Welcome to the ultimate classroom
By Akanksha Jayanthi • Journalism major, Class of 2013
Students looking to escape city life and find their “Walden” may be hard pressed to do so in an urban environment like Chicago. With Loyola’s Office for Outdoor Experiential Education, however, students interested in these outdoor experiences now have a platform for such excursions.
In 2009, Loyola President and CEO Michael J. Garanzini. S.J., initiated plans to establish an official office for outdoor education to be a resource for students who expressed desire in outdoor experiences. The Office for Outdoor Experiential Education, also called Ramble Outdoors, was officially founded in spring 2010.
Paul Miller, the director of Ramble Outdoors, said student interest has far surpassed anything they originally imagined when beginning to shape the program.
“We continue to be surprised by students who love the city but have a deep hunger to spend time in natural settings,” Miller said. “We’ve been trying to catch up.”
Students play an integral role in Ramble Outdoors as student facilitators, the largest component of the Ramble Outdoors team. They are in charge of leading group excursions either in the wilderness or at the Challenge Course at the Retreat and Ecology Campus.
“The students make [Ramble Outdoors] possible,” Miller said. “Student empowerment is at the core of the success of the program. There are lots of places on campus for them to practice leadership, but few that provide such unique consequences and direct feedback.”
Rose Brickley, a senior anthropology major and environmental science, art history, and visual communications minor, was part of the inaugural class of student facilitators. She said being part of this initial group has been a great experience to help shape the experience of future facilitators.
“We joke a lot because the world of outdoor leadership is variable; you don’t know what’s going to happen outside, just like this team and seeing where it will go in the future,” Brickley said.
Timothy Seed, a senior environmental science major with a history minor, was also in the first class of student facilitators.
“The leadership role for my generation of student facilitators encompasses everything. We are the support team for the growing program,” Seed said.
And the program continues to grow. Brickley said they are leading more trips every year. The rock wall in Halas Recreation will be staffed by Ramble Outdoors. Requests for excursions to the Retreat and Ecology Campus’s challenge course are climbing. Additionally, Ramble Outdoors is leading a kayaking trip in Florida over spring break, the first spring break trip that is open to the entire campus, instead of just a particular student group. All their trips have sold out and have had a waiting list, which speaks to their success and popularity.
Miller said the experience of outdoor education is one that mirrors Ignatian pedagogy’s four processes of knowing: experience, reflection, judgment, and action.
“Natural environments offer quiet, reflective spaces that students don’t have access to in the city,” Miller said. “It puts people in a context where true relationships happen, and meaningful and authentic communities are formed in a space that is set apart. It makes us ask the big questions.”
Brickley echoed these thoughts and added that the skills learned in the wilderness are applicable to everyday life.
“Outdoor experiential education is very valuable because it engages diverse groups of people in learning styles, interests, and types of groups. It’s a great classroom to be used in all sorts of different contexts,” she said.
As students continue to express an interest in the wilderness, Ramble Outdoors will be able to lead them there.
“It’s not uncommon to hear people say, ‘I want to get out there. How do I do that?’” Seed said. “We help them.”