Paul alum combines business experience with love for outdoors

Tuesday, October 31, 2023
Mason Burke speaks with a group of youth at a recent outdoor adventure in Durham, N.H.

Mason Burke leads a recent On-Belay outdoor challenge at The Browne Center. 

Mason Burke has always loved a good adventure, and now he gets to share that love with others while building his career.

Burke graduated from the University of New Hampshire Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management, and minors in leadership studies and outdoor recreation management.

He is using those educational experiences, and more, in his role as program director at On Belay, a nonprofit based in Newmarket, New Hampshire, that uses adventure-based programs to build community among youth who have or had a family member with cancer.

At On Belay, Burke is responsible for planning indoor and outdoor activities and outings designed to engage youth aged eight to 18. This comprehensive planning includes brainstorming activity ideas, strategic plans, event coordination, engaging community partners, managing and training volunteers and ultimately leading activities.

“The purpose of the program is to provide a fun time away for all these kids,” Burke says. “On Belay engages them in activities and builds a support network for them.”

In many ways, this role is a perfect fit for Burke. After graduating from UNH, he initially worked at Fidelity Charitable. While that experience was valuable, he couldn't ignore the appeal of the On Belay opportunity, as it aligned seamlessly with his favorite hobbies and passions.

Burke is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has led numerous outings, including hiking, climbing, backpacking and kayaking, all of which are integrated into On Belay's programming.

“I felt like it tied together all my experiences in a unique way that made it an attractive job for me, and truthfully I don’t think I really knew at the time how all these things would come together in such a positive way,” he says.

Daily, Burke not only applies the skills acquired from his core Paul College courses but also finds lessons from secondary courses and the many networking opportunities Paul provided.

“One of the things that’s both challenging and rewarding about working at On Belay is that it’s a small organization and we have to wear so many hats,” Burke says. “Even though I didn’t major in marketing, lessons from the course have helped me.”

Marketing and networking play a significant role in Burke's position. He must effectively market the outings to ensure an adequate number of participants. Additionally, these events rely heavily on community partnerships, most of which are established through networking efforts and referrals resulting from relationship building.

One example that holds a special place in Burke's heart is the successful introduction of surfing programs over the last two summers. Bringing these surfing outings to fruition required collaboration with various partners, including Summer Session in Rye, Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Company in North Hampton, New Hampshire, and Lucy's Love Bus in Amesbury, Massachusetts.

The surfing outings have been one of On Belay’s most popular programs, Burke added.

“We want to provide experiences that are empowering, where they’re potentially learning a new skill or hobby that they have never done before while feeling the support of a community,” Burke says. “My goal is that we provide enough variety, and I can work in enough new opportunities, that eventually a kid can find something that speaks to them and makes them excited about coming to our program and develop a hobby that they’ll continue to pursue.”

Burke's connection to UNH has also proven beneficial, as On Belay partners with The Browne Center to organize adventure challenge courses, and many of the organization's volunteers are UNH graduate students.

Burke says he is grateful that many of his Paul College classes focused on viewing problem-solving from multiple lenses and finding ways to make processes more efficient because both skills are invaluable for his day-to-day work.

While he is content at On Belay, Burke remains open to future opportunities, such as furthering his education or working with a larger nonprofit. He encourages students to have an open mind about nonprofit work.

“I have found working at a nonprofit to be incredibly valuable. I’ve had the opportunity to experience several things that I don’t think I would’ve experienced in a corporate structure,” he says. “I feel like this job has been a broad launch point for me because I’ve had the opportunity to wear so many hats. I now have skillsets in more areas and that’s something I can capitalize on in the future.”

Radames Gonzalez | Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics