Outdoor Leadership Program helps students develop survival skills

The Outdoor Leadership Program sets up temporary camp in Crume Nature Park off Nashville Road in Bowling Green, Ky., in preparation for this upcoming six-day camping trip led by Professor Steve Spencer and Associate Professor Tammie Stenger-Ramsey. The professors demonstrated on-site hand washing and food disposal techniques as part of a leave-no-trace curriculum. Tuesday’s run-through is part of the course’s “see one, do one, teach one” curriculum as well as preparing the student’s to react in the field. “You never know what can happen once you get out there,” said Spencer, who has been an outdoors instructor for over 20 years. Photo by Leanora Benkato/ HERALD

Samantha Wright

Most classes incorporate group projects into their curriculum. Only one blindfolds the entire class as a part of the lesson plan. 

Chloe Carr, a sophomore from Harrisburg, Illinois and a student in the Outdoor Leadership Program, said she enjoys the course because it is a direct approach to learning wilderness skills.

“There are a lot of hard, physical skills that are taught in these classes,” she said. “I enjoy the more hands on approach.”

The Outdoor Leadership Program has existed since 1991, as part of the Recreation Administration School of Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport.

 Its first course was a Wilderness Stewardship course that ran for 14 days in the field. Then in 2006, an Outdoor Leadership Program minor was formed, which included a professional immersion semester, where students spent around 30 days engaged in assorted expeditions.  

The program for the minor is highly competitive, with only 12 students accepted each semester, to form a cohort. 

The program allows students to gain certification in many areas, such as Wilderness First Responders, No Trace Trainers and Kentucky Water Watch Certification. It also includes service projects that give back to the community, such as trail maintenance and river cleanups.

Students keep a journal and participate in daily debriefings. They also take part in peer review. Classes are held in Diddle Arena, and students take regular field trips that can last anywhere from an hour to a full day

Steve Spencer, one of the instructors for the Outdoor Leadership Program, said the program fulfills many uses.

“Leadership Training is for folks desiring outdoor REC positions- but teaches life skills that benefit all,” he said

Tammie Stenger-Ramsey, another instructor for the Outdoor Leadership Program, said the class benefits students because they are out in nature as they are learning life skills.

“Well, one of the things a lot of research has been done lately on is this idea of the importance of nature in people’s well-being and the connection to the natural environment,” she said. “There’s been a lot of research that has come out recently that has shown that having regular interactions with nature is good for your psyche, your physical development, your cognitive processing, your social interaction, and is just an all-around good thing.” 

Carr said it also teaches skills that are useful in other areas of life, such as cooking skills.

“By completing this program, I hope to feel more confident in my abilities as not only an outdoor leader, but a sure decision maker in everyday life,” she said. “Also, we cook and are forced to be creative in our backcountry cooking. This is a huge motivator to learn to cook well-or for me, things other than rabbit and rice.” 

As for being blindfolded, Carr said the activity was an experience she won’t be forgetting soon. 

“The first day of class, I didn’t know who anyone was, but we played a name game,” Carr said. “Immediately afterwards, we were tied together— all 12 of us — with climbing rope, some of us blindfolded or a leg tied up, and sent from the second floor of Diddle Arena to DUC to spend $12 at a vending machine.”

And for Carr’s group, the trust exercise served its purpose. 

“It was a trust and team building exercise, demonstrating that you are only as strong as the weakest in your group,” she said. “It worked. I was one of the blindfolded victims. However, we did it in less than 20 minutes, which I think is impressive.”