Hayley Weak ’19 grew up in the mountain town of Gunnison, in western Colorado. Her father was a career National Park Service employee so she loved the outdoors and natural landscapes from an early age. Though she loved western Colorado, she knew that she wanted to attend college somewhere else, but with outdoor opportunities and natural beauty in mind.
Hayley knew that her college choice would be less about program and more about location. She applied to WOU, Humboldt State and SOU, after learning of the schools through various college fairs. While visiting the campuses with her family, she loved the unique location of Ashland with its quaint downtown and close proximity to hiking, rafting and climbing opportunities. Once she found out about the SOU Outdoor Program and Raider Wilderness Experience, they sealed her decision to come to Ashland.
Once on campus, Hayley took a diversity of courses but later settled on the environmental science and policy program and art classes as focal points. “I’ve always been a hands-on person so the art classes really appealed to me but an Introduction to Environmental Science course that I took, taught by John Guttridge, was very interesting and I knew I wanted to make it my major,” she said. A Raider Wilderness Experience outing to the Umpqua National Forest through SOU’s Outdoor Program, provided her first experience in the outdoors in southwest Oregon and it helped to keep her at SOU for the next four years. She had volunteered for the Outdoor Program as a freshman but she was hired for her last three years by Coordinator Willie Long. “I got to plan and lead hiking outings and backpacking trips and I just loved the experience,” she added. “The Outdoor Program gave me so much and I met lifetime friends through those experiences. It was really like another degree program for me.”
After graduation June of 2019, with her bachelor’s in environmental science and policy and a minor in art, she stayed at SOU and worked for Campus Housing for the summer then was able to move back to Colorado to work at Crested Butte Mountain Resort near Gunnison, for the ski season. Later, she obtained an internship for the non-profit Canyonlands Field Institute in Moab, Utah. June of 2020, Hayley followed in her father’s footsteps and got a job with Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, as the Backcountry Permits Ranger. “It’s an important job because we have designated backcountry camp sites for backpackers and my job is to help educate people about camping, hiking and cooking in grizzly bear country, which is crucial to the health and welfare of the bear and people,” she said.
Recently, Hayley completed an expedition with work colleagues, leaving at 4 A.M. to climb 12,805 foot Middle Teton. It was a formidable climb, 14 miles round trip with a 6,500 foot elevation gain. “My experience at SOU academically and through the Outdoor Program, helped me to build confidence and learn how to lead. The community there was awesome and I cherish the friends I made there,” she said.
Learn more: SOU Outdoor Program & Grand Teton National Park Backcountry Office