New University of Denver Program Aims to Transform, Diversify Outdoor Industry

The program was developed in partnership with the VF Foundation, the philanthropic arm of The North Face, Vans, Smartwool, and other top outdoor brands.
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  • The University of Denver's Leadership in Outdoor Recreation Industry (LORI) program will feature a wide variety of coursework from international studies, business, and law disciplines.
  • The program represents the biggest single investment in the VF Foundation's history, totaling $3 million over three years.
  • The program will launch in 2023.

The growing outdoor recreation industry accounted for $689 billion in gross output and 4.3 million jobs in 2021, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Now, the University of Denver (DU) wants to increase the diversity of that industry's workforce with a new interdisciplinary program.

The University of Denver, in partnership with the VF Foundation, announced its new Leadership in Outdoor Recreation Industry (LORI) program.

The fully online program features two 16-credit graduate certificates designed for people who are new to the outdoor industry and outdoor-industry workers who want to transition to business-oriented roles, according to the university.

The program was created with the largest single investment ever made by the VF Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Denver-based VF Corporation, an outdoor industry titan, owning a wide range of brands including Dickies, Vans, Timberland, JanSport, Smartwool, and The North Face. The foundation will invest $3 million over three years, according to the release.

Colorado is a key state for the outdoor recreation industry, according to the release. The state generates $28 billion in spending annually and employs roughly 229,000 people in the industry. VF Corporation Chairman, President, and CEO Steve Rendle said Denver is the ideal place to kick off these credential programs.

"Through the Foundation's targeted support of scholarships for underrepresented individuals, combined with DU's expansive offering of business and industry-relevant coursework, we hope to spark the next generation of diverse leadership in the outdoor industry," Rendle said. "This distinctive learning experience will attract both emerging and established leaders and we couldn't be more excited to partner with DU on this important endeavor as we continue to expand our I&D work beyond the VF walls."

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New participants in outdoor recreation are up 26% since January 2020, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, with skateboarding, hiking, kayaking, and surfing seeing the most growth. That has led to more demand for education to both meet the industry's demands and protect wilderness areas, according to the University of Denver release.

The credential programs will feature one-credit courses and center around flexibility for students in the online format, according to the release. Topics covered will include legal issues around land use, supply chains, public policy, sustainability, and other topics across the legal, business, and international affairs fields.

Vivek Choudhury, dean of the University of Denver Daniels College of Business, said in the release that the effort will lead to "an unrivaled program that will meet the need for professional and diverse talent and leadership in the outdoor industry."

The program will launch in 2023, and a director will be hired to oversee the program in the next few months, according to the release.

"We offer students the opportunity to build the skills, knowledge and perspective to make a difference in our world and create real, lasting change," University of Denver Chancellor Jeremy Haefner said in the release.

"We're creating distinct, easy-to-access programming that will prepare students for outdoor industry jobs that are available now, and future careers that will change the field. We are grateful to The VF Foundation for this opportunity to partner in such a meaningful way."