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OIA Announces Class Five of Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy 36 outdoor industry professionals embark on six-month immersive leadership program.

January 15, 2020

Media Contact

Kristen Freaney
Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy

BOULDER, Colo. January 15, 2020 Today, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) announced Class 5 of the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy (FLA). In 2016, the Future Leadership Academy was created and named after JanSport’s founder and industry luminary Skip Yowell to honor his enduring legacy as a one of the great founders, mentors and leaders in the outdoor industry.

The Future Leadership Academy is a six-month professional development program that prepares the next generation of outdoor industry leaders by teaching them to seek innovation, tackle challenges head-on and champion the causes that are critical to the industry’s longevity. Class 5, chosen through a rigorous selection process, will receive development opportunities through self-assessments, leadership training, mentoring as well as in-person and online education about issues vital to the health of outdoor industry businesses, including sustainability, trade policy, public lands and youth outdoor participation. 

“It’s a dynamic time in a dynamic industry and The Future Leadership Academy not only gives participants the tools to understand the opportunities and challenges facing us today, but also the space to reflect on how they’ll successfully lead their teams and companies in the future,” said Kristen Freaney, OIA Emerging Leader Education Manager. “We have a passionate, talented group coming from a variety of experience-levels, backgrounds, and career paths and I’m looking forward to watching them learn from each other, craft their own leadership styles, and hopefully have some great “light-bulb moments” over the next six months.”

Class 5 Participants 

Nikki Allen, Clif Bar & Company

Nic Barisone, Adidas-Five Ten

Kevin Belanger, Rails-To-Trails Conservancy

Danica Carey, Seirus Innovative Accessories Inc.

Natalie Colvin, Toad&Co

Reid Curry, Cairn

Hamish Elliott, Hillsound Equipment Inc.

Nick English, Simms Fishing

Kaitlin Fisher, REI

Rosie French, JanSport/Eagle Creek/VF Corp

Natalie Generalovich, Outdoor Retailer

Pancho Gomez, All Good

Caitlin Hamill, New Balance

Jace Harrop, Salomon

Colvin Hedgepeth, Blue Sky Fund

Janell Hibbard, Target

Alyssa Kessler, Patagonia

Emily Kidwell, Ariat International

Zach King, Smartwool

Mark Kuka, Yakima Products

Chad Kyte, Hydro Flask

Chris Linsmayer, Colorado Ski Country USA

Madalen Moore, Oros Apparel

Carley Mulder, NiteIze

Rachael Nichols, Sea to Summit

Caroline Paulsen, Stio

Casey Pavlosky, SPY Optic

Nick Pinto, Backbone Media

Ed Riegert, Brooks Running

June Shen-Epstein, Burton Snowboards

Michaela Simone, REI Retail Stores

Jess Smith, OutsidePR

Jason Spradling, Under Armour

Stephen Sramek, Waypoint Outdoor

David Taft, San Juan Mountains Association

Keri Yourick, The North Face

The program, launched in 2016, now has 125 total graduates. The new class of 36 individuals will be partnered with industry mentors who are poised to offer insight and guidance to the next generation of outdoor industry game changers.

“Having participated in the inaugural class of the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy, and mentored participants for the last two years, I am a wholehearted believer in the transformative impact the program has on participants,” said Ben Christensen, sr. director, development, sourcing & quality, Simms Fishing. “The companies in our industry are distributed throughout the world with workers coming from a variety of different backgrounds. The Academy brings people together and facilitates a strong community of passionate people. The curriculum explores important questions, and challenges participants to strive for higher impact, and fresh perspective. I really value my continued participation as a mentor and have supported the participation of several of my colleagues here at Simms.”

The class participants will also work together on their capstone projects, which partner them with outdoor industry nonprofits, helping those nonprofits tackle some of the biggest issues and opportunities they’re each facing. Past capstone project nonprofits include the American Indian College Fund, Big City Mountaineers, Cal-Wood Education Center, Climbing Alliance, SheJumps, Sierra Club, Outdoor Afro, National Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy in Colorado. Please reach out to Kristen Freaney (kfreaney@outdoorindustry.orgif you’re a nonprofit interested in participating.

The 2020 Future Leadership Academy includes three individuals from nonprofits who will be participating in the program, one with a generous scholarship from REI. Other participants hail from big-name and small, independent brands, retailers, a start-up, and industry-focused media & PR companies. They work in a diverse set of roles including marketing, people & culture, compliance, product, operations, sales, and public affairs.

Thank you to our generous partners JanSport, REI, Smartwool, Uplsope Brewery, Clifbar & Company and Colorado Wilderness Rides & Guides.

For more information about the Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy or to learn about sponsorship opportunities, contact Kristen Freaney, the program’s manager at


About OIA

Based in Boulder, Colo., with offices in Washington, D.C., Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) is the leading trade association for the outdoor industry and the title sponsor of Outdoor Retailer. Outdoor Industry Association unites and serves over 1,300 manufacturer, supplier, sales representative and retailer members through its focus on trade and recreation policy, sustainable business innovation and outdoor participation. For more information, visit