Outing Club guru Lewis battles gravity in campus return

“If I was to have written down my dream job description, it would have been Outing Club Director at Williams College,” exclaims Scott Lewis. After 16 years in the Williams community and a recent seven-month sabbatical, he remains as enthusiastic about the College as he did on day one.

Before working at Williams, Lewis worked in public schools, focusing on outdoor education for special needs groups. For four years, he combined this job with a coaching job on the side with Williams, and when a budget cut at the alternative school coincided with a job opening at Williams, Lewis immediately voiced his interest in the position, “I was rafting down the Colorado river, and we went to the one place on the trip in Phantom Ranch where you could make a phone call, and I called Williams and said how excited I was about the job,” he said.

He loved the College, “It’s a great place to work;” the students, “You’re not trying to motivate – you’re trying to keep up” and the staff, “I really want to give credit to the behind-the-scenes folks: this is an institution of wonderfully vibrant, energized people.”

A couple of years later, Lewis found himself head coach as well as Outing Club director. “I don’t think I’ve ever been busier in my life,” he said. Although Lewis enjoyed coaching, the strains of his commitments were beginning to wear him down, and two years after being promoted to head coach, Lewis decided to step down to be the assistant again, while maintaining his position as Outing Club director. He decided to stop coaching at Williams three years ago, around the same time that he and his wife welcomed Mariah, the little girl they adopted from Romania, into their family.

“We named her after the wind and the river,” Lewis explained. “Mariah Colorado Lewis. I met my wife when I was working at the Grand Canyon, so the Colorado River flowing into the canyon has always been special to us.”

Lewis’s recent sabbatical allowed him to spend more time with his family, “The sabbatical really put me in the forefront, made me step back and think how much I was giving and the price that my family was paying. . .. This is a student schedule, and weekends are when things get really busy here.” Emphasizing how passionate the staff as a whole is about the College, he added, “Someone called Williams the golden handcuffs,” because despite the demanding schedule, “the students are so receptive, and it’s fun.”

His sabbatical served a double purpose, not only to spend time with his family, but also “to see the world outside of Williamstown and see what kind of outdoor-related programs are happening in this country. . .. [and] to look at future trips for both alum and the outing club.” Grinning, Lewis admitted that how he felt about the trip was that it was “three quarters pleasure, one quarter work,” due to his passion for travel, his family and the outdoors. Lewis definitely needed some down time at that point.

“I think at that point in my career I was energized out,” Lewis said. “The bunny had stopped. The [outdoor] program had grown so much over the past 10 years that I was burned out. Key to this timing was having Willard Morgan [’96] come back and take my place for the year. Of course, I arrogantly thought I had big shoes to fill – Willard is 6’7″, the biggest shoes I could find.” Lewis grinned again, “Now I have to fill his shoes.”

Morgan awed Lewis, both with his dedication and organization skills. “I’m very impressed with the job that he did: I often joke with him that he’s very organized, so I call him ‘morganized,’ and he’s certainly morganized this office!”

Leaving the Outing Club in Morgan’s able hands, Lewis set off to exciting locations like the Grand Canyon, Hawaii and, according to him, “the Mecca of outdoor recreation,” New Zealand. “Hawaii was definitely a pleasurable research experience,” said Lewis in a confident understatement, a contented smile on his face at the memory. He was amazed by New Zealand, where “everything you can imagine [was] within a half hour drive.” Most of the seven months was spent in the country: “We drove across the country in a VW camper and stopped at some colleges and universities along the way. My wife’s a singer/songwriter, so she had some performances along the way at colleges, which allowed me to see outdoor programs at the same time.”

It was truly a family trip, and with Lewis’s wife Bernice trying to plan ahead, as well as Mariah being an adorable three-year-old, the trip seemed near perfect. “One of my proudest moments,” said Lewis, “was when my little girl climbed to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on her own two legs, and four days after camping, she hiked back up.”

On returning from a 7-month sabbatical to the Williams campus, Lewis admitted it was not easy, “For seven months, my biggest decision was latte or mocaccino,” he joked. The Outing Club, on the other hand, “is this hub with hundreds of spokes, from loaning equipment to managing the climbing wall, from the ropes course to trails, PE classes, providing weekly programming for the community, bring speakers, movie spectacles and always the random phone call.”

Apparently, someone unrelated to the college called this month wanting a shuttle from Albany airport to a trail. All these tasks make the job “very exciting and very challenging.” The Outing Club even maintains local trails as part of an adopted trail program on Mount Greylock.”What I love to tell all the first-years,” said Lewis enthusiastically, “[is that] you don’t get days off for national holidays, you don’t get days off for snow, but you get days off for the Williams Outing Club Mountain Day and Winter Carnival.” The Outing program is without question a dominant force on campus; and as such it is one in need of diligent administration.

Lewis has realized that the outing program at Williams has “outgrown one person.” As part of his transition back to Williams, Lewis was able to hire last year’s Outing Club President, Malin Pinsky ’03, as his assistant for ten weeks. “This job has outgrown one person, so [it’s great] to have an assistant to help bounce some ideas off of and help answer those random questions.

“The outdoor industry has grown tremendously,” Lewis said, “and students come here wanting more, like ice climbing, canoeing, outdoor kayaking. The Outing Club’s mission is to assist students in taking advantage of these wonderful surroundings that we have in the Berkshires, which we do in a variety of ways, which we do in a variety of ways, and we do a lot with entry-level interest, but now the demand is growing for higher level. People want these more technical opportunities…So now we are trying to address that need, and to keep pace with that there has to be additional help, because I certainly can’t be all – I’d love to be, but I joke that for the Outing Club Director, I’m a lot more ‘inning’ than ‘outing.’ There’s a lot of administrative work here.”

Lewis is excited to return to Williams and contribute to the program with his all, inspired by his sabbatical, “It was great recharging. I feel back to being the energizer bunny – I can go and go now!”

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