Iowa native brings love of nature to students

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published March 3, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 1, 2013 at 1:10 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Scott Dirksen is the Director of Outdoor Recreation and Education at Lyon College in Batesville. Outdoor programs at the college include a disc golf course, bouldering wall and bicycle rides.

— Scott Dirksen is a busy guy.

When he’s not working out the details for a trip to the Grand Canyon or installing a new fix-it-yourself bike stand, he’s helping coordinate kayak water polo and leading a college-credit backpacking trip. It’s all in a week’s work for the director of Outdoor Recreation and Education at Batesville’s Lyon College.

At just 27, it’s a big role for Dirksen, who has been in the job since 2010, when the school’s education and adventure program was created.

“The school was very supportive of starting the program, and I had a lot of freedom to implement my vision,” Dirksen said.

School administrators realized that Lyon was in a prime spot when it came to outdoor recreation and that developing the program could be a recruitment tool.

“They wanted to highlight and utilize the phenomenal resources we have available,” Dirksen said.

The job came open in 2010 just as Dirksen was finishing a master’s degree in recreation management at the University of Arkansas. The timing, Dirksen said, was perfect.

“Both Fayetteville and Batesville are at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, so I just kind of hopped to the other side of the state,” he said.

Dirksen first came to Arkansas from Iowa, where he grew up on a farm near Le Mars, where his parents grew corn and soybeans and raised pigs. Though he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do at first, Dirksen enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

“I got involved with campus recreation trips and just grew a love for it,” Dirksen said.

After growing up on a farm, playing sports and spending summers water skiing and boating, outdoor recreation of all kinds came naturally for Dirksen. Soon, he was taking on a leadership role with the campus program and getting more adventurous.

When a leader on campus decided to run water down a grain silo so it would ice over and students could practice ice climbing, Dirksen didn’t hesitate. A photo of his climb is still on his work computer in Arkansas.

“The tallest structures we have in Iowa are silos, so why not go climbing?” Dirksen said.

Dirksen eventually got so involved with recreation leadership at Northern Iowa that he was leading

excursions on his own.

“I was really loving working with the group, and I realized that I could go get my master’s and get paid to do that kind of work,” Dirksen said.

While his degrees put him in a position to be able to pursue work in a city parks department or national park, Dirksen said he prefers working with college students.

“I think it’s because it’s where I found my love for the outdoors,” Dirksen said. “It’s when you’re still discovering yourself, and they’re more willing to learn. I was drawn to giving people the experience that I’d had.”

In the three years that Dirksen has been working with the program, he’s tried to mold it into a student-driven entity that focuses as much on leadership skills as on exercise.

Students who are drawn to be more involved with the outdoor recreation program can take leadership courses and eventually lead their own group activities.

“They can get a lot more involved and learn about risk management and trip planning,” Dirksen said. “There’s something to be said about peer-to-peer leadership. It can be scary, but it’s really good leadership experience for the students to have.”

While there are around a dozen students in the leadership program, many more are involved with the activities the program has going on each weekend and throughout the week. Since Dirksen started, the program has helped get a ropes course installed on campus, complete with zip line, and extended the school’s biking and hiking trail.

“Almost every weekend, there’s something going on,” Dirksen said.

Despite the hectic schedule, Dirsken found time to get married in June. He met his wife, Paige, when they were undergrads together at Northern Iowa. When he’s not planning another outdoor trip for his students, Dirksen and his wife — who works for the Batesville Area Arts Council — work with the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project. They’ve also both taken trips to Haiti with the group Serve Haiti, where Dirksen helped with teacher training and working in a local clinic.

Dirksen soon hopes to start working with local Scout troops, introducing younger kids to the outdoor activities he’s grown to love. He also has big plans for the program at Lyon and hopes to continue to see as much growth in the program as he’s seen over the past few years.

“I hope we get more students involved and expand the leadership activities for our students,” Dirksen said. “I just want them to keep getting outside and getting exercise.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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