Southern Oregon University will offer an outdoor adventure leadership major beginning this fall.

Brian Thoroman launched 13-year-old Jesse Palmateer's kayak off a diving platform and into the Southern Oregon University pool Tuesday afternoon, in a simulation of a drop down a small waterfall.

On a day when temperatures reached nearly 90 degrees, Thoroman was getting paid to play in the pool. Since he graduated last month from SOU with a concentration in outdoor adventure leadership and a bachelor's degree in health and physical education, he's had no trouble finding recreation-oriented jobs, he said.

Because of the popularity of SOU's outdoor concentration, offered through the health and physical education department, the university has decided to offer an outdoor adventure leadership major beginning this fall.

"I wish they would have done it sooner," Thoroman said.

"It's a fantastic program. It's especially suited for nontraditional students who are interested in the outdoors, but don't want to go into the sciences or criminology."

The only other public university in Oregon to offer the degree is Oregon State University, at its Cascade campus in Bend, according to Donna Mills, professor and chairwoman of SOU's health, physical education and leadership department.

"We want to serve the needs of regional students in Southern Oregon and Northern California, and obviously we have the outdoor opportunities in Southern Oregon and working in the outdoors is a growing profession," she said.

The new major, which requires more classes than the concentration, will prepare students to become certified as Leave No Trace instructors, swift-water rescuers, open-water divers, canoe and kayak instructors, Wilderness First responders, challenge course facilitators and National Recreation and Parks Association professionals.

The classes for the major include instruction in outdoor-recreation management, adventure planning, tourism, risk management, stewardship, conservation and preservation.

There are also classes on rock climbing, mountaineering and fly fishing.

The outdoor adventure leadership major will be offered in bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degree formats. The first involves foreign languages classes and the latter requires more math courses.

The university expects about 65 students to be enrolled in the major by the end of the 2010-11 academic year, Mills said.

"We've had an overwhelmingly positive response, not just in terms of numbers, but in the favorable evaluations from students on the coursework," she said.

Since SOU began offering the outdoor adventure leadership concentration and minor in 2008, more than 70 students have enrolled in the program, according to Mills.

Thoroman was one of them.

On Tuesday, he was helping head instructor Karin Burroughs, who also graduated from SOU with a concentration in outdoor adventure leadership, teach a summer school kayaking and climbing class for young teens.

Last month, he led a backpacking trip for troubled youths.

Thoroman plans to start coursework at SOU this fall toward a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies, with a concentration in health and environmental studies. Eventually, he wants to get a doctorate in exercise physiology.

Although SOU's outdoor program involves a lot of hands-on courses, the program is academically challenging, he said.

"The instructors have a really professional approach to the classes," he said. "It's not just about going rock climbing."

For more information on the new degree, see www.sou.edu/hpe/outd_advent.html.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.