Meet Eric Barnard, an Assistant Professor in the Physical Education & Sport Science (PESS) Department at Winona State University.

He not only helped develop a resource center for local outdoor enthusiasts, but also continues to adapt Winona State’s program based on the growing market demand for outdoor education and the expanding outdoor recreation resources available in Winona.

Eric Barnard

Who Is Eric Barnard?

About a decade ago, Eric Barnard saw a need. He recognized the wealth of natural resources Winona had to offer—but also saw the lack of opportunities for individuals to tap into those assets.

So, he helped create the Outdoor Education & Recreation Center (OERC), a facility dedicated to equipping Winona State students and community members with the skills and tools needed to safely participate in outdoor adventures year-round.

Since then, the OERC has become a valuable addition to Winona State’s campus and to the Winona community. The WSU Climbing Center, for example, is now one of the largest university climbing walls in the Midwest.

After serving as the OERC Director for several years, Barnard transitioned to teaching full-time at Winona State. His favorite part about being a professor is seeing students grow from participating in activities to leading those same activities for their peers.

Whether during an ice climbing class or ropes course venture, Barnard enjoys hearing students rave, “I can’t believe this experience is right in the town that I live in and that this is a class.”

Fun Facts

  • Eric Barnard recently completed a multi-pitch climbing instructor course in New Hampshire, becoming the only university instructor in the Midwest with that level of training. He believes it’s important to be an example of a lifelong learner.
  • He has trained and certified climbing guides and wilderness medicine students across the U.S. for more than 20 years.
  • He is a lead instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Wilderness Medicine, and WSU’s PESS Department is the only NOLS-affiliated program in the upper Midwest. This credential gives students access to more affordable wilderness medicine courses taught right on the WSU campus.
WSU student ice climbing

Why Study Adventure Education at Winona State?

Within only a few miles from campus, Winona offers stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, ice climbing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and more.

The Adventure Education minor prepares students to become leaders who can facilitate all those land and water activities for a spectrum of populations—from preschool to elderly.

What makes the Adventure Education program unique is perhaps the wide range of classes offered that emphasize Winona’s natural resources.

Whereas most universities require students to travel elsewhere to practice ice climbing, ice climbing classes happen right in town. Rock climbing classes use the WSU Climbing Wall, which has been recognized as one of the top indoor climbing facilities in the country. And now that the City of Winona is putting in $5 million worth of mountain biking trails, Barnard is already brainstorming ways to offer mountain biking classes and certifications for students.

Many new students choose to attend Winona State because of the natural beauty. The Adventure Education program allows students to take this affinity a step further and experience the natural beauty firsthand.

WSU students canoeing on the water

How Does Adventure Education Help Students Succeed?

Adventure Education offers students and their future clients an avenue to achieve work-life balance.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor recreation has positively exploded in popularity. New hybrid and remote working arrangements allow people to spend more time connecting with the environment rather than commuting.

And thanks to the WSU faculty’s extensive experience in the outdoor industry, they created the Adventure Education minor knowing the various industry certifications required—and building hands-on experiences right into the curriculum.

Barnard adds, “A lot of Adventure Education programs have faculty that can teach the theory and practices, and then the students graduate and have to go out on their own, take all these classes, and pay out of pocket for these certifications that are thousands of dollars. But you also need practical experience because a certification is only as good as the experience[…] so that’s what we built into our program.”

Through their classes, Adventure Education students become certified as climbing wall instructors, wilderness medicine specialists, canoe and kayak instructors, and even high ropes course coordinators.

Looking into the future, the OERC and PESS Department are launching a new Sport Leadership major and working on adding a state-of-the-art high ropes course on campus to give students greater access to practice their skills before they graduate.

Who Should Enroll in Adventure Education?

Students can pair this minor with a variety of majors across WSU’s colleges, such as:

  1. Science. Become an expert at interpreting the natural environment.
  2. Liberal Arts. Design logos and run marketing campaigns for outdoor recreation companies.
  3. Health Care. Work with patients to improve their mental health and physical well-being.

The Professor Pop-Up blog series explores WSU’s academic programs through the eyes of talented professors, ambitious current students, and thriving alumni. Read more stories from the Professor Pop-Up series.