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James Sage likens it to a study abroad program, but instead of a semester spent in Europe, Southern Utah University students will take courses, live and work full-time inside Bryce Canyon National Park.

The university's "Semester in the Parks" program set to begin in fall 2016 places up to 20 students inside the national park for 16 credits of immersive education, said Sage, an associate provost for the school.

"We're doing this not because it's a semester of courses, but because this is going to be transformative for these students," Sage said.

Students from all majors are eligible and will work and live inside Ruby's Inn near Bryce, taking classes from professors in geology, biology, communication and more.

The semester will also include weekend trips to Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, the Grand Canyon and Great Basin National Park, academic coordinator Dr. Johnny MacLean said.

MacLean stressed the program isn't about "vacation and sightseeing," but to give students with interest in a future in Utah's outdoor industry a chance to take advantage of the state's geography in an unprecedented way.

"[It's meant to] really use the landscapes to enhance the curriculum so that these students get a different, more immersive experience than they would get in a normal classroom," he said.

In the northern half of the state, Utah State University has established an outdoor product design and development degree, built on 13 new courses to prepare students to construct the recreation technology of the future.

"It's a degree program requested by the industry, designed for the industry," program coordinator Brian Shirley said. "That's the driving factor behind this is to develop a trained workforce for a particular industry that's a key economic sector in the state of Utah."

The major debuted in the spring 2016 semester, with 80 students currently enrolled — well ahead of Shirley's projection of 30 students.

"As long as we're the only one, we're going to keep having people wanting to do it," he said.

Students take classes in sewing, material processing and outdoor product history to start out, slowly building toward a specialized degree to design new goods for hikers, skiers and climbers in Utah and beyond.

Sage said he hopes the SUU program provides students with experiences that can only be found living and studying full-time among the red rocks — collecting usable data for biologists to track invasive plant species in Utah's national parks or developing new marketing campaigns for Bryce Canyon to use to better inform foreign visitors. The program is set to be offered again in fall 2017, with the potential to expand into future spring and fall semesters after that.

"You have these tangible products that students will be able to walk away with and say to future employers: 'Here's what I worked on and here's what we produced,' Sage said. "We've learned that is really powerful when students go on to the job market after graduating."

Shirley said he's looking forward to fighting off winter cold with jackets and hitting the slopes with skis designed by Utah State students in the future.

"The innovation that they're going to drive in the marketplace because of their focused training in this field, it's just going to be exciting to be a user of the goods that they're creating," he said.

Twitter: @BrennanJSmith ­ —

For more information …

• On the Southern Utah "Semester in the Parks" program, visit

• On the Utah State outdoor product design and development degree, visit