Imagine strapping up, walking to the exit of an airplane and free falling for what could be 60 seconds. Or maybe heading out on a boat on a clear day, putting on an oxygen mask and diving to the depths of the ocean. Although these don’t sound like your typical weekend activities, they are for Matthew Libby, this year’s new program manager for Outdoor Pursuits Program at Beauchamp Recreation Center.
“It’s fun now, you know, flying around in the air with your friends,” Libby said. “Doing formations and tricks. It’s kind of just like hanging out with your friends.”
When the spring sun starts to shine and the winter clouds disperse, Libby said he will most likely go skydiving every weekend. He’s been certified to skydive by himself within the last two years and has already been on more than a hundred skydiving trips in that short time. He realized skydiving just once wasn’t going to be enough because he loved the rush and the adventure of it.
“I get stoked about all outdoor activities but the three biggest ones are climbing and mountaineering, skydiving and scuba diving are like my three big sports,” Libby said. “That's what I love to do a lot and I would love to share those with the UP community.”
OPP started up last semester without a program manager, and Libby was hired in October to fill the vacancy. Since then, Libby has worked to give student leaders, like the OPP trip leaders, more autonomy within the program. This not only means within the walls of Beauchamp, but also allowing these students to develop their own trips for OPP. Along with providing more variety of trips, he also wants to instill a sense of inclusivity in the program to show that anyone can go on a trip.
Before moving to Portland, Libby already knew that he wanted to go into recreation. After his first student job in recreation at his college, Southeast Missouri State, he knew that campus recreation was something he was both passionate about and wanted for his future career.
“College is where people go to learn new skills and get new hobbies, meet lifetime friends and pursue those hobbies for the rest of their lives,” Libby said. “We’re in a unique position being in the university to introduce people to new hobbies, passions and careers that they may not otherwise know.”
Libby has several goals for the OPP program, most prominently diversifying the length and kinds of trips that are offered. In the past, OPP trips have consisted primarily of day trips and hikes, but Libby thinks that student participation will also increase by introducing other types of programs such as photography trips, scuba dives, and trips centered on mental and emotional wellness.
“That’s something I’m excited about, kind of just building more of a culture around Outdoor Pursuits to let people know who we are, what we’re doing, why we’re here, and to be able to offer more opportunities to more students,” Libby said.
Libby said that students have asked to diversify the trips to include rafting and kayaking, which will begin when the weather starts to get nicer. But Libby stressed that students don’t need to have any more than a basic level of knowledge to go on these trips.
“All these trips are pretty much entry-level,” Libby said. “Even with a day hike, basic physicality is needed... But you don’t need to know how to backpack, cook or set up a tent because the trips leaders are here to teach you all that sort of stuff.”
The OPP trips are designed to allow any student at UP to go on, even if the student has very little knowledge. By providing intermediate-level trips, rather than advanced, more students can feel like they can participate and increases the inclusivity Libby wants for the program.
Along with the increase and diversity of trips, Libby has also implemented changes to the climbing wall. Student workers on the rock wall now have more freedom to set their own routes and incorporate their own creativity with making the new formations.
“I like how he’s gotten into the climbing wall and let students make their own routes,” said Kaitlin Bourne, recreation operations program manager. “I think that’s really cool to give some ownership of the wall and also autonomy, let students exercise their creative pathways up the wall. I feel like it makes the wall more of a rich environment for students to feel like they belong.”
Lead certification is similar to certification, as a person secures you with a rope that’s fastened to a belt around your waist. The difference is that instead of the rope being anchored at the top of the wall, the climber has to clip the rope to different anchor points on the wall as they ascend.
By increasing what’s offered at the rock wall, more students can use the space for a variety of physical activities.
Though Libby has worked to change the OPP Program, he is also often found in and around the gym and has already begun to form connections with Beauchamp staff.
“When I first met him, the first thing he asked me was ‘What's your spirit animal?’ which I thought was kinda cool,” said Terese Foster, junior psychology and biology major and Front Desk Coordinator at Beauchamp. “But yeah, he's just a really chill guy and I think he really wants to get to know the students. I think first impression-wise, he is just a great addition.”
Libby chose to work at UP because of the close community and the size of the campus.
“It was nice to be able to move to Portland,” Libby said. “It’s a nice city with a good quality of life. UP in particular, the smaller university size was appealing to me because there is a quality outdoor program here and the university is small, so it’s a good way to make a really positive impact quickly because it’s a small university.”
For Libby, the most important thing that recreation and wellness offers to students is the opportunity to try new things that may have an impact on our future health or hobbies.
“There’s a lot of people that come here and discover rock climbing, there’s a lot of people that come here and discover biking and then they do it for the rest of their lives,” Libby said. “And that’s why it’s (OPP Program) important for students, it’s an outlet, it’s fun. Without play, life is boring.”