Students studying recreation earn real-world experience in Utah wilderness
Imagine trekking through arid deserts, climbing mesas and exploring rugged canyons, all while earning college credit. No, it’s not a recruitment ad for the armed forces, it’s Southeast Missouri State University’s latest experiential learning opportunity for students.
Southeast’s Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation is offering students an unusual and exciting new opportunity beginning spring semester 2004. Students majoring in recreation or minoring in outdoor leadership now have the chance to earn real-world experience in their field while backpacking through deserts, mesas and canyons in southeast Utah.
The new outdoor semester program, which is called “Epiphany: Outdoor Experiences, Inward Journeys,” consists of a full, 15-hour block of courses in which the students enroll, according to Dr. Tammie Stenger, assistant professor of health, human performance and recreation. The first part of the semester includes classroom training and preparation, in addition to a short trip to Bloomington, Ind., for wilderness first aid training and certification. The students then travel to Utah for a 21-day backpacking field expedition, according to Stenger.
Students in the program will earn a respect for nature and will learn and practice a variety of wilderness recreation and leadership skills, including basic camping skills, environmental ethics, decision making and problem solving, equipment and clothing selection, expedition behavior and group dynamics, leadership, nutrition and rations planning, health and sanitation, travel techniques and navigation, safety and risk management, wilderness emergency procedures and treatment, and specialized travel and adventure activities, among others.
“Upon successful completion of the outdoor semester, students will have earned several outdoor certifications and have a solid base as an entry-level backcountry instructor,” Stenger said. “It is designed to help students develop skills in a variety of technical and person-centered areas.”
In addition to their other activities, the students also will assist the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service with service learning projects, according to Stenger.
“Participating in the outdoor semester will almost lead to the completion of an outdoor adventure leadership certificate for recreation majors, or to a minor for non-majors,” she said.
The program offers 15 hours of the required 20 for the certificate or minor.
Although the outdoor semester has yet to begin, it’s already proving popular with students, Stenger noted.
“There is great anticipation brewing among the students as we look forward to what the semester holds for us,” said Jon Lowrance, a recreation major from Cape Girardeau, Mo., who is participating in the new outdoor semester. “You can imagine the benefits of such a program. This field-based course is the best way for students to gain practical real-life experience in the field of outdoor recreation. The course is very similar to extended courses offered through the National Outdoor Leadership School and Outward Bound, except with Southeast’s course, the experiential learning process will only be enhanced because of the depth of learning that students and professors will be able to share with one another over the duration of not only the backpacking trip, but the entire semester,” Lowrance said.
Claudia Favre, a recreation major from Freeburg, Ill., agrees.
“I am eagerly anticipating the semester,” she said. “Initially, I wanted to go for the adventure and outdoor experience, but now I realize how much more there is to it. I am really looking forward to learning the skills that we will be practicing and the overall outdoor lifestyle that we will be living. This is an excellent experiential learning opportunity, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of the first outdoor semester,” Favre said.
Students participating in the new program will pay their regular incidental fees plus $800 for travel expenses. The department is planning some fund-raising activities to offset the cost of the trip, including a “Hike-a-thon” that will also benefit the Girl Scouts of Otahki Council.
“The students are getting pledges for the number of miles they hike during the Utah backpacking experience and then donating 20 percent of the money to the Girl Scouts,” Stenger said.
The students will present the donation to the Girl Scouts in April, when they host an overnight camping interest merit badge workshop for the scouts.