News Gc Alum Tapolyai Builds Multi Faceted Career - Garrett College
Apply Now
Plan a Visit
Request Info
Make a Gift

Campus News

July 12th, 2022

GC alum Tapolyai builds multi-faceted career

Shenandoah Valley native teaches, writes and works in the outdoor industry


Mary Zook Tapolyai has built a multi-faceted career as a writer, teacher and outdoors leader since graduating from Garrett College's Adventure Sports Management program, which recently became the Outdoor Leadership and Adventure (OLA) Education program.

Love of nature is literally in Mary Zook Tapolyai's blood.

"My dad, Lester, was head professor of the Outdoor Ministries department at EMU [Eastern Mennonite University] before starting his guiding company, WILD GUYde Adventures, in 2004," recalled Tapolyai, a 2018 graduate of Garrett College's Adventure Sports Management program. "He was always taking us hiking and canoeing while we were growing up."

Tapolyai has turned her love of nature into a multi-faceted outdoors career that includes teaching, writing, and working in the field. She said Garrett College's Adventure Sports Management program – which recently implemented program enhancements as well as a rebranding as the Outdoor Leadership and Adventure (OLA) Education program – prepared her to be professionally versatile.

"I've guided rock climbing, caving, and backpacking adventures, as well as facilitating and inspecting ropes courses at summer camp," said Tapolyai. "I've trained ropes course staff, refereed paintball, been a lifeguard, taught outdoor skills to school kids during the spring and fall, worked as a farm hand at a Christmas tree farm in winter, delivered takeout and floral arrangements by bicycle, and, currently, participate in trails building with the Appalachian Conservation Corps.

"I've tried to keep my thumb on the pulse of whatever's next in outdoor opportunities," she added.

In 2020, Tapolyai started working with the Appalachian Conservation Corps, which connects young adults to critical conservation projects across the Appalachian region. She's worked as part of a trail maintenance team and also assisted with the planning of the ACC's first youth day-crew, which provides 16-18-year-olds with the opportunity to gain first-hand experience with conservation initiatives and national service over their summer break.

Her academic portfolio includes having taught "Leave No Trace" classes for Landmark Learning, a small, North Carolina-based outdoor education school. The "Leave No Trace" curriculum focuses on educating people as to the most effective and least resource-intensive solutions to land protection.

Tapolyai began to explore outdoors writing while still a Garrett College student.

"While at Garrett, I had an internship with Blue Ridge Outdoors, a North Carolina/Virginia lifestyle magazine. I also rewrote Garrett College's ropes course management text," recalled Tapolyai, who has continued to write lesson plans, training manuals, oral presentations, and social media content in nearly every job she'd had since.

Tapolyai, who grew up in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, lives in Harrisonburg, Va., with her husband, Sandor Tapolyai. They met – probably not surprisingly – at a summer camp.

"I was dirty, sweaty . . . pushing kids down a zipline," she said with a laugh while relating that how-I-met-my-husband story, noting she has a "spouse who is super-supportive of doing whatever comes my way" in the area of outdoors employment.

Tapolyai looks back fondly on her Garrett College education.

"I had all the certifications I needed in order to be an expert in my field at the time I graduated," she said. "I'm super-happy with what I learned at Garrett – just so glad I went there. It's unique as such a tiny school with an outdoors program that is just so solid."