|OA = Return on Investment
825 + 247 = 1,072 & Amazing!
Coming into this year’s Frosh Trip after the challenges of 2011 was all about leadership. I have to admit to having some trepidations last spring. After having to relocate everyone back to campus in 2011, would enough students sign up for spring Leader Training? How about incoming freshmen? Would stories about the rain discourage freshmen from applying?
Well none of that happened. In the spring we trained 120 new leaders with just as many freshmen participating as ever. In fact we had our largest number of leaders ever this year - 247. By June 30 we had broken our all time record of freshmen with 825 freshmen (61% of the class) participating. That’s a total of 1,072 students on the trail—the largest single outdoor orientation program in the country. In fact, this year we had more leaders than we had participants when I first became director in 1981. (That year there were 220 freshmen and 44 leaders). I’m extremely proud of how much the program has grown. There is absolutely no question that OA has had a fantastic return on investment for students and for Princeton.
Size however, is not the true measure of the intrinsic value of a program. Ultimately it is the quality of the program—the end result of how well we are doing training and equipping leaders with the skills they need, everyone from first aid and instructors and climbing wall staff to leader trainers—that sets the bar for our success. Mentoring students to be excellent leaders means constantly being aware of the process of teaching and facilitating. Since students constantly turn over it means being ever vigilant about the quality and professionalism throughout the program. OA needs to become the leading college outdoor leadership program and we can do it with your help.
There are two big challenges ahead. First is that OA operates on narrow margins each and every year. That’s why annual support from alumni and parents is so critical. As you can see the bulk of OA's income (68%) comes from Frosh Trip which helps pay for other parts of OA. As the costs for Frosh Trip increase it significantly limits what we can do during the rest of academic year. Leadership shouldn’t stop with the six days of Frosh Trip.
We should be building a rich program of activities that enrich students throughout the academic year. Secondly, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what OA could be doing on campus. There are so many other ways that the OA model can be incorporated through partnerships with other programs on campus providing trips and leadership development opportunities. That’s why your annual contribution to OA each year is so important and why I want you to take part in OA’s Six Days of Leadership Challenge.
The “Six Days of Leadership” Challenge
I hear from alumni all the time about how much they use what they learned about leadership from OA every day. Here’s what one alumna had to say about the impact her OA Leadership experience had on her as she went through medical school:
“The ‘Introduction to the Profession’ course’s approach to patient-doctor interactions and subsequent reflection matches perfectly with the leadership skills and style promoted in [Outdoor Action]. The idea of being constantly aware of one’s state of mind and body; using that awareness to perform optimally under pressure; and then taking the time to reflect and debrief emotional experience, performance, potential mistakes, and ways to improve in the future is a theme that runs through both wilderness leadership and medicine. After learning this approach through wilderness leadership experiences, I took it on as my general style for addressing challenges. Looking back (and forward), I cannot think of a better way to tackle any challenge.”
So here is my challenge for you! Take stock of the impact that OA has had on you. For six days, the length of Frosh Trip, count up the times each day that you use something that you learned or developed through Outdoor Action. But don’t stop there, pledge something—$1, $5, $10 to OA—for each leadership skill you use daily. Your contribution makes a huge difference in OA accomplishing our goals of building those same lifelong leadership skills in students.
39 Years and Counting
My first Frosh Trip as director was #8. This year was #39 so we are fast approaching OA’s 40th Anniversary. To say that we need to celebrate would be an understatement. So working with the Friends of OA Board we are planning a number of events for fall 2013 on campus and a family-friendly alumni outdoor trip during the summer 2014. We’ll have more information for you spring 2013.
Back Where it All Began
As of July 1, Outdoor Action is now part of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS)—once again. OA started in the ODUS office almost 40 years ago, through the vision of people like Steve Boehlke ’70, Andy Brown ’69, and John Danielson ’58. Being back in that office is coming home for OA. There is no doubt that the Outdoor Action Program has had a lasting impact on students and on the University. My challenge to you is to help us prepare the next generation of leaders at Princeton. This past year, hundreds of alumni and parents contributed over $50,000 to support the ongoing growth of the program and I want to thank all of you for your generous support. In order to fully realize the goals and potential of OA we need to increase our annual giving to $150,000 a year. The impact that Leaders have on campus and the skills that they (and you) learn through OA are priceless and continue far beyond campus. Supporting OA is one of the best investments that you can make in Princeton.
