OE Open House Promotes WA, Outdoor Activities to Class of 2026 – The Colgate Maroon-News
Have you ever wanted to participate in Colgate’s range of outdoor activities? Colgate’s Outdoor Education (OE) program hosted an Open House at Base Camp for prospective students as part of the Office of Admissions’ April 8 “Colgate Experience” Accepted Student Days. The event gave visitors the opportunity to learn about the programs and activities offered by Outdoor Education and to ask questions of OE staff members. According to Grace Leighheiser, the open house was also an opportunity to promote Wilderness Adventure (WA), OE’s pre-orientation program.
“I started Wilderness Adventure to get [students] excited about [transitioning] in their time at Colgate spending five days away getting to know other freshmen and two upperclass leaders while having fun,” Leightheiser said. “I explained that we offer a variety of WA trips – mountain biking, canoeing, sea kayaking, rock climbing, hiking and more – with offerings for incoming students of all experience levels. Many students and parents I spoke to left looking excited to sign up.
In addition to WA programs, OE offers a variety of courses and activities that give students the opportunity to engage with OE at different levels.
“Wilderness Adventure is the best way for us to engage the early years in OE,” said Grace Freundlich, senior. “There are also a lot of courses that the first years can take. We have backyard adventures like hiking and cross-country skiing, and then we have our physical education classes, like backcountry cooking and other hiking, and we also have our staff I help manage.
Freundlich joined the OE Staff Training Program his second year after taking OE courses in his first year. As staff trainer, Freundlich and three other students are tasked with training the next class of OE leaders. In addition to WA courses and other OE courses, the Staff Training Program is available for freshmen who wish to lead OE trips.
“We have freshmen and sophomores training together, so we’re currently picking our sophomores to practice next year, and in the fall we’ll be picking the rest of the group,” Freudlich said. “They train from September to May, so it’s basically a full year of training.”
Leightheiser joined the Staff Training Program as a freshman and since then has led a variety of courses and trips.
“I had attended a WA and knew coming into Colgate that I wanted to be involved in the program,” Leightheiser said. “I trained my entire freshman year, which involved taking a variety of weekend trips, taking weekly classes, earning Wilderness First Responder certification, and learning from student leaders. older…I would say my specialty is light hiking. I’ve run two WAs, a Fall Break version and a Spring Break version of Lightweight, but I’ve also run a variety of other classes [including] day hikes, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and ice climbing.”
With approximately 25% of incoming first years attending each year, WA is the largest pre-orientation program on campus. The pandemic has prompted OE to get creative with how it has structured WA, while also increasing flexibility according to Leighheiser.
“Over the summer of 2020, we hosted WA on Zoom and Discord, which meant we could give it away for free to first-years,” she said. “We offered ‘journeys’ like cooking and baking, a book club, creating and enjoying music, sustainability and more. We had never done anything like this before, so it was cool to be able to accommodate people who might not want to spend the pre-orientation in the woods. We had a lower turnout than usual, but still a surprisingly strong turnout given the circumstances.
OE returned to away WA in August 2021, but only offered one session instead of the usual two. According to Leightheiser, the pandemic has potentially increased registrations for OE travel in general.
After a positive experience with her WA, senior Maddy Leibinger joined OE as a second year. According to Leibinger, the OE community was instrumental in his Colgate experience.
“My leaders at my WA reached out to me…and I found out I could apply this spring to train as a sophomore next year,” Leibinger said. “Going through the various interviews was an amazing experience and getting into OE has changed my life here at Colgate and in general. I don’t know where I would be without some of these people and it makes me smile that as a senior I have impacted the lives of freshmen, sophomores and juniors in leading different journeys.