As national facilities manager for Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Brent Palmer lives and breathes outdoor adventure. As a “born-and-raised B.C. boy,” Brent grew up all over this wild province, eventually settling in the lower mainland and enrolling in Capilano University’s—then Capilano College’s—Outdoor Recreation Management program.

After a brief stint working in a packaging depot, Brent decided to turn his passion for the outdoors into more than just a hobby. “I just had an outdoor lifestyle—that’s what made me happy,” says Brent, “and I thought, ‘Well, you know what, I’m going to go to Cap.’”

Industry exposure

As an avid ocean kayaker, Brent began the program with an entrepreneurial vision—he wanted to manufacture kayaks. However, as his courses began exposing him to the many different opportunities the outdoor industry offered, he became interested in new experiences.

“What I liked about the program was that it dabbled in a bunch of different things,” says Brent. “I feel like the program was successful at equipping me with a general overview of the outdoor industry.”

And that’s exactly what it’s designed to do. The Outdoor Recreation Management Diploma is a two-year intensive course that aims to introduce students to the various employment options available in the outdoor industry. From adventure tourism to community recreation, conservation and park management, the Outdoor Recreation diploma turns committed hobbyists into qualified professionals.

The unique curriculum combines classroom study with field expeditions and practicums. Brent remembers going on multi-day hikes with classmates to learn about B.C. flora and fauna up close. Back in the classroom, lessons focus on management and business development.

Lessons in leadership

In second year, students are required to complete a 14-week practicum in order to obtain practical work experience and begin building connections with potential employers. Over the years, Cap has developed strong relationships with outdoor recreation companies across the province to help students find placements that best suit their interests.

“[Staff] certainly helped us network and there were certain companies who really enjoyed having outdoor education students come out and help,” says Brent.

For his practicum, Brent worked in Salmon Arm, taking high school students out on ski trips and backcountry education programs. He spent every day in the outdoors supporting the ski instructors and teaching navigation.

Although Brent did not end up back on the mountain after graduation, the leadership skills he learned through his placement have stuck with him throughout his career.

Leadership remains one of the core values of the Outdoor Recreation program. Throughout various stages in the course, students learn that being a leader is about understanding how to work productively with your team and draw from everyone’s strengths to achieve a common goal.

“At many different points, the course would talk about leadership and how leadership can appear in different ways,” says Brent. This basic skill transfers to any profession, whether it’s the outdoor industry or elsewhere.

Career beginnings

Brent’s love of outdoor recreation led him to apply for a job at MEC. He got his start working on the retail floor in the cycling department shortly after graduation. Although the store was fully staffed when he first applied, Brent says he got his job by bringing a giant cookie with him to the interview.

While pastries may have won over his boss to begin with, it was Brent’s determination and can-do attitude that led to his success at MEC—qualities he honed through the Outdoor Recreation program at Cap.

“There are some good courses at Cap that introduced me to different ways to manage your priorities and also finding the right direction,” says Brent. But ultimately, having openness to trying new experiences has been the biggest lesson he has learned.

This attitude helped him work his way from salesperson to store manager and eventually to his current role as national facilities manager, where he oversees the Green Buildings program for the company’s facilities.

Now, nearly two decades after graduating, Brent still works with people from the Outdoor Recreation program and continues to hire Cap students. “There’s a large number of people that work at MEC who came out of the program. It’s kind of a natural progression,” he says.

Submitted by Marketing & Communications, written by Natalie Walters

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