Outdoor Leadership Program is back with wind in its sails

January 19, 2018

With our lives increasingly taken up sitting in front of a computer or staring at a smartphone, it’s more important than ever to spend time outdoors. Nature renews us and changes our perspective. As Bob Tremblay, Greenfield Community College’s Outdoor Leadership Program Coordinator, puts it, “we, in this industry, respond to hi-tech with high-touch, with multi-sensory experiences that are very physical, very hands on. After spending all week in offices, people want to go canoeing or climbing or backpacking on weekends. And if they sometimes find themselves outside of their comfort zone – struggling to steer that canoe, rappelling down a rock wall, feeling cold and tired hiking – that’s when learning happens. You learn about your capabilities and confidence grows. In this program, we train the leaders who will guide those experiences. What you get from a cohort of people going through something intense together, like OLP, is not just learning outdoor skills but learning about leadership, about teaching. This can be very rich.” As one recent graduate, Carter Guddell, OLP 2016 -17 recounts, “OLP changed my life. The skills I learned don’t only apply to the content of a sport; they can be used for so many things.  OLP taught me how to understand and prepare for whatever life throws at me.”

Last year GCC decided to thoroughly review this unique and nationally recognized program, now nearly 40 years old, which prepares students to be qualified professional outdoor leaders. It’s kept what was best while making changes that meet the needs of current students and aligning the program with the ever-evolving adventure industry. Says Kathy Vranos, Dean of Business, Information Technology, Social Sciences & Professional Studies “We were so impressed with Bob’s work. He spent the year doing intense market research with area outdoor adventure employers, talking to industry partners all over the country, working with colleagues at the Association of Experiential Education – our accrediting body – going to industry and risk management conferences, and especially talking to transfer institutions. GCC wanted to be especially attentive to students whose families live in western New England because of their love of the great outdoors.”

The program schedule was redesigned so that courses can be accessible to more students. While the richness and intense learning of the core group cohort will remain, students who cannot attend full time can still complete regularly scheduled classes at their own pace. Content, theory and credits better match the transfer requirements of colleges such as Prescott College in Arizona, Westfield State University and University of New Hampshire. Fees have been apportioned by individual classes. And while core classes and competencies remain, such as the Wilderness First Responder certification, new skills like satellite phone protocols are being introduced. Says Teresa Jones, Chair of the Science Department, “We are excited to have OLP students taking natural history with GCC science students and have even scheduled our classes around the OLP trip schedule. Understanding natural history can be a great asset for a trip leader who can point out native species or explain geologic features to a group.” The program is now more flexible while maintaining its high standards of excellence.

Tremblay is also expanding the program with a proposal for an Associates Degree. Certain courses can now be taken as non-credit through GCC’s Community Ed. And the program will still offer additional certifications such as PCIA Rock Climbing Instructor certification, ACA River Canoe Instructor certification, ACA Coastal Kayak Instructor certification, and ACCT Challenge Course Practitioner.

Says Catherine Seaver, Chief of Student and Academic Affairs, “Bob is developing partnerships with outside groups which is very exciting. Opening the doors to current students, allowing the public to enjoy our resources, equipment and what our campus has to offer – this fits our mission as a community college.”

Students best summarize our programs. This is from Aidan Braverman, OLP 2016 – 17: “OLP helped me to become the adventurous adult I am today; in many ways it gave me the skills I needed to not only understand the natural world, and how to observe, and travel through it, but how to impart wisdom of the world and it’s many environments to others so that they may find joy.  OLP helped me to better understand myself: my strengths, my weaknesses and everything that comes with self betterment.”

For more information on GCC’s Outdoor Leadership Program, visit: http://www.gcc.mass.edu/academics/programs/outdoor-leadership

To apply, contact: admissions@gcc.mass.edu

By Christine Copeland

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