Rick Curtis ’79
Staffing Changes for OA
Jennifer Bornkamp, who joined OA in the spring of 2004 has moved on to a new position in the Physics Department. Jennifer arrived at OA in the midst of huge changes in program size and operations. Her organizational skills and incredible dedication to the program tremendously enhanced the professionalism and scope of OA. We are all incredibly grateful to Jennifer for all her hard work for so many years. We also thrilled that the Bornkamp legacy continues in her daughter Nikki Bornkamp '14 who led her first Frosh Trip this year.
We are in the midst of hiring a new person for OA and based on the size and scope of the program we have reconfigured the position as a Program Coordinator with extensive outdoor experience which will greatly enhance our ability to provide better supervision and direction for Leader Training, Frosh Trip and trips during the year. We hope to have a new person in this one year position by January 2013.
Leading My First OA Trip
Arianna Lazzaroni ’15, Leader from Clearwater, FL
Leading my first frosh trip was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. I grew as a person in almost every respect, and came out of my first frosh trip with a bigger heart and stronger identity. When I first looked at the roster of my frosh, I was intimidated to say the least. I still felt like a freshmen myself, and did not know how I could possibly get someone else to look to me as an authority. I was nervous about not knowing enough about biking, the outdoors or Princeton in general and I was afraid of looking clueless in front of my frosh, especially since some of them were even older than me.
However, these fears became irrelevant shortly after meeting my frosh. My desire to make sure that they had a fun and valuable experience made me forget my insecurities. My concern for their welfare made me become a leader figure in the group effortlessly. Although I did make mistakes with some of the technical duties and had to ask my frosh for help when fixing the bikes, I learned to accept my shortcomings as natural and we quickly laughed off my errors. Despite the fact that I underestimated how much work leading a frosh trip would be, I also underestimated how rewarding it was. All of the extra efforts that I put into setting up camp and ensuring that our trip ran smoothly proved to be worth it when I saw our frosh become friends. Our trip was a challenge for some of the frosh, but their efforts at cooperation and teamwork bonded the group, making the trip easy and worthwhile.
Cal Peyser ’15, Leader from Great Neck, NY
I hope Outdoor Action continues to grow while I'm at Princeton and after I graduate. I hope that there will soon come a time when all but a few incoming freshmen participate and through it make friends that will help them enjoy the potentially stressful orientation week and first few months of classes, while helping them learn what it means to be a Princetonian. For me, Outdoor Action was the first step to discovering the “Princeton” dimension of my personality—that part of me which enjoys diverse, intense, and often non-academic experiences and motivates me to pursue those experiences as much as I can. I see that the program continues to actualize its potential to help hundreds of freshmen make this discovery everywhere, and I’m confident that if OA continues to grow, its enormous impact on incoming freshmen will grow as well.
Peppar Cyr ’15, Leader from Cincinnati, OH
As it should be, the most rewarding night of the trip was the last. Not only listening to my frosh talk about what they had learned about and from each other that week, but especially what some of them said when they got the chance to respond to the group. It amazed me how many times my frosh would say things like “you all described me how I want to be, not how I usually am” or talked about having doubted whether they wanted to participate in Frosh Trip at all. When it came my turn to pass my bandana around the circle, I was floored by the way my frosh were so grateful for my willingness to take charge in stressful situations. They also thought I was a good teacher and some even encouraged me to become a Leader Trainer.
Overall, looking back on my experience, I am struck once again with how my OA experiences just keep topping themselves. First my own Frosh Trip, which was amazing despite the hurricane, my LTT, which was a great step toward independence, and then finally the greater challenge and associated reward of being a Leader. I never thought I would become a Leader when I signed up for OA the summer before my freshman year, but I think it was one of the best decisions I’ve made here at Princeton.
Ben Denzer ’15, Leader from Overland Park, KS
I knew leading Frosh Trip was going to be rewarding, but I had no idea just how rewarding it would actually be. From watching the sense of accomplishment and delight that comes after cooking the perfect pita (something I myself felt as a Frosh) to passing on the joys of bear-bagging, being a part of, and contributing to, someone’s new experiences and growth is extremely powerful. To me this was the best part of the trip, watching the group dynamic and individual personalities grow and reach a point where our Frosh were applying the wilderness knowledge we had given them to take ownership over their experience.
