HSHP dean Steve Siconolfi reports strong interest in the new program, not only among current IC students but also among prospective students. "Students in the ARC appear to be considering a change [to the new] major," he says. "High school students who have been told about the major are very interested in this new approach to outdoor recreation management. And we expect that students who are seriously interested in the College's sustainability initiatives [see story "Our Visionary College"] will choose this major because it perfectly combines the issues of 'greening of the environment' with the human side of sustainability."
Assistant professor Rob Porter also points out, "Students want to take what they love and make it a job, as opposed to finding a job and doing what they love on the side. I support that wholeheartedly."
"A broad margin of leisure is as beautiful in a man's life as is a book. Haste makes waste, no less in life than in housekeeping. Keep the time, observe the hours of the universe, not of the cars. What are threescore years and ten hurriedly and coarsely lived to moments of divine leisure in which your life is coincident with the life of the universe?" -- Henry David Thoreau, Journals, December 28, 1852
His students are trying to avoid what Porter sees as problematic in our society. "We are so clock-driven and frantic -- that's our life," he says. "We don't place any importance on leisure. We live in a culture where work is the end-all, but meanwhile, we have obese kids who can't talk to adults and think leisure means a video game. We don't realize what an important part of life outdoor leisure is."
TR major Jennifer Reed '05 will not have time to meet the requirements for graduating with the new major, although she would have liked to. She sees a tremendous need for the program. "Wilderness is an important and essential part of leisure in our society today," she says. "Our current culture is focused on work and the aspect of time, which lead many individuals into urban areas. Still, a vast majority of appealing outdoor pursuits take place in the wilderness, so it is extremely important to have trained personnel to lead you on your adventures."
Practicing climbing skills in the Adirondacks wilderness of New York State
The purpose of the outdoor adventure leadership program, then, is to train those who can introduce people to the concept of leisure and its importance, and to safely guide those who venture out to experience nature. "We're training the people who will go out and change minds, who will teach about the wilderness in order to increase appreciation of the wilderness," says Porter.
So does this mean that students will spend their four years at IC hiking in the woods, rock climbing, and camping in the wild? Certainly, these skills are part of the curriculum, but they are not the main skills. The major will focus on all aspects of the wilderness -- from the philosophy of public land management to practical skills to business management.
"The program starts with some basic questions, such as How do we connect to nature?" Porter explains. "We are teaching students how to discern their beliefs, how to come up with an environmental policy, and how to act in accordance with what they believe, what they love." Students read philosophical texts -- classics such as Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, and the writings of John Muir. They also study New York State history. "New York has been an environmental leader from the beginning," says Porter. "The Adirondacks were set aside in 1885. Teddy Roosevelt [onetime governor of New York] took his environmental philosophy out to the rest of the nation during his presidency." Students learn about theories behind national recreation areas and forests, the origin and history of the field of environmental land management, the reasons behind government policies such as the Wilderness Act and Adirondacks management, and the sociological and psychological aspects of wilderness.