College Transition - A Natural Approach

Create a supportive community for college-bound students built around a shared experience in our nation's natural areas.

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Ready for Nature Mode? (Updated 4/26/16)

Happy College Signing Day! I honor of the First Ladies initiative, I've prepared a "starter kit" for any school that is interested in trying out Nature Mode, but not sure how to start. Feel free to check out this guide and send any questions you may have my way. 

Click HERE for link to Starter Kit


FaceBook Hackathon: From the White House to Silicon Valley (Updates 4/8/2016)

Yesterday night there was a hackathon held at Facebook Headquarters in Menlo Park, CA where educators, students, and professionals all came together to prototype five of the ideas presented to the White House a few weeks back. Our idea was one of them, and during the two-hour event we were able to get some great feedback on how to take the idea and package it so that schools and students could execute and benefit from it. 

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(our awesome team hard at work)*

We divided ourselves into five teams, each one tasked with building out solutions to these pivitol design questions;

1) Pre-Trip Connecting: How do we get students signed up for the trip? How do we connect them to build their community before they even depart? 

2) Pre-Trip Marketing: How do we articulate the benefits of this idea to both the school and the students? 

3) Trip Planning: How should schools/students plan their excursion to make it as meaningful and formative a possible? 

4) Trip Nature Mode: What functionality should be included in our technology so that it supports goals of the excursion? 

5) Post-Trip Connections: How do we continue to connect students with their newly-formed community. 

We came up with an outstanding amount of work and further evolved the idea in many ways. Here's the short list of what we came up with;

- Students who are accepted to school are sent a survey which helps the school find out about their interests, generates a profile for them within Nature Mode and begins connecting them with their community. 

- It is important to get the school on board with the benefits, but even more important to get students to see the benefits so they participate. This could be done by getting the university to give housing or registration priorities to participants, or articulating the benefits of this as a "kick-off" event to their year and a chance to meet other students. 

- One of the people who was in out design group was a former employee at the University of Arizona who worked on student retention. She said it costs much more to find a new student than to keep a per-exsiitng one, a fact that needs to be articulated to universities as a reason to participate. 

- The idea of having pre-planned and self-planned trip options was floated as well. Some students may want to create their own adventure and invite people along on it. University clubs or student organizations may also want to sponsor trips as a way to introduce themselves to new students.     

- App functionality that was explored included leveling features on the phone (levels of disconnection like no notifications, email notifications only, no messaging notifications, etc) 

- Student feedback was positive as many students said the idea of going to a college where they know nobody was a major source of anxiety and that a trip like this where they were essentially guaranteed to meet like-minded people was a major plus. 

*Sidenote - our team was the only team to be made up of 50% students, all of whom were amazing with their design thinking and feedback. We even let one of them present our work to the entire group!

The entire event was great, and as an added bonus, I got to meet one of my awesome coaches in person! 

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The process continues. . . 

Please check out our pitch video for more about our version of this idea;


And you thought we were all done . . . (Updated 4/6/2016)

So first off, it's very awesome that we've been selected as a finalist out of this field of amazing ideas. It says something that an idea centered around disconnecting and going back to nature has been highlighted and has gained so much traction. But the work does not end here! 

In anticipation of the upcoming April 26th signing day we are starting to construct a "How To" manual of sorts that can be taken by school interested in our idea and used to plan their first excursion. It will have sample outlines for the week, a list of schools with developed programs that can be contacted, and all sorts of resources for making the most of a pre-college outdoor trip. More to come. 

19 Hours Left in SELECT Phase (updates 3/30/2016)


...and here are some further thoughts I had during my walk to mark this moment. I'm still seeing new comments pop up both here and from Twitter about the impact that natural experiences have had on people and the value that these types of authentic moment have had on them as people. I am still surprised at the amount of support this idea of "disconnecting" with nature is getting, and on social media no less, but if the works of authors like Louv and Muir have taught us nothing else, they have taught that there is a need for people to feel connected, not only to others, but to nature. The fact that TECHNOLOGY of all things can facilitate those authentic connections has been one of the biggest "ah-ha" moments for me on this journey, and I am looking forward to whatever the next step is.

