Bobby Cook always thought of snowboarding as a weekend pleasure. He never dreamed he could parlay his love for the outdoors into a lucrative career.

"I had no clue I could take my physics degree and work for a winter sports company," the Tamaqua, Pa., native said. "I was hooked."

Cook, 23, is already conducting research for Seattle, Wash.-based K2 Snowboarding, where he interned last summer after becoming one of five pioneering graduate students in the University of Southern Mississippi's new degree program in Sports and High Performance Materials.

"This is a new kind of scientist we're...

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