Outdoor Action creates lasting friendships, eases transition to college life

Kayaking and canoeing in Breakneck Pond, laughing and living in the moment, nine first-year students are beginning their Princeton journey together at Harriman State Park in New York. The group is participating in one of the 75 Outdoor Action trips taking place this week before Opening Exercises on Sunday.

Video by Danielle Alio, Office of Communications

Outdoor Action is a five-day orientation program for incoming undergraduates. Through activities such as camping, canoeing, biking and hiking, new students establish friendships that help ease the transition to college. Other members of the Class of 2022 are participating in small-group bonding experiences through Community Action and Dialogue and Difference in Action.

“The OA experience encourages first-year students to disconnect from external distractions and really focus on building relationships within the group,” said Caroline Stone, program coordinator at Outdoor Action. “By creating meaningful connections with other first-year students — a diverse representation of the incoming class — as well as experienced upperclass students, they enter Princeton with a strong sense of community and belonging.”

Outdoor Action is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year with 630 first-year participants in 11 locations including Harriman State Park, Shenandoah National Park and the Delaware Water Gap. The estimated number of miles to be hiked by Outdoor Action participants by the end of the program is between 24,250 miles and 38,800 miles.

“I really wanted to figure out what it was like to be in a bonding experience with a group of people,” said first-year student Jeffrey Barzach. “I feel like that’s something very special when a group of people are just together, perform songs and do activities, and Outdoor Action gave me that venue to do that.”

The students are divided into small groups of about eight students with two or three upperclass student leaders. The 185 leaders have received intensive training spanning wilderness first aid, technical skills and wilderness ethics, leadership, and group dynamics workshops.

“I wanted to become a leader because I really enjoyed my personal Outdoor Action trip and I thought it would be a good way to give back and meet the incoming class as well as improve my leadership abilities,” said Wendy Ho, Class of 2021.

The Outdoor Action leaders act as mentors to the new students during the program and beyond.

“My advice to the incoming first-year students is really get to know your class,” Ho said. “I think during my first year I was trying to do way too much and I didn’t spend enough time just getting to know the people at Princeton, which I think it arguably the most important part.”

With the support of student leaders and classmates, Outdoor Action participants learn new skills and tackle unpredictable challenges. The program aims to prepare students with the skills and mindset to face other challenges during their Princeton career.

“Spending several days outdoors with people I’ve never met, doing activities I’ve never done in a place I’ve never been to, all these things I think really go along with the spirit of college in itself,” said incoming student Fawaz Ahmad. “Exploring new things, challenging parts of yourself that you never knew existed before, and meeting new awesome people and doing awesome things with them.”