Sperryville student off to a great start with Laurel Ridge

Aidan McKiernan

Rappahannock County High School graduate Aidan McKiernan is still exploring what he wants to do with his future, but says Laurel Ridge is putting him on the right track.

After his 2019 graduation, the Sperryville resident enrolled in Laurel Ridge.

“I pretty much had no idea what I wanted to do in the future, and decided Laurel Ridge was a good place to start,” McKiernan says. “So far, so good.”

Before starting his fall courses, he earned his first college credit over the summer through the Summer Bridge Program with Verdun Adventure Bound and Rappahannock Goodwill Industries through The Groundwork Project. As part of the outdoor adventure course, students built camaraderie while developing valuable skills, such as communication, teamwork, CPR and interviewing techniques.

“It was great because I have been going to Verdun Adventure Bound in Rixeyville since I was a kid, so I knew everybody there,” McKiernan says.

Although he is not sure yet what career path he’ll follow, he is thinking of getting his associate degree in general studies with a specialization in recreation and outdoor management.

“I like the parks, I like being outside, so I figured I would explore this option,” says McKiernan. “I often go up to Skyline Drive at Thornton Gap to watch the sunset and sunrise and do some hiking.”

He is considering transferring to Virginia Tech or Radford University after graduating from Lord Fairfax.

Radford is one of three colleges – Shepherd University and Ferrum College are the other two – that have recreation 2+2 (two years for an associate degree and two years for a bachelor’s degree) transfer agreements with Laurel Ridge. Students graduating with their associate degree and the recreation and outdoor management specialization can seamlessly transfer into a corresponding bachelor’s degree program.

After that, they could pursue a career in a variety of fields, including sports management, parks management, therapeutic recreation, ecotourism, tourism and events management, and more.

At Laurel Ridge, students’ courses would include college composition; history, math and science electives; introduction to recreation, parks and leisure studies; outdoor recreation, risk management; leadership and supervision; outdoor adventures and program planning. Many of these classes take place outdoors.

Last year, recognizing the growing demand for recreation and outdoor activities, Virginia’s Office of Outdoor Recreation opened. Statewide, around 200,000 people are employed in the recreation industry, which contributes about $22 billion to state coffers each year.

So far, McKiernan’s favorite course has been sociology with Professor Larry Friedenberg.

“He’s a lot of fun,” he says. “I felt like all of my classmates were involved in class conversations.”

McKiernan says he is enjoying his overall Lord Fairfax experience.

“I like it,” he says. “It’s more manageable, in my opinion, than going straight to a four-year university,” he says. “Everyone is helpful. Quite a few people from my graduating class have come here. If someone is unsure about what they want to do, this is a good place to figure stuff out.”

Learn more about Laurel Ridge’s recreation and outdoor management program at laurelridge.edu/recreation.