Wilderness Adventures Help Prepare Students for First Year on Campus

photo of students on Appalachian Trail

How better for an incoming college student to learn how to overcome physical and mental challenges than a wilderness experience far from campus?

That’s exactly how 14 first-time freshmen prepared for their first year at Eastern Kentucky University.

The Colonel Outdoor Recreation Experience (CORE) in late July teamed the students with four trip leaders and two orientation leaders “on a journey aimed at making the transition from high school to college less stressful,” said Dr. Ryan Sharp, assistant professor in EKU’s Department of Recreation and Park Administration.

One group hiked the Appalachian Trail and rafted down the Nantahala River, while another group enjoyed camping and rock climbing at Obed Wild and Scenic River. By day, the students were challenged physically by having to learn new outdoor skills. By night, they were challenged mentally by orientation leaders through a series of initiatives. The activities became metaphors for overcoming obstacles students typically face during their first year at college, Sharp said.

For example, on the backpacking trip, the incoming freshmen hiked 13 miles and gained 4,000 feet of elevation, “not an easy hike for experienced outdoors people, let alone many who have never tried it before.”

Through de-briefings at the end of each day, orientation leaders helped the students “make those connections between completing something that they thought was impossible and to remember this when they face a similar situation during their freshman year. In other words,” Sharp continued, “the CORE experience gives students another tool in their tool box to draw from, which translates to statistically higher GPAs and higher overall retention rate compared to the general student body.”

This was the second year of the CORE program, a collaborative effort between First Year Programs, Adventure Programs, and the Department of Recreation and Park Administration. Participation increased 50 percent this year, and Sharp hopes the number continues to grow.

Published on August 13, 2013