From traversing deep in the forest, to trekking through high desert and scaling rugged peaks and glaciers, each year 9,500 Oregon State students experience all the Pacific Northwest – and beyond – has to offer.
These rare and unique experiences fall under Physical Activity Course (PAC) classes and select Kinesiology courses – housed with the College of Public Health and Human Sciences – and are run through the university’s Adventure Leadership Institute™ (ALI). Adventures include rock climbing, rafting, canyoneering, hiking, wilderness first aid and backpacking.
What this means is the all OSU students – and faculty and staff who sign up for remaining available spots in PAC courses – have the opportunity to earn college credit while they are hanging off the edge of rock formation, gliding through a 35-foot waterfall or plunging into 40 degree water from a 30-foot cliff.
Participants experience these action sports alongside trained and enthusiastic ALI leaders, and every OSU student has the opportunity to become certified and lead a variety of adventures.
Cool fact: OSU is one of only two universities in the United States to offer a canyoneering course through ALI.
Path to leadership
Those interested in sharing their passion for outdoor adventures with others can obtain certification through the ALI Certificate Program. The program also pairs with OSU’s Leadership Minor and several academic majors.
“I got involved in the certificate program because I saw the Introduction to Adventure Programming class and thought it looked interesting,” says level two certificated leader and Computer Science major Tim Schley. “After that, I jumped full sail into the ALI, I do everything around the ALI and have a great time here.”
The program draws on adventure leadership activities to teach technical skills, problem solving techniques, group development, social change and communication in a classroom unlike any other. The path to certification combines teaching experience and academic courses and activity courses as students work their way through one, two or three certificate levels.
“We take students and place them in situations after giving them the skills they can use – leadership theory, group management – in an environment that has real consequences and benefits,” says ALI™ Director Josh Norris.
Once program participants complete the level one certificate, a foundation is built for subsequent classes. Students take activity classes in Wilderness Living Techniques (PAC 326), Wilderness First Aid (PAC 325) and Challenge Course Experience (PAC 301) and have the option of leading a two-night backpacking trip or taking an additional Backpacking (PAC 304) activity class.
Kolby Baethke is a level one certified leader who is working toward his level two certificate while he studies Natural Resources. He found the ALI through the RecSports Climbing Centers and branched off from there, taking rock climbing, backpacking, wilderness first aid and wilderness living techniques.
“I realized that spending time outside and doing activities I love felt like the right place to go,” he says. “I also wanted to share experiences with others and help spread the love of the outdoors, which is what ALI is all about.”
Level two certification classes include both the Wilderness First Responder (PAC 329) activity course and the Backcountry Leadership (KIN 232) academic course. Level two students teach three activity courses and assist or lead four outings or programs before receiving their Level 2 certificate.
“The level two certificate gives me lots of opportunities to lead all sorts of great trips, like backpacking, rafting and climbing at Smith Rock State Park,” says Makai Bradley, who is an ALI guide studying BioHealth Sciences. “I really love that I can come back to a place again and again that is beautiful in its own right and be able to share it with others and see them appreciate the beauty in the same way I have.”
The final certification level requires students to take an academic course in Human Group Dynamics (KIN 231) and Teaching Techniques for Outdoor Activities (KIN 233) and lead 10 outings or programs.
“My favorite part is seeing people’s faces when we get to beautiful places like this,” Tim says. “It’s unbelievable being able to get places that 99 percent of the world will never be able to see.”
My atypical day at the office
I recently jumped onto one of the canyoneering adventures with ALI and PAC students at Quartzville Creek and pushed my physical and mental limits. The opportunity to be isolated in nature and experience parts of the state that few ever trek to was an amazing experience I will never forget.
I learned some of the key elements of this type of adventure trip, including terminology of gear, how to thread a rappelling rope through an anchor and how to talk myself out of mental roadblocks when I was paralyzed by fear. I also learned the importance of trusting and relying on others. It took working as a team to get through parts of the six-hour trip through the canyon, such as when when we formed a human train to get down a steep boulder. I had to take feedback from others, listen carefully to instructions and become incredibly aware of my surroundings.
I was also able to experience the expertise level and knowledge of the ALI guides and students taking the PAC course. They were patient with me as a newbie and helped talk me through my nerves and get out of awkward situations.
That day I did multiple things I’ve never done in my lifetime – wear two wetsuits and two jackets while lugging camera gear, jump off 30 feet above a 40 degree river, slide backwards down a steep rock formation, rappel from two rock edges while not being able to see the other side and free jump off multiple edges of varying heights.
Those looking for a change of scenery or a way to challenge and push their limits can find an adventure suited to their interests and abilities through the ALI. There are also unique opportunities for colleges or departments to experience a one-of-a-kind team building excursion.
“The same skill sets that students need to safely navigate a canyon are the same skills we need in the work place or society, and this is an opportunity to develop those in a gritty environment,” Josh says.
For more information on ALI or to arrange a team building excursion, call Josh Norris at 541-737-4341 or email Josh.Norris@oregonstate.com.