Two Time Alum Profile: Jeff Baierlein

November 05, 2018 - By Prescott College

An Outdoor Education Career, Propelled by Prescott College

Jeff Baierlein

The day after graduating from Prescott College with dual undergraduate degrees in Environmental Education and Human Development, Jeff Baierlein went to work for the Voyageur Outward Bound School in Ely, Minnesota. Jeff worked for Outward Bound for nine years - in Minnesota, Michigan, Texas, New Mexico, Maryland, Ontario, British Columbia, Washington, and Mexico. Jeff starting out as an intern and advanced to serve as an Instructor and Course Director, which included managing ropes courses and climbing programs, and eventually he took on the helm as Executive Director of the Outward Bound Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

While at Outward Bound, Jeff was recruited to teach for Wilderness Medical Associates (WMA), providing emergency medicine and wilderness rescue courses to outdoor professionals. He teaches Wilderness First Aid, Wilderness Advanced First Aid, Wilderness First Responder and other courses through WMA. He has continued to teach courses, develop curriculum, and train new instructors for WMA on a part-time basis for over 20 years.

Jeff was profoundly impressed with the power of wilderness-based adventure education to build team skills and self-confidence. However, despite the remarkable benefits it had to offer, the wilderness education field was not experiencing the growth and financial performance of other industries. Why not? This question propelled Jeff to seek his graduate degree at Prescott College to explore the interplay between financial performance and mission focus with Outward Bound and similar non-profits.

While in graduate school, Jeff was hired to direct the education program of a marine science environmental education nonprofit in the Puget Sound and after graduation, a leadership position directing the education services of an outdoor science school followed. From there Jeff moved to California to lead the Boojum Institute for Experiential Education, co-founded by Jeff Salz ‘74, a Prescott College alum. Under Jeff’s leadership the Boojum Institute maintained a strong connection to Prescott College by collaborating with faculty member Steve Munsell to host Adventure Education students a number of times for week-long practica sessions as student teachers with outdoor education school groups in and around Joshua Tree National Park.  The Boojum Institute also sought out Prescott College students to hire for its backpacking, sea kayaking, canoeing and rock climbing programs, knowing that there was no better training program for outdoor leaders..

Over the years Jeff built up his global network of outdoor professionals, who turned to him for advice on outdoor program business management, curriculum design and pedagogy, and wilderness safety. These increasingly frequent requests became too much to fit in around other work, so Jeff founded Viristar LLC, to provide training and consulting services full-time to outdoor professionals and their organizations. Viristar provides wilderness risk management services, outdoor program development, business management consulting, and wilderness and remote medicine courses.

Jeff was later recruited by Prescott College Professor Emeritus Steve Pace to serve on the Board of Directors of the Association for Experiential Education, where served a three year term, and currently continues to serve as an adventure education program accreditation reviewer. 

Jeff credits Prescott College’s high-impact and immersive training as a lifelong influence on his personal success. When asked what made the Prescott College experience so formative and enduring, he offered two ideas: Prescott College ignites students’ passion for learning and the Prescott College experiential education approach is uniquely powerful.   

The modern adventure education movement was brought to life by the innovative German educator Kurt Hahn, who sought to foster in students an enterprising curiosity, sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion.  These precepts have guided Jeff Baierlein professionally and personally for decades.