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Students Explore and Learn Through Outdoor Adventure Program

Leaders Guide Regional and National Trips for Hundreds

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Students hiked and camped in the Grand Canyon over spring break, just one of many trips planned by the Outdoor Adventure Program.

By Julia Gavin

Reading, writing and arithmetic aren’t the only lessons to hone on campus. Confidence, teamwork and healthy life skills are also on the syllabus for the Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP). Thousands of students have hiked, climbed and skied their way to new experiences and skills since the program launched nearly a decade ago.

Minnie Xie spent most of her time indoors, dining and shopping in Guanxi, China’s metropolitan atmosphere. But she’s found a strong connection to nature through the OAP, and skills she never considered possible. 

Xie has gone backpacking, ice climbing, surfing and even camped in the Grand Canyon with the OAP, fitting in trips around her work as a plastics engineering PhD student.

“Most of my life was spent in a big city. Mountains and rivers were very luxurious things to me,” says Xie. “It was beyond my imagination that I could hike and even sleep outdoors before this. The OAP provides me with chances to be close to nature.” 

OAP coordinator Rachel Iversen says Xie’s experience fits the program’s goals of encouraging students to branch out and build healthy lives.

“The trips are a great way to introduce wellness in a lot of areas, like mental, physical, social and, for some, spiritual,” says Iversen, who uses her background in counseling and outdoor engagement to shape the activities. “Lowell is in a really good location, because you can be in the mountains, in a big city or at the ocean after a quick drive.”

Iversen works with a staff of student trip leaders to develop, plan and run about a dozen trips a semester helping more than 350 students kayak, climb, ski and hike their way through New England and beyond. The staff members also plan custom trips for student groups looking for a weekend adventure and provide team building programs for University community groups.

“We offer a good combination of personal development and outdoor experience,” says Iversen, who has worked to expand the program and involve more international students in the activities. “The trips are good for community-building and stress relief— really important pieces of the college life.”

Students Teaching and Learning From Each Other

Student leaders in the OAP come from many different majors, bringing their own expertise and interests to the program. Matt Faler is a nursing major who leads several trips each semester. He started leading trips to keep up his outdoor activities while away at school, but has learned flexibility and management skills, too.

“There’s always something new to learn, whether it’s about a plant or animal, the area we’re in, or a skill. We learn a lot of skills so we can take groups on different adventures and help students find new interests,” says Faler, who encourages others to become trip leaders. “Both participants and leaders benefit from the OAP because it offers students a way to be active, have fun and try something they might not have attempted otherwise.”

Xie has taken full advantage of the program, and credits it with helping her stay active and adventurous despite a heavy workload. 

“All of the activities I joined were new to me,” says Xie. “I learned basic accident prevention, how to survive at night in the winter and how to cook simple food outdoors, all while making new friends. I can say without exaggeration that I found a totally new way of life through the OAP.”