Outdoors Program emphasizes student-led trips

A group of first-year students and Outdoor Program leaders sit around a bonfire in Moab's Spanish Valley at last year's first-year student orientation trip. Bex Kemp, a trip leader in the Outdoor Program, said many elements go into planning a trip, such as making a food plan, shopping, pulling gear and completing paperwork. Photo by Haley Schiek.

A group of first-year students and Outdoor Program leaders sit around a bonfire in Moab's Spanish Valley at last year's first-year student orientation trip. Bex Kemp, a trip leader in the Outdoor Program, said many elements go into planning a trip, such as making a food plan, shopping, pulling gear and completing paperwork. Photo by Haley Schiek.

Westminster College's Outdoor Program employs students to lead its trips—an aspect of the program that is uncommon among outdoor recreation programs at other colleges across the country.

The program is designed to give students the opportunity to learn and lead in the field. Students with any level of experience are welcome to become trip leaders, with certifications preferred but not required, according to Tiana White, director of the Outdoor Program.

“Most of our trips for the Outdoor Program are student led," White said. "Our student leaders are all in different stages of developing their leadership. Some people just started [and] some people have been doing it for years. And usually on any one trip, there is a combination of people.”

Bex Kemp, a third-year neuroscience and justice studies major, is a trip leader and said the college's outdoor leadership program was one of the main reasons she chose Westminster.

“It was one of those unique programs that I have seen when I was looking for schools.” she said. “Most of the time, they had faculty leading the trips—not students. At Westminster, we kind of put a lot of stock in student leading.”

White said the Outdoor Program invests in students to help them become proficient for trip leading—even if they have no experience.

A group of first-year students attend an orientation trip in the La Sal Mountains in Moab with student trip leaders from the Outdoor Program in 2016. First-year student Haley Schiek went on the trip and said she has "yet to meet anyone in the Outdoor Program that I don’t like or wouldn't want to work with." Photo by Haley Schiek.

A group of first-year students attend an orientation trip in the La Sal Mountains in Moab with student trip leaders from the Outdoor Program in 2016. First-year student Haley Schiek went on the trip and said she has "yet to meet anyone in the Outdoor Program that I don’t like or wouldn't want to work with." Photo by Haley Schiek.

“Basically anybody who is interested can tell us that they want to become a trip leader and we run the program [and] will do whatever we can to support that student in getting experience,” White said. “So they could come to Westminster and have never gone camping before and become a trip leader and that’s fine."

White said outdoor skills can be trained but leadership is often the hard part. While certifications are not required as part of the hiring process, she said they are recommended.

“Not everybody has to have everything," she said. "I think students will find that as they gain more certifications they gain more opportunities, because we need people who are certified. There is also not a lot of pressure on students to do that because they can kind of choose to be in whatever level they can.”

Kemp said the Outdoor Program would not exist without student leaders and said different people play a different role every trip.

“We divided it up pretty evenly—gear pulling, food shopping, making a food plan, deciding on what we are going to eat [and] making sure that all the gear is safe for climbing trips, since that’s what mostly what I lead,” Kemp said. “Make sure that we have all the right paperwork for all the participants [and] make sure that we have all of their medical information... we basically do everything that makes a trip go out safely.”

Haley Schiek, a first-year student who has been on several outdoor trips, said she doesn’t hike on her own because she doesn’t feel comfortable. She said because she didn’t come from a location where people normally participate in outdoor recreation, these trips help her gain the confidence she would need to go on her own.

"I have yet to meet anyone in the Outdoor Program that I don’t like or wouldn't want to work with," she said.