One Student at a Time

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“Spending time outside is literally what I live for,” says Ben Brown, a freshman and international studies major at UNC Asheville. “It gives me the opportunity to detach myself from the world and to just live simply in a very mindful way.”

Like many UNC Asheville students, Brown considered the university’s outdoor programs in his choice of schools— not to mention the beautiful area in which it’s situated. Most people are familiar with the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround the vibrant city of Asheville, N.C., but few know about the opportunities that UNC Asheville’s Outdoor Programs offers within them. For instance, on Wednesdays the campus pool transforms into a kayak roll training facility. Most weekends, they also organize day hiking trips, rafting trips, weekend backpacking trips, and even winter ski trips. In addition, during winter and spring breaks, students even have the opportunity to trek into the surrounding mountains to train as leaders. This Outdoor Leadership Training Program, or OLTP for short, has provided a break to look forward to.

The purpose of OLTP is to empower students to choose their own path in becoming a leader and progressing in their outdoor leadership skills. The program requires the completion of a number of foundation classes, trip experiences, as well as certification in Adult CPR/AED and Wilderness First Aid. It is also a requirement for students who wish to lead any outdoor recreation trips or events such as wilderness experience and Blue Ridge sampler prerendez-blue, a week-long summer backpacking trip for incoming freshmen to get acclimated to the area, meet new people, and be introduced to UNC Asheville’s Outdoor Programs.

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One such trip took place over spring break 2015. While it was predominately focused on rock climbing and kayaking, it incorporated opportunities for each individual to gain teaching and leading experience.

“We teach our participants to become leaders in the field by giving them the skills and confidence to succeed when they are with a group and are presented with new challenges,” says trip leader and UNC Asheville senior Ryan Loll. “There are a lot of other transferable skills that we teach during the trip as well such as communication, teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking.”

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From OLTP trip leaders to participants, UNC Asheville’s Outdoor Programs teaches students to make use of their love of the outdoors in their present and their futures.

“I do want to pursue a career in outdoor recreation—specifically in wilderness therapy,” says Brown. “Wilderness therapy programs typically take groups of youths into the wilderness for varying lengths of time…they allow for young people to disintegrate themselves from situations and to grow in a new, positive, but challenging setting.”

As backpacking is his favorite outdoor activity, Ben is also considering taking time off after college to complete some long treks. With around 3,600 undergraduate students, UNC Asheville’s Outdoor Programs ties in seamlessly with its focus on undergraduate teaching and more than measures up.

“I think our small campus size makes our outdoor program really accessible to a lot of people,” says Leah McDowell, a UNC Asheville 2006 graduate and the school’s assistant director of Outdoor Programs. This accessibility allows students to pursue their passions in the classroom as well as outside of it. “We have a student who now teaches at Christ School in Arden. He’s a chemistry professor but he’s also the school’s outdoor coach,” she says. “We have another student who moved to Idaho to teach advanced Spanish but half of her semester is spent with students in Argentina or Chile. They’re doing all of their academic work plus intermediate to advanced kayaking.”

The variety of outdoor programs and the way they’re incorporated into the campus experience makes the great outdoors accessible to all types of UNC Asheville students—from undeclared first-year students to any major in the arts and sciences.

“Even if they’re not choosing to go into the outdoor industry, the skills that they’re learning here like leadership, communication, and problem solving are still really helping them become good candidates for any job they want to apply for.”

– Article submitted by UNCA student Lillian Mercho, Class of 2018

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