Leave it to the Canadians (UPDATED 3/28/2016) 

A friend of mine from Montreal send me a study that backs up much of what we've been saying in these conversations regarding the benefits of a natural setting. Give it a read if you're interested;

http://www.mindingourbodies.ca/about_the_project/literature_reviews/the_nurture_of_nature

I can also recommend an amazing book by Richard Louv called Last Child in the Woods. Although much of the focus is on the importance of nature in the development of a child, it also discusses the importance of introducing young adults to nature as a way of fostering environmental stewardship. 

Please leave your thoughts in the comment section and also pass this idea on as we approach the end of this phase of the design challenge. 


The Proven Process (UPDATED 3/27/2016)

I was recently contacted by a former co-worker who, as luck would have it, had a job actually running a pre-college orientation trip very similar to the one we're proposing in our idea. This is great anecdotal data that supports what we're proposing. The post she send through FACEBOOK (how perfect?) is below;  

"I'm sure you have plenty of ideas for your nature mode, but I just wanted to let you know that that was basically my old job! I helped run the pre-orientation program at Hopkins for 3 summers while I was there. It was a week of outdoor adventure for incoming freshman just before school started and I can tell you that the effects and friendships were amazing. If you ever want to compare how a similar program worked, I can definitely hook you up with some resources! I also could hook you up with other instructors from other schools. Sounds like you have a great thing rolling here."


3/26/2016 - Further Evidence For Your Consideration

As we wait for this phase of the design challenge to end, I thought i'd begin looking for ways to further refine and revise my original idea as well as for more information about the benefits of outdoor excursions as a way of preparing students for school.

I was both excited and please to find a 2011 article for U.S. News about how many schools across the country, OVER 200 in fact, already have this kind of experience open to their incoming students! Some of them members of my design team mentioned that they had the opportunity to participate in outings prior to going to college, but I had no idea it was so widespread already. 

Here is the full article if you'd like to read how schools across our nation already use the outdoors to engage, prepare, and support their students;

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/11/28/outdoor-orientations-can-help-students-acclimate-to-college


3/25/2016 @ 7:41am (Pacific Time) - WE REACHED 1,000 views!!!

Please take a look at our pitch video and help us get to the next round by voting on our idea and sharing your feedback! 


Reflection - Look back at where we started (UPDATE 3/25/16)

Recently I was asked to fill out a reflection on where the original inspiration for the idea came from and thought I'd post that inspiration here as well;

I have to credit the original inspiration for my idea to my years spent working at summer camp. When I first began looking into the best way to help create supportive communities for college-bound students, I thought back to the bonds formed between the campers and staff at the various overnight camps I worked at. Despite only being together for a week, and sometimes being thousands of miles apart for the entire year, the bounds of authentic friendship formed in the natural environment were unbelievably strong and supportive. During time of stress or tribulation, campers would reach out to their camp community for support sometimes before their own families or immediate friends.

It is for this reason I decided that the “camp out” model, augmented with the smart use of technology, would have a similar effect for students entering their first year of college. Forming a strong community before they attended their first class or slogged through their first reading assignment would put them on the sure footing they needed to successfully thrive their first year, regardless of what challenges and stresses they encounter.


Our Message is Spreading! (UPDATE 3/24/16)

In the last 8 hours the number of views and comments on our idea has increased by 30%! Wow! I'm very excited by the receptiveness to this idea and hope that more people will read this so that we can move it to the next phase. Please consider sharing this with like-minded friends and peers. We'd love to keep this idea spreading! Feel free to link to this page!


The Idea is STILL Evolving (UPDATE 3/21/16)

With the help of my amazing coaches, partners, and teammates we've taken the original idea and wire-framed a tool that will help students both connect to nature and disconnect to the distractions around them. Introducing NATURE MODE!

Here's a slide deck all about our proposed tool and how it melds with our original vision

CLICK HERE FOR SLIDE DECK!


The Idea Is Evolving (UPDATE 3/17/16)

Over the last few weeks what started as a simple way to help college-bound students create relationships while connecting them to our nation's public lands has expanded exponentially. Thanks to the efforts of my amazing Teachers Guild Coach Lisa and my Facebook partner Dina the project has improved by leaps and bounds.


Pitch: 20-30% of college Freshmen drop-out of college before they begin their second year due to in large part to isolation. Less and less of our nation's future leaders see the value of experiences in the natural world. What if it was possible to address all of these issues with one solution? The key - fighting isolation with isolation.  


