Facilitating Leadership


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Ken Gilbertson

Ken Gilbertson

Each May, UMD faculty member Ken Gilbertson ('78), takes senior students who are majoring in the Recreation/Outdoor Education program on a nine-day adventure in North Dakota at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There, Gilbertson said, "students encounter a level of self-awareness that they couldn't get in the classroom." They gain enduring leadership skills, increase their ability to face challenges, and hone their problem solving skills. After all, waking up and finding 140 bison in your camp will quickly put theory into practice. Gilbertson has made this trek every year for the past 27 years because he believes that what students learn there is invaluable. "Doing things they've never done before, like pitching a tent in the rain, they learn how to take care of themselves," Gilbertson said. Students also "learn how to bring the best out of others" - a key component of a successful leader. 

Gilbertson knows that through nature, people learn about themselves and that those lessons can stay with them throughout their lives. That is one of the reasons that Gilbertson helped found the UMD Recreational Sports Outdoor Program (RSOP), which allows students to take part in various outdoor activities, learn new skills, and stretch themselves physically and mentally. 

Prior to helping establish the program, Gilbertson studied other university programs to learn what worked and what didn't work. He quickly realized that UMD's program needed to be tied into academics and that it needed to provide professional training. Over time, UMD's RSOP has become one of the leading programs in the country and celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. 

To honor his efforts, the UMD Ken Gilbertson Leadership Award was created to provide scholarship awards for UMD students involved in the Outdoor Program. Recipients do not have to be majoring in this program, and thus can gain valuable skills regardless of their career goals. Former students of Gilbertson's have contributed to this fund over the years. 

As a rather shy undergraduate, Gilbertson didn't set out to be a professor. But working one summer as a canoe guide with American Indian kids from Aberdeen, S.D., he came to appreciate his abilities. "I learned I could listen. I learned I could share. I could share about nature," Gilbertson recalled. Eventually he went on to earn his Ph.D. in Outdoor Education with a Clinical Counseling emphasis. 

Sharing his love of nature has been the cornerstone of Gilbertson's career. It will also serve as the foundation of the legacy that he will one day leave to UMD. "My life has been focused on UMD, and while research is important, I'm committed to students first and foremost. I've decided to use my estate to enrich the Recreation/Outdoor Education program at UMD," Gilbertson said. 

With the gift, Gilbertson would like to help both graduate students and undergraduate students as they pursue their education. "I want to support bringing faculty from other schools to UMD," he said. He believes it is important for students to learn from educators from different backgrounds and with different perspectives. He is currently working on establishing a student exchange program with universities in Finland. His work and his legacy will continue to benefit many UMD students.