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Archives > September 2014 > Adventure Education at Green Mountain College: The Outdoors as Arena for Personal Growth

Adventure Education at Green Mountain College: The Outdoors as Arena for Personal Growth

More than ever before, students entering college need to balance their passions-the things they love to do-with the practicality of finding fulfilling work in a difficult job market.

By: Kevin Coburn

The adventure education program at Green Mountain College provides vocational pathways to students who love to share their knowledge and enthusiasm of the outdoors in a steadily growing industry.

The Outdoor Foundation's 2014 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report suggests 142 million Americans participate in outdoor activities, racking up over 12 billion distinct outings per year. To meet this demand, students in Green Mountain College's adventure education program are prepared to provide high quality education experiences both through and about the outdoors. Combined with expert training in leadership, program planning, teaching skills, along with nuts and bolts outdoor skills, GMC students bring a rare combination of human understanding and technical expertise.

According to Andrew G. Bentley, professor and director of the program, instructors draw on a variety of historic and modern authors to underpin student philosophy and practice in the adventure education field. Authors range from the influential educational philosopher John Dewey, to Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn, to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, developer of Flow Theory. These thinkers provide the background to explain why recreation pursuits are absolutely necessary to a thriving society. That said, adventure education majors are part of the international trend of positive psychology, seeking to provide humans with the tools necessary to lead rich and highly satisfying lives.

"Adventure Education is a popular major at GMC, in part because the college emphasizes the environmental liberal arts. Students in every major here take core courses designed to generate an understanding of a human's place in the environment and society," explained Bruce Saxman, a professor of the program. "It doesn't hurt that we're located in southern Vermont-we're right in the middle of some of the best canoeing, kayaking, hiking, skiing, and rock climbing in the country."

Instructors take advantage of the excellent location by challenging students to plan and lead excursions throughout the changing seasons.

In addition to learning about the philosophy of recreation during their first year, students gain extensive field experience that starts very early in their educational careers. All sophomores participate in the program's 17-credit immersion semester. Called the "Fall Block," the immersion semester features 50 days of outdoor expedition where students learn and practice the outdoor, human, and educational skills required of adventure and outdoor educators.

For the last two years, the program traveled to the Moab, Utah, area for a month. Students used this international tourism destination to advance their group management skills and to witness recreation experiences on National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and United States Forest Service lands. Course topics included expedition planning, outdoor leadership, group facilitation and processing, outdoor education teaching strategies, and outdoor skill competency.

During the Fall Block, instructors develop peak learning opportunities by integrating class meetings with a range of world class adventure experiences. Students have been known to stop for class while mountain biking a portion of the 142-mile Kokopelli Trail that winds its way through a rugged high desert from Colorado to Moab, Utah. Students also attended classes and structure learning experiences while backpacking over 30 miles: starting in the subalpine of the snow covered La Sal Mountains (peak elevation 12,000 feet); traversing through Douglas-Fir to Pinion-Juniper forests; and then navigating a remote desert shrub canyon to the Colorado River at 4,000 feet. Before leaving Moab, students met with outdoor professionals and Green Mountain College alumni from organizations including the Colorado Outward Bound School, Salsa Cycles, Air Force Academy Outdoor Adventure Program, and the National Outdoor Leadership School. Students then traveled to Maryland to attend a national conference held by the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.

Students in the major are also required to complete a variety of other trainings to prepare them to compete for the best professional positions in the field. A minimum of 200 practicum hours are required, including at least four high quality experiences and an internship of at least 400 hours. During the internship, students maintain regular progress reports, receive mentoring, and complete a specialized project. These experiences allow application of classroom learning outside the college while providing appropriate structure to ensure a constructive environment. Adventure education majors are consistently selected for high quality and challenging internships at well-known institutions across the USA and internationally.

In addition to the above requirements, students are challenged to obtain an instructor level certification in a skill of their choice prior to graduation. Typically, students leave the adventure education program with a wide range of skills and competencies, and thus each student's abilities are verified by an agency outside the college. Students become affiliated or certified by organizations such as the American Canoe Association, the American Mountain Guides Association, the Professional Climbing Instructors Association, Professional Ski Instructors of America, American Association of Snowboard Instructors, Association for Challenge Course Technology, and Leave No Trace.

When not in the classroom, Adventure Education majors are provided a variety of opportunities to develop their "experiential" resume, as it is called in the program. For example, the recently developed Adventure Education Leader Program provides junior and senior level majors the opportunity to mentor freshmen outdoor skill development. Ultimately, this forum opens a structured dialog across enrollment years to explicitly build community development beyond the classroom.

The academic adventure education major is also strongly supported by and strongly supports the non-credit adventure trips program through the college's division of Student Life, known as the Green Mountain College Adventure Program (GreenMAP). GreenMAP offers low cost equipment rentals and outdoor trip programs for all students. At the heart of the program are the GreenMAP trip leaders. The trip leader program is a leadership commitment combining structured experience development, activity specific training, wilderness medicine, mentoring, reflection, and evaluation. While students from a variety of majors become GreenMAP leaders, several Adventure Education majors volunteer as leaders to gain experience. Many Green Mountain College graduates cite their GreenMAP experiences as some of their most rewarding.

Any description of the academic adventure education major at Green Mountain College would be remiss without mention of the highly talented staff. The major has professors who are able to read, interpret, and practice academic research, yet also have the technical field skills to safely organize field expeditions while teaching others how to lead them. For example, academic faculty have extensive experience in ski-touring in the USA and Canada, leading multi-week whitewater rafting expeditions, and guiding clients on high-altitude mountaineering expeditions to remote locations. They have worked for well-known outdoor institutions such as Outward Bound, the National Outdoor Leadership School, the Wilderness Education Association, and the United States Forest Service, as well as a host of privately owned guide and outfitting services.


Photography provided by Nate Furman

 

 

About The Author
Kevin Coburn

is the director of communications at Green Mountain College. He has a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Vermont and has worked in nonprofit communications for twenty-four years. His previous positions include director of Public Relations at the Montshire Museum of Science (Vermont) and New England College (NH).

 

 

 

 

 

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