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Student Spotlights

RPK 170 – Recreational Backpacking

The Recreational Backpacking class (RPK 170) just finished an estimated 12+ mile hike and camping trip on the Appalachian Trail. The class started at Carvers Gap (5512 ft elevation) in Tennessee and hiked to Overmountain Shelter at Yellow Mountain Gap (4550 ft) on the trail and back to the start location. The group traversed several mountain locations on the trail like Round Bald (5826 ft), Jane Bald (5807 ft) and Grass Ridge Bald junction (5900 ft) until they descend to the shelter location. The group enjoyed meeting A.T. through hikers, sectional hikers, weekend warriors, and other people just enjoying different segments of the trail.

Zachary Mondrage and Brandon Senter

outdoor recreation program

For Zachary Mondrage and Brandon Senter, hearing of the new Outdoor Recreation program at Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC) was the opportunity they’d been waiting for. Both having a history of working in the coal industry, they were intrigued hearing of an opportunity for re-training while embracing their passion…the great outdoors.

Brandon Senter had spent the last 18 years working in surface mining for different companies, the latest being Alpha Natural Resources before he was laid off. Zack had spent time working as an underground coal miner before becoming a park ranger with Break Interstate Park. Upon seeing advertisements for the program highlighting trail design and maintenance classes with guaranteed interviews with Spearhead Trails upon completion, both Brandon and Zack made their choice to attend SWCC due to it being close to home and having a program of great interest to both of them.  Zack said, “I chose to attend SWCC because it is my local college and they offer fast track classes and programs. It is a very ‘work’ oriented college which I like.”

Throughout the six month fast track program, students were able to earn nationally recognized credentials such as Certified Interpretative Guide, Leave No Trace Trainer, Wilderness & Remote First Aid, and American Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED. Classes focused on teaching students to become outdoor leaders while providing hands-on guidance and opportunities to practice new skills, while leaving the least environmental impact. Through the partnership with Spearhead Trails, students were taught how to plan, design, map and maintain trails for multi-uses including pedestrian, blue way, single motocross, equestrian, and ATV trails. The program also utilized field trips to local tourism based businesses to learn from their experiences and to witness the potential for growth through entrepreneurship in southwest Virginia.

Upon completion of the program, both Zack and Brandon received two Career Studies Certificates in Guide Essentials and Outdoor Recreation, stackable credentials in the Adventure Tourism & Outdoor Recreation program. They have accepted positions at Spearhead Trails as Trail Technicians and are optimistic about the growth of tourism and outdoor recreation in the area. Brandon stated, “I think we are going to see big things happen here in southwest Virginia by all the new trails that we are opening and the new businesses that are going in. We are getting people to come in from other states to see what great things Virginia has to offer.” Seizing the opportunity when seeing a need for a towing service on Spearhead Trails, Brandon is now also the owner and operator for Ridgeview Towing and Recovery, LLC.  “I saw a need for some kind of towing and help service for people in need while out on the trails. They can call me if they are stuck, broke down, out of gas, or just need help. We will help them get back to a trail head and their vehicle,” said Brandon. For more information on Ridgeview Towing and Recovery, like them on Facebook at or call 276.865.2239.

To be a part of the next Adventure Tourism & Outdoor Recreation class, call 276.964.7278, email, or visit for more information. All graduates are guaranteed interviews with one of SWCC’s partners including Breaks Interstate Park, Spearhead Trails, or Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure. Classes begin August 23rd, 2017, so don’t wait! Students have the opportunity to earn career studies certificates in Guide Essentials, Outdoor Recreation, Outdoor Interpretation & Education; all stackable credentials that enhance your leadership skillset. Space is limited, so inquire today.

Josh Matney

Josh Matney Flyfishing

Joshua Matney recently graduated from Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC) with an Associate of Arts & Science (AA&S) in Business Administration with a specialization in Outdoor Leadership.  He plans to continue his education with a Bachelor’s Degree in Outdoor Recreation & Leadership at Radford University beginning in the fall.

Josh graduated from Grundy High School in 2013 and began taking classes at SWCC due to the close proximity to his home. Unsure of the path he wished to pursue, Josh explored his options with classes in administration of justice as well as courses in general studies. He chose to follow his love of the outdoors at SWCC upon learning of the program offerings of Adventure Tourism & Outdoor Recreation (ATOR), the opportunity to transfer to a four year university with an AA&S in Outdoor Leadership, and the career opportunities available in the outdoor recreation industry. Josh received several nationally recognized certifications while obtaining the associate degree including American Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED, Wilderness & Remote First Aid, and Leave No Trace Trainer certification. His ultimate goal is to work in a state park or outdoor recreation business.

An Associate of Arts & Science in Business Administration with specialization in Outdoor Leadership allows students to complete the first two years of a bachelor’s degree and transfer to a four year university for completion. The transfer program provides the general education requirements plus offers courses in preparation, leadership & supervision, interpretation and more.  Students have the opportunity to learn while participating in an outdoor experience. With hands-on learning, students can develop essential skills and gain outdoor leadership experience while learning to be eco-friendly and minimizing the environmental impact for future sustainability. Electives offered include courses in Mountain Biking, Kayaking, Recreational Backpacking, and more.

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