Outdoor Education at Northland College: A Transformative Experience at Camp Ondessonk

Outdoor Education at Northland College: A Transformative Experience at Camp Ondessonk

Outdoor Education at Northland College: A Transformative Experience at Camp Ondessonk

Northland College’s commitment to experiential learning is exemplified through its Outdoor Leadership Immersion Semester, where students embark on a 12-week journey into the heart of outdoor education. Under the leadership of Dr. Evan R. Coulson, students spend three weeks at Camp Ondessonk, a vital partner in creating a real-life living and learning laboratory for outdoor education and showcases Camp Ondessonk’s potential for growing future generations of outdoor educators.

Outdoor Skills and Knowledge: The curriculum at Camp Ondessonk focuses on honing crucial outdoor skills for sophomores studying Outdoor Education. The immersive experience includes a 10-day Top Rope Rock Climbing Site Facilitator training, trail building and maintenance, and behind-the-scenes event management. Based at Pine Lake, students develop technical proficiency and enhance their ability to thrive in a backcountry community, promoting teamwork and resilience.

Environmental Stewardship and Conservation: The integration of environmental stewardship and conservation principles is central to Northland College’s approach. All outdoor education programs emphasize minimum-impact camping and travel techniques, teaching students to consider ecological and social impacts. By instilling these principles, students become advocates for sustainable practices, promoting responsible outdoor recreation.

Experiential Learning and Critical Thinking: Evan’s teaching philosophy revolves around authenticity. Rather than theoretical discussions, students engage in hands-on experiences, living the topics presented. Camp Ondessonk plays a pivotal role, providing real-world environments for technical skill development, such as rock climbing at Cedar Falls. Moreover, students actively plan and implement outdoor education programs for Camp Ondessonk, translating theory into practical application.

Teaching Tools and Resources: The most effective tools for fostering a love for the outdoors, according to Evan, involve immersing students in nature, encouraging deep reflection on those experiences, and providing opportunities to share their passion for outdoor spaces with others. Camp Ondessonk’s natural beauty and rustic infrastructure serve as powerful resources, leaving a lasting impact on students and deepening their connection to the environment.

Key Outcomes: Students participating in the Outdoor Leadership Immersion Semester must demonstrate proficiency in various areas. For rock climbing, they must assess climbing site risks, manage equipment, and facilitate safe climbing environments. In the trail-building section, students learn essential tools and techniques, gaining insight into trail design, construction, and event preparation. These outcomes ensure well-rounded expertise and readiness for future leadership roles.

Vision for Outdoor Education’s Future: While Evan defers a detailed exploration of the future of outdoor education for another time, the current program’s success at Camp Ondessonk hints at a future where experiential learning remains paramount in shaping environmentally conscious and skilled leaders.

Memorable Learning Experience: A poignant example of the program’s impact involves a student overcoming a lifelong fear of heights by successfully rappelling at Pakentuck. This transformative experience showcases the power of outdoor education in fostering personal growth, resilience, and self-discovery. Northland Students living and learning onsite also benefits Camp.  As an example, these students contributed three full days of trail building (they completed the new mountain bike optimized flow trail near Raganeau) and then volunteered to prepare Camp’s trail system for the 13th Annual Camp Ondessonk Trail Races (leaf blowing and flagging).  In addition, they volunteered at aid stations, the registration table, and the timing table during the races.  Finally, Northland College students planned and facilitated a top rope rock climbing experience for Camp’s VHS After School Adventure Club program.  The relationship between Camp Ondessonk and Northland College is a beautiful synergistic relationship that mutually benefits both.

In conclusion, Northland College’s Outdoor Leadership Immersion Semester at Camp Ondessonk, under the guidance of Dr. Evan R. Coulson, stands as a testament to the transformative potential of experiential learning in outdoor education. Integrating skills, environmental stewardship, and hands-on experiences create proficient outdoor leaders and individuals deeply connected to and passionate about the natural world.

Click here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s Outdoor Education Program.

Click here to learn more about Northland College’s Outdoor Education Program.


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