Study hall of the wild
Chico State’s ‘wilderness orientation’ offers grounded primer for college life
Chico State’s widespread reputation as a party school undoubtedly reaches most freshmen well before they set foot on campus as a student. But, as Chico State junior Daniel Lovik readily conveyed during a recent interview, there’s much more to the college experience than “the norm of going downtown and drinking.”
Lovik, a mechanical engineering major and trip leader with Adventure Outings, is spearheading a recently rebooted program aimed at exposing small groups of incoming freshmen to an entirely different form of recreation before their college careers begin.
This summer, the Wildcat Wilderness Orientation program will lead four different groups of students on multiple-day outdoor excursions, including a camping trip in Lassen National Forest—highlighted by a day-long visit to Subway Cave—and backpacking in Lassen Volcanic National Park; a canoeing trip down the Sacramento River, beginning south of Red Bluff; a combination of camping and hiking in Castle Crags State Park and boating on Lake Shasta; and backpacking in the Trinity Alps Wilderness area.
In the fall of 2012, Adventure Outings hired an entirely new full-time staff, including Coordinator Jenna Walker and Assistant Coordinator Keith Crawford. The pair agreed that the wilderness orientation program was in need of restructuring and chose to suspend it for a year in order to make the changes.
Previous trips offered through the program were usually just a day long and “focused more on fun and entertainment,” Crawford explained. “We like that aspect, but we wanted to add some social and personal-development-type things, which we thought required longer trips.”
Each group will be led by two student guides who, over the course of three to five days, will emphasize the principles of environmental stewardship—such as “leaving no trace,” Crawford said—and specific outdoor skills such as proper paddling technique and how to pack a sleeping bag for rainy weather. But Crawford and Lovik also hope to jump-start broader development that students will find helpful during their upcoming college experience.
Indeed, the student guides will be assigned an “outdoor curriculum” including a variety of topics, from general healthy living to conflict resolution.
“Time management skills are something we hope to ingrain,” Lovik said, “or present in a way to make [students] aware of the responsibilities they will have in college, just getting things done and being productive with the time that they have.”
For instance, when a group of students ventures into the wilderness and becomes entirely self-reliant, the effects of poor time management are clear for all to see, Crawford said. “Say the group ends up hiking until 9 [p.m.]—they’re showing up to camp in the dark. That’s a real-life example. It was up to them as a group to do this, so what went wrong? Or, what went well if they show up at 5 p.m. and they’re able to cook dinner before it gets dark?
“If you don’t pack your sleeping bag properly and a thunderstorm comes in, you have a wet sleeping bag—you weren’t responsible for your own property,” he continued. “If you leave your laptop out at school, it could get stolen. There are all kinds of little parallels like that.”
And the longer duration of the trips will make effective communication especially important, Crawford said. “You live with a small group of people for up to five days, and you’re all getting stinky together, eating the same food, sleeping under the same tarp,” he said. “If you’re being passive-aggressive for four days, somebody is going to bite your head off, eventually.”
On the last day of each trip, the student guides will turn leadership over to the group as a whole, requiring they work together to safely meet the day’s objective.
If all goes well, each student presumably will start the school year with a network of friends and acquaintances already in place. They’ll also know firsthand that plenty of their fellow students are interested in exploring more than the bottom of a red plastic cup.
Crawford pointed out that the wilderness orientation’s five-day canoe trip along the Sacramento River will end at Scotty’s Landing, which is also the main exit point for students who participate in the alcohol-fueled floats at the beginning and end of each school year. He believes the students who enroll in the program this summer and choose to canoe the river will have a much different perspective than many of their peers.
“They’ll see it in a totally different light,” he said.