This is our classroom


Frankfort senior Justin Hensley helps Elizabethtown junior Andrew Saults adjust his pack before getting back on the trail. While backpacking, it is essential to make adjustments to a pack so that it does not hurt. On average, the group was carrying around 40-50 pounds.

Josh Mauser

It’s a typical morning. Your alarm goes off and you want to hit the snooze so badly, but you can’t. It’s 6:30 a.m., and when you’re on the trail, you have to wake up. It’s cold outside, the inside of your tent is damp, and all you want to do is spend five more minutes in the comfort of your sleeping bag. But the wilderness awaits, and you only have two hours to break down camp, cook breakfast and pack your backpack for the six-mile hike that day.  As you unzip your tent flap, the open door beckons a cool rush of air and the fresh scent of mountains. This is your morning for the trail, and best of all, this is your classroom.

If you don’t do your homework correctly in this program, then it could mean you go hungry toward the end of a trip. You’re responsible for packing correctly and knowing where you’re going, how long you’re hiking each day, and as a leader, you must learn when to push the limits and when not to.  

The Outdoor Leadership program is a semester at WKU that immerses you in every aspect of Outdoor Leadership Training. Over the semester, you learn the essentials for outdoor leadership including backpacking, trip planning, canoeing, knot-tying, tarp rigging, navigation, “leave no trace” ethics and much more. The trips started small with a two-day backpacking trip to Mammoth Cave, then a five-day trip to the Shawnee National Forest, a nine-day trip to the Big South Fork, and finally, embarking on a 12-day canoe trip to the Buffalo National River.

There isn’t anything quite like a semester in the outdoors. Everything you learn is based on the teaching model of  “See one, do one, teach one.” You begin as a student but slowly become a teacher. It’s a different way of learning that gets students out of a typical classroom and allows them to experience how classroom ideas turn into reality.

The slogan for this year’s program became evident after the nine-day backpacking trip to the Big South Fork. Every day, someone points out as they hike past a scenic overlook or canoe down a Class II rapid, “Hey, we are in class right now.”

Steve Spencer and Tammie Stenger-Ramsey, professor and associate professor of Recreation and Sport, lead the OLP cohort every spring semester. For the 12 lucky students chosen, they fulfill nearly their entire Outdoor Leadership Minor in one semester.

The program is unlike anything else offered at WKU, and for the students in the program, it’s a semester that will never be forgotten. Students from past cohorts warn the current students, telling them to enjoy this semester, because college will never be this good again.