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New semester-long class to offer students field experience in outdoor leadership

Westminster College students hike through Southern Utah for a wilderness education course. During the fall 2018 semester, students will have the opportunity to travel through the Intermountain West and gain hands-on experience in outdoor education as part of an outdoor field semester. (Photo by Outdoor Education and Leadership Program)

Starting next fall, the Outdoor Education and Leadership (OEL) Field Semester will give students an opportunity to obtain hands-on experience in the outdoor education profession.

The OEL Field Semester, which will be offered every other year, is part of the outdoor education and leadership department. The co-curricular program will help support the field semester with planning, permitting and equipment, according to Andy Tankersley, the outdoor recreation coordinator.

“We had originally proposed it in 2016 and it was accepted,” said Tankersley, an adjunct professor, in an email. “[…] And as the major came on this year and [with] Kellie Gerbers as the faculty, we started working on making it a reality.”

Tankersley has worked alongside Tiana White, the director of outdoor programs, and Gerbers, an assistant professor in the outdoor education leadership department and program director, to get the proposal off the ground.

Westminster College students pose for a picture during the packrafting section of a two-week wilderness education course. During the fall 2018 semester, select students will have the opportunity to take part in a similar rafting section during the new outdoor education field semester. (Photo by Outdoor Education and Leadership Program)

Gerbers said she thinks the field semester will help prepare students for careers in the outdoor industry.

“We have found that, in terms of academic preparation program for careers in the outdoor industry, one of the key experiences that really helps prepare graduates to pursue careers in the industry and be effective in the roles is extended field time,” Gerbers said.

Josie Englert, a first-year outdoor education and leadership major, is one of 10 students who has been accepted into the field semester program, which she said will give her practical experience before beginning her career.

Though you don’t need to be an OEL major to apply, Englert said the field semester “sparked” her interest in the major.

“When I heard about [the field semester], I was like, ‘I have to do that,’” Engler said. “I actually changed my major from environmental science to outdoor education. […] Getting in, I have something to look forward to in the fall and [it] will be a good learning experience.”

The Westminster Expedition, which launched during the fall 2017 semester, also offers students field semester experience. However, Gerbers said the two programs are different in several ways: “in terms of the desired outcomes of the programs, in terms of the experiences the students will have — even in terms of places we visit.”

Students read a map and work on their navigating skills during a Westminster College outdoor program trip. During the fall 2018 semester, students will have the opportunity to travel through the Intermountain West and gain hands-on experience in outdoor education as part of an outdoor field semester. (Photo by Outdoor Leadership and Education Program)

The Westminster Expedition, which is also offered every other fall semester, travels through the Western United States by van. But the OEL Field Semester will take a different approach, Tankersley said.

“The group will get dropped off, spend two weeks in the backpacking country and then get picked up and go to another place,” he said.

Gerbers said the Outdoor Education and Leadership Program is working with the Environmental Studies Program to ensure the two trips don’t happen at the same time so interested students could have the option to do both.

The OEL Field Semester will be broken into different sessions, including backpacking, rock climbing, river running and an independent student expedition.

The students will start in the north, near Montana or Wyoming, and weather will be an important factor in their route, Gerbers said.

“For the most part, we will follow weather patterns in the fall,” Gerbers said. “Within the Intermountain West, we will start north and as the weather gets cooler, we travel south.”

Application for the Fall 2018 program are now closed. Due to limited space in the vans and permit limits, only 10 students will participate this year.

*A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the featured photo. It was provided by the Outdoor Leadership and Education Program.

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Jazmin a junior communication major and a member of ASW Event's team and ASW Senate. When she isn’t busy with school Jazmin enjoys going on drives, trying new restaurants and watching her favorite movies.

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