I think OA does it right. Our trip was successful not only because my Co-leader and I were trained well to lead, but because OA’s strong foundations gave us frameworks to work with and adjust as we went along. Our trip had its fair share of challenges, but we were able to comfortably improvise to keep things safe and fun for our Frosh. From making an improvised tarp for a not-ideal site to adjusting the route to make the hike more enjoyable, we felt confident in ourselves and our decisions because of OA’s guidelines and principles.
I wish I could adequately describe how much OA has meant and means to me, but I don’t think I can. At best I can say that it has helped me grow, made me feel like a part of an exciting and welcoming community, and shown me how it is possible to actually have (and witness) one’s positive impact on another human being.
I hope OA continues to grow and provide others with experiences that are as valuable as mine. Next year, I’m excited for my second Frosh Trip. But I’m also looking forward to seeing a few of my Frosh, who will become leaders later this year, experience and discover these joys as they set out to lead their first trip, in turn passing on this excitement to the next generation of OA leaders.
Michael Kochis ’15, Leader from Coraopolis, PA
Outdoor Action is without a doubt the most rewarding experience I found at Princeton in the way it taught me about myself and about others. Before my freshman year, I had never been on a camping trip, and if you asked me then, I would have never expected to become a leader. Of course I’ll always remember sleeping outdoors for the first time, but my strongest impression from my frosh trip wasn’t about the outdoors at all. In the first few days of getting to know my group, I encountered a greater variety of backgrounds and interests than I did all throughout high school. My leader said that’s his favorite thing about OA: because such a large portion (over 60%) of the freshman class is represented, OA groups are the most eclectic on campus. For several of my OA friends with completely different activities and classes from me, I can’t help but think how I probably would never have met them otherwise.
After all the training I put in during fall break and during my Leader Training Trip, as well as the fine-tuning during the week before the trips, by the time the frosh arrived, I felt completely ready for whatever the next week would bring. Even so, I am impressed how accurate the training was in predicting group dynamics. At first, our group was quiet and reserved (and almost frightened when we taught them the OA ritual of “Jump, shake your booty”). As time went on, though, it was like clockwork how soon they started talking more, and eventually forming a distinct culture for our group. They made nicknames for us leaders so they could take special ownership of us, and by the end, they were almost frighteningly enthusiastic in their booty-shaking. Months later on campus, I am thrilled to see five or six of them hanging out together at late meal or going to the Orange and Black Ball together.
In short, not only did our training give us the skills to ensure that the group could make it through the woods safely, but it allowed us to best facilitate our freshmen’s transition into the next stage of their lives. The best thing about being an OA leader is helping to catalyze such diverse friendships.
The Annapurna Sanctuary Trek
On May 7 an intrepid band of explorers set out on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to one of the most beautiful places in the world, the Annapurna Sanctuary in the Himalayas. The group, made up of Lindsay Fossett ’99; Kathe Fox S67 along with her children Ellen Winn and Philip Winn; Andrea Francis ’11; Michael Grady; Jan Hirschmann; David Keller ’79 & Julie Meyers S79; Amy LaViers ’09; Doug Little ’67 & Nan Little S67; Steve Smaha ’74 P14 and Jessica Winslow; Marvin Swartz; Erik Swenson ’74 P09 and Kai Swenson ’09; and our study leaders—Dr. Robert ‘Brownie’ Schoene ’68 and his son Prof. Blair Schoene K68 along with Rick Curtis ’79 h04 and our guide Sarah Ferris from Bio Bio Expeditions. You can see that this was a really diverse group representing the full spectrum of the Princeton community.
After two days exploring Kathmandu we boarded a bus for a three-hour drive to the trailhead. After hiking across the bridge at Nayapul we left the road behind and entered a world were everything moves on foot.
Each day brought us higher and closer to the Annapurna Sanctuary, one of the most spectacular mountain views on the planet. You stand at 13,700 feet and are surrounded on all sides by Annapurna I (26,545'), Annapurna South (23,684'), Machhapuchhre (22,942'). We had a fantastic trip and you can see some of our photos at www.princeton.edu/~oa/alumni/nepal. This is just the first of more great adventure expeditions with OA & Princeton Journeys. Watch for future annoucements of upcoming trips.