When students in a new outdoor products class at Oregon State University-Cascades were asked last fall to brainstorm a new product to design, Daniel Rogers suggested heated flyrod grips. An outdoor enthusiast who enjoys flyfishing on Central Oregon rivers and lakes, Rogers, 20, explained that while you can’t wear gloves fishing because of the technical maneuvering required, chilly temps can still make your hands cold.
The class liked Rogers’ idea, and began studying each phase of product development to learn what it would take to make the concept a reality. “We worked on sketches, a materials list, costs, suppliers and charted it out on Excel,” Rogers said. “Now I’m thinking start to finish about things.”
The students weren’t actually manufacturing the flyrod grips, but instead were learning the steps involved in product development as part of the first introductory class for the university’s new outdoor products degree program. The degree, which students can officially declare beginning this fall, is a project four years in the making, launched with a $250,000 gift from Bend-based insulated water bottle company HydroFlask in 2016. More than thirty outdoor products companies from Central Oregon and elsewhere, including Black Diamond, Patagonia, SmartWool and others, offered input as the program was developed.
HydroFlask’s donation helped the school hire outdoor products expert Geoff Raynak to lead the program. “When this position came up, it was just sort of perfect,” said Raynak, who spent twenty years in the industry, including engineering bicycles and more recently at Bend-based Ruffwear, which creates outdoor products for dogs.
Raynak said the unique degree program was developed because there is a need among outdoor products businesses for employees with a broad understanding of the industry, including its history, the design and manufacturing of products, engineering and marketing, all factors that come into play for a business. “This program didn’t come out of thin air,” Raynak said. “It came out of the industry looking for well-rounded future employees. They want students who have an idea of the scope and history of the industry, an understanding of the entire process, a respect and understanding of what it means to be stewards of the land and the experiential sense.”
For student Will Kramer, 21, switching from majoring in engineering to instead pursuing outdoor products has given him a sense of how he might turn his engineering skills into a career. “I can more clearly see my future,” said Kramer, who took Raynak’s fall outdoor products class, which focused on water products, and the winter term class, focused on winter products.
In January, the class headed to Outdoor Retailer in Denver, Colorado, where students were able to meet up with outdoor clothing and equipment manufacturer DaKine, as well as browse the hundreds of other booths showcasing companies within the outdoor products industry, collecting business cards and leaving their heads spinning with ideas for the future.
While the program is still in its infancy, it has the potential to grow quickly. Raynak said he’s responding to a three to five inquiries a week from prospective students. Part of the appeal for students is the fact that it’s located in Bend, a place where more than 100 outdoor brands call home, and where outdoor adventure is close by. “Employees or students can do cone runs at Mount Bachelor before work, or go run the river at lunch,” Raynak said.
Raynak said he’s talking with many of those local outdoor product companies about ideas to integrate with the program, through things like internships and projects, as well as bringing in outdoor experts to speak to classes. The hope is that once students graduate, they consider working for some of the same companies or developing a new product here in Central Oregon. Raynak said, “A poster child of success would indeed be someone who graduates from the program and is an entrepreneur here in Central Oregon, in the outdoor industry.”