Ball State Graduate School Blog

Where will graduate school take you?

Meet Michael, whose graduate program took him out of the classroom and into the great outdoors

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In Zurich, Switzerland to present research. Photo credit: Michael Cooper

Most of us imagine “research” as an activity that takes place when you’re hunched over a laptop or holed up in a library. For Michael Cooper, that has not been the case– as a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM), he’s spent the past two years studying outdoors, gaining hands-on experience while learning about recreational habits and park development. Michael, who is originally from Georgetown, IN, studied business management and marketing as an undergraduate. When he decided to pursue a degree in NREM, it was a major change of course. He took some time to share his story with us.

On why he chose Ball State: 

“I had previously moved up here for my wife to attend Ball State for Architecture. I was unhappy about my current job and made a decision to change directions. Attending graduate school at Ball State was the perfect opportunity for me to help ‘reinvent’ my career. The small class sizes and personal interaction were a big part of why I came. It’s not very often that you get to speak with the chair of the department as a prospective student.”

On his current project with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources: 

“We are looking at an outdoor recreation event that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources puts on to determine its impact on the participants’ levels of outdoor recreation.The event we are studying is called the Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience. It happens every September and last year had over 35,000 in attendance! I’ve been working on this project for over 2 years now and I have really enjoyed the process. I’ve learned a lot about academic research and how to write. This has also given me the opportunity to collaborate with different faculty members.”

Setting up to collect survey data at the Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience. Photo credit: Michael Cooper

Setting up to collect survey data at the Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience. Photo credit: Michael Cooper

On his internships and immersive learning experience:

“I’ve held two separate internships during graduate school. One was with AmeriCorps, where I worked as a trail crewmember in O’Bannon Woods State Park. There I performed trail maintenance, which included using UTVs, chainsaws, and skid steers to maintain the park’s network of trails.
The other internship was a position with Harrison County Parks Department. I worked directly with the Superintendent and in a variety of ways, including website design and  photography, inventory management and purchasing, interviewing, and providing management oversight.
I have also been a part of an immersive learning project where we helped design a playground area for St. Mary’s elementary school. This class helped me get some hands-on experience in presenting project proposals to an organization.”


Photo credit: Michael Cooper


Trail maintenance. Photo credit: Michael Cooper

On the support he’s received from Ball State graduate faculty:

“Ball State University is a great place to learn! The education has been much more beneficial for me than other sized schools. While it is a large state school, most classes are small enough so that students can receive more individualized, one-on-one instruction. This is extremely helpful when it comes to your graduate research. The faculty was always able to make time for me and they really have a team mentality. Last summer, I was accepted to present some of my research at the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management (ISSRM) in Hannover, Germany. I was blessed to have the NREM Department support me financially. Without them, the trip would not have been feasible.”

Trail in the Alps

Trail in the Zermatt, Switzerland. Photo credit: Michael Cooper

The Matterhorn[1]

Zermatt, Switzerland. Photo credit: Michael Cooper

On how Ball State has transformed his life:

“Graduate school has had a major impact on my life. It’s given me the opportunity to reinvent myself, and it has prepared me for a sharp change in my career path. So in one word: OPPORTUNITY.”

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Michael!

If you’d like to learn more about Ball State University’s Masters program in Natural Resources and Environmental Management, visit the department’s website or contact the graduate program director, Amy Gregg.

You can also register for an on-campus information session on Saturday, April 11 from 10 a.m. to noon (Eastern), where you’ll be able to meet with faculty and current students. Lunch will be provided and attending a session on campus gives you the opportunity to receive a 50% waiver off the graduate application fee. Register now to learn more! 


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