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Engineering a New Path: Dennis finds his way with UA Away, Outdoor Rec

EDITED_Corey_2At 16, Corey Dennis hadn’t visited many places outside of Alabama. The Mobile native said he enjoyed life, but never did too much. A split second changed his perspective forever when he was hit by a Tahoe while driving and woke up in the hospital after being pried out of the car using the jaws of life.

After spending six months in a wheelchair during his recovery, Dennis made a decision. “I realized how many cool things were out there, and I decided I wanted to go do them all,” he said. “I have this ridiculous drive to do absolutely everything. The car wreck, it changed my attitude about wanting to live a safe, comfy life and doing everything when I was older to making me realize I need to go do things now.”

Just four years later, Dennis is well on his way to fulfilling those dreams. He earned a Presidential scholarship to The University of Alabama, where he is now a junior environmental engineering major. Not long after deciding he wanted to see more of the world, he applied for and received one of the Division of Student Affairs’ UA Away scholarships during his freshman year to visit Belize.

Later that year, Dennis got involved with Engineers Without Borders, now Student Engineers in Action. At one meeting, a service trip to Peru was announced. Fascinated and excited, Dennis was able to transfer his scholarship to the Peru trip, which would enable him to learn more about his major while still serving others.

“I’ve got a million plans to do things in the future, and none of them involve offices or cubicles.”

– Corey Dennis

During that trip, the student engineering team brought solar panels and a computer down to the area and helped install the beginnings of a visitor’s center in the Amazon rainforest. “We worked hard, but it was more of a scouting mission,” Dennis said. “We tested their water quality and set some things up, but a lot of our trip was prep work to set up the program for successful trips in the future.”

For almost two weeks in 2012, Dennis enjoyed Peru. “We went to help a tribe in the middle of the rainforest,” Dennis said. “It was National Geographic-type stuff.”

Dennis met local tribe members, visited floating restaurants, watched monkeys frolicking in the trees ­­— and even got to hold a baby sloth, which he called one of the best moments of his life.

On their day off, the team took a 3-hour rafting trip down the Amazon. Dennis was hooked on the experience, falling in love with the outdoors and rafting. The rafting excursion stayed with him and wound up altering his course in both his studies and his campus job.

The day after returning from Peru, Dennis started an engineering internship for the rest of the summer. “That time gave me a very strong desire to not work in an office,” he said. “Now I’ve got a million plans to do things in the future, and none of them involve offices or cubicles.”

Corey Dennis switched his major to environmental engineering after a UA Away scholarship trip to Peru, where he fell in love with white-water rafting. Now he works with University Recreation’s Outdoor Recreation team.

Corey Dennis switched his major to environmental engineering after a UA Away scholarship trip to Peru, where he fell in love with white-water rafting. Now he works with University Recreation’s Outdoor Recreation team.

Upon returning to campus to start his junior year, Dennis switched from studying civil engineering to environmental engineering. “I thought environmental engineering would be more active, more outdoors time, more opportunity to travel,” he said. “It changed a lot of things for the better.”

Since then, Dennis has begun working with University Recreation’s Outdoor Recreation team, and spent last summer working as a rafting guide in North Carolina. This summer, he is set to work as a rafting guide again, this time in Yosemite.

“Receiving a UA Away scholarship certainly changed my path, because I wouldn’t have rafted if I’d never gone on that trip,” Dennis said. “But working with Outdoor Recreation has been the single best decision I’ve made in college. It teaches you a lot of practical leadership lessons, like how to find new participants and get them to trust you and teach them. I’m getting paid to rock climb and teach people how to do that.”

Steven Middleton, coordinator of Outdoor Rec, said Dennis brings a passion to the program that is one of a kind.

“He has a positive outlook on life that you can see within minutes of meeting him,” Middleton said.

“I would love to take credit for some secret formula of student development that we have at Outdoor Rec, but it is really us just getting great staff into positions where they have the opportunity
to shine.”

With one year left on campus, Dennis has hopes of gaining a wide range of work experience that will allow him to pursue his travels even further. “Outdoor Rec puts me closer every day to being the person I want to be,” Dennis said. “Four years ago, I couldn’t walk, and now I’m climbing, rafting and more. I wouldn’t trade my experiences at UA for anything.”

A version of this article appeared in the spring 2015 issue of Capstone magazine, published by the The University of Alabama Division of Student Affairs. Learn more about UA Student Affairs publications on its website.

Jessie Patterson Jones is a communication specialist with External Affairs in UA’s Division of Student Affairs.

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s College of Engineering has more than 5,800 students and more than 130 faculty. In recent years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Boren, Mitchell and Truman scholars.