Google Analytics insert for Experience Industry Management

Winter 2014 Newsletter Extended: Katie Draeger

Live It, Protect It, Explore It!

The Report, a newsletter for Recreation, Parks, & Tourism Administration, alumni, students and friends

View all Newsletters


By: Ari Kamp (RPTA ’15), Staff Writer

Katie rock climbingKatie Draeger, an RPTA alumna from nearby Nipomo, grew up surfing the waters of the Central Coast and never wanting to leave. Little did she know that one day she would take that love of surfing to the Southern Hemisphere for a sea kayaking adventure off the coastline of Patagonia. Draeger’s route through school and work have thus far been anything but ordinary, and she has the attitude, experiences, and degree to show for it. When it was time to select a college, Draeger did not have to look far for a university that enabled her to earn a degree doing what she loved. After a friend suggested the RPTA major, Draeger did a little research of her own and knew without a doubt that this was the place for her.
During her time at Cal Poly, Draeger said she acquired different leadership techniques that provided her with the confidence to enter and embrace the recreation field, and all that it has to offer. In addition, she noted that, ironically, it was some of her least outdoor-related classes, such as business courses, which proved to be her most valuable assets when working in the field. Skills such as creating and staying within a specific budget have been invaluable throughout her recreational work experiences, even in an outdoor setting. Draeger says that Cal Poly is unique in that it really takes the Learn by Doing motto seriously. “Everything learned in RPTA sticks with you so much because it is hands on and as an RPTA major that is crucial; you are thrown into a new unfamiliar job, and you have to go off of what you learn in school until you are able to gain new experiences that you can start to build off of,” she said.
The combination of the skillsets she gained in the classroom, and strong support from RPTA faculty, encouraged Draeger to take her newly gained knowledge and go international. She signed on to participate in a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course, which shaped not only her future in the recreation field, but also change her personal life. Draeger chose to complete a semester in Patagonia, where she learned the skills necessary to survive in an outdoor leadership setting. This particular NOLS course was based out of a working farm just outside of Coyhaique, in the Aysen region of Chile. NOLS provided the planning and logistics to make the wilderness expedition a positive educational experience. Along with her fellow group members, Draeger spent a month and a half each sea kayaking and mountaineering before finishing her trip with a ten-day solo backpack where she was sent out alone to test her newly gained skills.

Katie mountaineering

Draeger said sea kayaking was probably the most memorable of her experiences. Sea kayaking off the shores of Chile helped her see the ocean and coastline in a very different and much more intimate way than she had while surfing on California’s Central Coast. Mountaineering, on the other hand, was something very new to her, and was what ultimately helped her learn the most about herself. She admits that she was fearful of being in the mountains in unpredictable climates and conditions. “With this particular experience you really have to trust your own physical strength. it really puts you out of your comfort zone.” The icy slopes and glaciers made for rugged and less-traveled mountain terrain that required detailed glacier travel, hazard evaluation, and technical rope work. The combination of these conditions made forging friendships and working together a necessity. On one occasion, her group was stuck on a glacier in a snowstorm for a couple of days, running low on food, and had to wait to descend the glacier due to the increased avalanche danger from fresh snow. “That was probably the hardest part, and that is why I chose that trip,” Draeger said, reflecting on her experience.
From her newly gained perspectives on life and recreation, Draeger decided to complete her education at Cal Poly with a more tailored degree that was representative of what she learned during her time with NOLS. Draeger took advantage of the opportunity that students possess to carve out their own niche through an individualized course of study. She carved out a unique set of coursework within RPTA that is best described as Outdoor Adventure Experiential Education. Her time in Patagonia provided her with a foundation of invaluable skills similar to those taught in the classroom, but she was able to learn them in an outdoor setting. Draeger explained that, “Experiential education has a huge emphasis on community building through living life in the outdoors.”
The NOLS program included, Draeger succeeded in graduating from Cal Poly with an RPTA degree in just three years. She said her time in Patagonia was the experience that really got her hooked on outdoor adventure recreation, but that what she is most proud of is graduating from Cal Poly and acquiring a job directly related to what she set out to do. She noted, “Taking twenty plus credits each quarter was hard work and is what made (graduating) happen. My trip to Chile was just the icing on the cake.”
Upon graduating last spring, Katie was offered an opportunity to revisit the NOLS program, but this time as an instructor out of Palmer, Alaska. After completing her course in Patagonia, Katie had established many solid relationships and networking opportunities, including those of her instructors from the program who encouraged her to intern with them in the future. After graduation, Katie was provided the opportunity to work in the rations room in Alaska as an assistant. This included planning rations out for each group, briefing the participants, and ultimately bagging and packing food. In many cases, this added up to several months and hundreds of pounds worth of supplies. Working in Alaska with NOLS provided her with a different perspective of the program and also a new sense of leadership. This time she was on the behind the scenes, planning and preparing end of things, yet still using her own experiences from NOLS in Patagonia to teach and lead others.
Her continued experience working in Alaska reaffirmed her intentions and goals to teach in an outdoor setting. “Working in this setting you see people bring down their walls of fears and insecurities and realize nature is a giant playground that hopefully they want to contribute to along the way. Those that engage in the experience build confidence and learn more about themselves.” Draeger says that she feels very lucky that she has found something so rewarding and wholesome, and thrives on witnessing experiences and seeing people’s lives change for the better.
Draeger is back in San Luis Obispo for now, putting her leadership skills to use in teaching environmental education to 1st through 7th grade students at the Rancho El Chorro Outdoor School. She started working there the day after she returned from her job with NOLS in Alaska, and continues to hone her outdoor leadership skills, eventually hoping to use them in settings such as outdoor schools in Costa Rica and Australia. 

Back to Winter 2014 newsletter

back to top


Make a Donation

Make a donation to the Recreation, Parks, & Tourism Administration Department!

Related Content