program gives you so many more options once you’re finished,” he says. An avid outdoorsman, Ribi grew up in the mountains, forests and rivers of rural Alberta, camping, snowboarding, backpacking and rock climbing. His journey eventually took him to the oilfields, where he saved enough working on the rigs to pay for his education.

“The curriculum is compelling and the classes are challenging,” he adds. “The first year is a good mix of outdoor physical education and academic classes.”

Both Ribi and Heffernan agree the program develops camaraderie as well as leadership skills among the students. “From day one we participate in team building activities, overnight trips and group projects,” Heffernan says, adding she has developed close friendships with students in other years of the program as well as industry professionals and even her instructors.

“The instructors are easy to get along with and have unbelievable knowledge,” Ribi says.

And the program offers some amazing field trips. Heffernan’s favourite was a 10-day expedition where the students took turns leading. “I learned on this trip that not only do I have a passion for backpacking, I have a passion for leading as well.”

Last summer Heffernan led a multi-day caving trip in Crowsnest Pass while employed as a cave guide. She enjoyed the chance to do many things most people only see on the Discovery Channel such as exploring an extensive cave network named Gargantua, complete with indoor streams and waterfalls and several rappels. “It was breathtaking.”

Heffernan plans to continue guiding in the future and would love to branch out to rock climbing and international guiding if the opportunity develops.
Ribi currently works part-time at the University of Calgary teaching climbing to school groups and joins Heffernan for shifts at a part-time job they both enjoy at Mountain Equipment Co-op,

No matter where they end up, there’s little doubt the impact of the program and the cultivation of their passion for nature will have made this world a better place.

—Rhonda Greenaway
   April 23, 2009