• YEAR: Senior
  • MAJOR: Wildlife
  • HOMETOWN: Fort Wayne, Indiana

Stephen Backus

Always a Boiler up for a challenge, Stephen "Scuba" Backus is ready to make fun happen at a moment's notice. From rock climbing and outdoor adventures to competitive fencing and dog training, this wildlife major is indeed wild about life. "I am inspired by the now," he says. "I never know what I will be doing in 20 minutes and everything is motivated by what is going on in the present."

All work, all play

As head facilitator for the Boiler Challenge Program, Backus works as hard as he plays. Conducted through the Division of Recreational Sports, the program offers high- and low-challenge courses targeted at groups of anywhere from eight to 100. He averages 10 to 20 hours a week on the course during the fall semester, but it's full-time work the two weeks before classes start each August.

"I have one of the only jobs on campus with a toy box," he says. "I get the opportunity to meet a bunch of people, play games for a few hours and watch them grow together as a team. How is that not fun?"

Strange encounters

Backus began working for the Boiler Challenge Program shortly after arriving on campus, but it took him a bit longer to choose a field of study. "I decided on wildlife after testing the waters of a few other majors," he says. "I realized I didn't want to be tied to a desk for 40-plus hours a week."

Those pursuits outdoors have led to some unusual discoveries, says Backus, who also plans to pursue a graduate degree in adventure education. "The strangest thing I have encountered on the job is a crocygator, which is a crocodile cross-pollinated with an alligator," says Backus, tongue firmly in cheek. "They are 45 feet long with 7-inch teeth and live in the Peanut Butter River on the Boiler Challenge Course!"

The perfect foil

When he's not challenging the wild, Backus can be found fixing cars, building computers and "tinkering with everything I can get my hands on." A member of Purdue Fencing's Men's Competitive Foil squad, he also enjoys the company of numerous friends, colleagues and playmates who count on him to lighten the mood.

"In stressful or challenging situations, I bring fun into the mix by doing something that reminds my friends of an enjoyable moment," he says. "I always have a low-prop or no-prop game in my back pocket for some impromptu fun."

Balancing act

For Backus, fun is a necessary part of learning and growth, a release valve from the stresses of his academic studies. "The proper work-life balance is crucial for everyone, especially students," he says.