Shannon McGowan: From Passion to Profession

By Jason Lee on Nov. 22, 2019

Photo of McGowan riding a kayak in the river while smiling and paddling

Growing up, VCU alumnus Shannon McGowan loved the outdoors. Reflecting on their childhood, McGowan states it was “made up entirely by outdoor play and exploration. Nothing in the whole world made me happier than poking around a creek, my collection of rocks and caterpillars, and trying my absolute hardest to communicate and join the herd of deer that passed through my backyard every day.” Years later, after being admitted to VCU, McGowan was thrilled with the idea of putting her passion to work by joining the Rec Sports Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP).

Regarding their favorite aspect of working with the OAP, McGowan reflects. “The OAP opened my eyes to how to live the kind of life I've always wanted and what I am capable of. It also introduced me to many amazing people in my life who inspire me everyday and I call my greatest friends.”

McGowan worked as an OAP Trip Leader. Their favorite trips to lead were those that involved paddling, such as river clinics, sea kayaking and white water rafting. McGowan, who was studying Photo and Film studies at the time, was also responsible for trip promotion, outreach and OAP's social media.

Reflecting upon their positions with the OAP, McGowan states, “The OAP gave me the opportunity to practice combining Photo and Film with Outdoor Recreation under one job description, leading me to guide and photograph on the Arkansas River in Buena Vista, Colorado while living out of a van for three months.” McGowan graduated from VCU in 2018 and went on to work with the Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, based in Charlottesville, VA, as the Digital Content Specialist. “Gaining the extensive outdoor experience I did and being so involved in the outdoor community as I was while with the OAP makes it much easier for me to connect and communicate to our audience at Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and expand upon it.”

McGowan’s Digital Content Specialist role with the magazine allows them to continue combining photo and film with outdoor recreation. “My daily tasks include managing online content from the website to all social media platforms. I also write stories for the site, and occasionally the print magazine, on events and some of the Blue Ridge's most inspiring people. The story writing is my favorite part because I sometimes find myself traveling and exploring the outdoors for them and using my own photography and videography.”

According to McGowan, their position with the magazine “seemed so far out of reach before [the] OAP.” With the help of the department, McGowan turned her passion into a profession.