Some students enter University with a clear path, a plan of exactly what they are going to do. That it will take four years to achieve the accomplishment of walking across the stage whereby a diploma will be handed to them accompanied by a quick shake of the President’s hand.
Other students have nothing concrete. Barely 18 years old, leaving high school, being on their own, waggling through the thoroughfare of a high-speed life where the unstated expectation is college will bring success.
I’d argue what success means. For every person it is different. I’d further argue that educating from a book or a lectern in the front of the room may, and let me emphasize may, bring a value of knowledge in a given subject but it doesn’t make the person.
There is no reason herein to trample down the path that outdoor recreation – time spent outside – creates better humans. We’ve all seen the studies. Simply, being outside ratifies a better well-being by means of restoring mental energy to reducing stress to improving concentration to thinking more creatively.
But what about confidence? Or learning to work as a team? Or trying new challenges? Or finding the edges? Or disconnecting? Or delving into free thought? Or recognizing the value of self-permission? Yep, being outside does these things as well.
The bottom line of any business, including Universities, is that they must make money to continue. You get it. I get it. We all get it. But aren’t Universities also about cultivating the growth of minds through experience? Does the experience of health and wellness always have to be gained in a weight room or the basketball court or the swimming pool? Can it not be on trails? Amongst the trees? At the top of the mountain? On a river’s edge?
For almost 20 years I’ve had the privilege of working with the next generation. The way of looking at life is changing. Their stressors and obligations differ from mine. But what I have recognized over the years is that time outside provides an unparalleled achievement and understanding of personal values and ethics and morals that transcends the classroom, moves into the boardroom, is elevated with friendships and family relationships.
In January 2015, we had the great pleasure of meeting eight young women, each in their own stage of confidence. At the close of the snowshoe hike each girl was given a description: calm and spiritual, intelligent and interested, constant smiling, challenged and up for the challenge, photogenic and powerful, serious and refined, ample rewards, joyful and resourceful. Since the conclusion of that adventure I’ve continued to watch each girl grow into her own and each with an attitude that is far from defiant but acknowledging of her own rules and boundaries and what she is going to give to reach her goal … her success.
We’ve continued with numerous college backpacking adventures since 2015. During the journeys we’ve supported individuals in their personal growth through tears at the top of the mountain, sweats and gushing noses at the edges of a ravine, and forward progression stops for fear of making a wrong choice. With these college students we have deliberated career choices, babbled over food selections, recognized boundaries of safety, permitted team decisions, laughed until farts ricochet, tolerated shots of pancake syrup, caught drips of water from a crack in sandstone, tracked individual choices, stimulated involvement by all and in every instance, with every student, we have pushed the levels of comfort in quest of understanding that the line in the sand is moving every day. In congruence with the book learning, we have offered a mentor, or even better a person who will guide, push, prod and more importantly support each as they continue to evolve.
This you cannot gain from a classroom, from a cement patio, from a chair in a fluorescent lighted classroom. Experiences that permit the growth of an individual are gained by breaking down barriers, by approving a playing field where everyone has a choice and must decide about how they will individually overcome … that is what universities forget.