Recently, Auburn has been placing more of an emphasis on wellbeing and sustainability, and JT Hazelrigs is one of the driving forces behind this effort. JT serves as the Assistant Director for Campus Recreation overseeing the Auburn Outdoors program, an “adventure-based education program” that provides numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation.
JT has always had a passion for spending time in the great outdoors and she enjoys nothing more than spreading that love to others and encouraging them to enjoy and protect the natural world. Her upbringing hugely influenced that passion and now her job is the perfect avenue to share it.
Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, JT’s parents weren’t particularly outdoorsy, but they were very supportive of the fact that she was. Each summer, they sent her to her aunt in New Hampshire where she worked at municipal recreational programs.
When JT was getting ready to graduate high school, she decided to attend the University of West Florida, where she worked with campus recreation. It was there that she discovered her love for working with students in areas such as assisting with intramural sports and leading day hikes.
Once she graduated from UWF, JT went on to the University of Arkansas to complete her Master’s degree, and stayed for thirteen years to work with the university’s Outdoor Recreation program. She led flag football games, climbing programs, and most impressively, several renovation projects in the Recreation Center.
Last year, JT heard about the opportunity to help develop Auburn Outdoors as a part of the university’s new Recreation and Wellness Center. She was thrilled at the chance to further her career and continue doing what she loves most: changing the lives of students by cultivating their appreciation for nature and all it has to offer.
In her position with Auburn Outdoors, JT helps organize numerous outdoor adventures throughout the school year, ranging from activities like day trips here in Alabama to an upcoming ski trip in Colorado. She also facilitates the cleaning and inventory of Auburn Outdoors equipment that is available for rental by students. Most importantly, though, she’s there for the students as a teacher and a leader by example.
JT recognizes that one of the great challenges in instilling an appreciation of nature in people is that they either don’t know or don’t care about the negative impacts that contemporary lifestyles can have on the planet. She looks for educational opportunities wherever they may be, offering up the example of a girl who tossed an apple core into the woods on a recent trip. JT pointed out that throwing away food, even unprocessed, “natural” food is a form of pollution and can cause local wildlife to become dependent on human scraps for sustenance.
Knowing that people have to want to change, and that it can take quite a bit of time, JT aims not to implement rules and regulations but to lead students to think more about the impacts of their actions. She cites the small number of participants permitted on Auburn Outdoors adventures as an example. A group of thirty students would be much more disruptive on a hike than a group of twelve, and by this and other examples she hopes to help participants understand that our decisions can transform negative impacts into positive ones.
One problem that JT recognizes is that students may not be aware of what Auburn Outdoors does, or if they are, they may be worried about being the newcomer. However, the trips are primarily designed for those without any experience because, as she says, “we’re all newbies” and we all have something to learn in addition to having something to share. She adds that there are always pre-trip meetings that allow participants to meet others going on the adventure and to learn what will be provided and what will be expected.
JT says that her favorite part of trips with Auburn Outdoors is being a witness to students’ lives changing. The goal of trips is to stretch students physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Without cell service, everyone is forced to simplify their lives for a moment and focus on their immediate surroundings, and this fosters incredible relationships among the trip participants. JT stated that while the mode of travel, the environment, and the scenery are all incredibly cool, the friendships made are so much cooler. When everyone has to depend on each other for traveling, cooking, setting up camp, and cleaning, they become supportive of and welcoming to each other, and this leads to meaningful conversation and close bonding.
All of these experiences add up to achieve JT’s ultimate goal: an awesome college experience that helps develop healthy lifetime habits. She hopes that by helping students learn to appreciate nature, they will be more conscientious in their day-to-day lives, whether it’s by walking or biking instead of driving, thinking twice before they throw anything on the ground or taking time away from the bustle of daily life to just appreciate the beauty of the world.
And with that, she has just two words for students: “Adventure on.”
Post contributed by Alicia Valenti, Office of Sustainability Intern