Overview: Welcome to Nature Mode


Studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that retention is directly related to isolation. Students who do not have a chance to develop a strong support structure during the first few months of college are in danger of becoming one of the 20-30% of college students who drop out of college every year.


To address this alarming trend, students should be given the ability to form authentic relationships with both their fellow students and their university early on as well as the ability to revisit and rely supports during time of high stress, such as midterms or finals. To this end, our idea is to create 3-5 day excursions for new students away from the distractions of our connected world as a way of helping them to form their own new and supportive community. These trips can be open to all students or can target specific groups, such as first generation or first in their family students who are most vulnerable to dropping out.


These excursions can be customized to meet the goals and mission statement of the university and its students. The can consist of social activities, teambuilding challenges, opportunities to meet the faculty, and even a chance for orientation from the university itself. The gain for students will be coming away from the trip with a newly formed support system and social connections while the university addresses issues around retention.


As a way of ensuring that students are able to engage fully in the program and are free of distractions, these excursions will be natural in setting such as a state reserve, wilderness, or national park. This serves three important purposes; it gives students a chance to remove themselves from the manic pace of pre-college life, it provides an opportunity for students to solidify their new friendships and friend circles by overcoming challenges or stepping out of their “comfort zone”, and it creates a connection between themselves and nature in such a way as to possible create the next generation of stewards for our country’s public lands.  


But even in this “disconnected” environment, leveraging technology smartly can enhance the experience. Although cellular service may not be available, by connecting to Facebook’s new “Nature Mode” setting designed specifically for this program, participants will be able to catalog their entire experience. They can still document their excursion with video, photos, and posts, all of which will be queued up so that when they finally “reconnect” they’ll have a complete timeline ready to share and look back on. The potential for “Nature Mode” as a tool for reconnection could also allow for reminders to pop up during specific times on a school’s academic calendar, events and reunions throughout the year, and perhaps it could even be activated by participants during times of stress as a way of seeking help from their friends or solace from their busy world.


This slide deck provides a narrative which better describes this proposal ---> CLICK HERE           



Potential Value:


Value for the University

An actionable way to meet several important goals that universities struggle with. Addresses a primary causes of college drop-outs. Creates a mechanism for supporting first in family students and first generation students. Gives universities uninterrupted access to their new students. Creates time for orientation. Creates opportunities to connect students to faculty and alumni to create mentors for students who don’t have role models. Showcases the college and provides opportunities for advertising. Utilizes resources that universities already have at their disposal (staff, transportation, access to public lands, etc)


Value for Students

Creates supportive communities to students who may be leaving the only support structures they have ever had. Allow students to “ease in” to college life gradually over the course of the excursion. Creates opportunities for getting involved with in-campus activities in the future. Connects students more authentically with their university. Students who sign up could potentially be granted early registration as a way to schedule them in with their new social groups. Introduces them to the importance and value of disconnecting during times of stress.


Greater Value

Connects future leaders to our natural world and public lands, fostering a new generation of environmental stewards. Potential to better connect latinos, african-americans with our nation's parks and preserves. Reverses trends relating to Millennials and their lack of connection to the natural world. Fits in with Go Parks initiative, giving it a wider and more diverse audience. Creates partnerships between universities and the public lands in their communities.


More to come soon, but please comment if you get a chance! Would love to hear what you think and ways to improve and furthur evolve this idea!


Original Post

"Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world" - John Muir

This may be a strange thing for an educational technologist to advocate, but anyone who truly understands the benefits of living in a connected world should also recognize the value inherent in disconnecting. As a teacher and former camp director, I know first-hand how communities formed away from the modern world stay tight, and how they become an essential support system even when the members are thousands of miles apart. 

The transition from high school to college is very challenging, and in our 24/7 world, the stress is only amplified. Rarely during this period do students get a chance to slow down and form meaningful, face-to-face relationships during this new and formative chapter in their lives.

With the idea of forming authentic relationships in mind, I would like to see every students who transitions to college have the opportunity to be part of a program that seeks to create connections between students, their new school community, and the natural world. Much more than a simple retreat, it would be an opportunity to combine service, recreation, and community away from distractions and stressors of and world. This would allow colleges an uninterrupted opportunity to foster good relationships and set a positive, supportive tone for the transition. The bonds formed during this time would help provide an additional layer of support as student begin creating these new relationships. 

Some people ask why outside? Couldn't the same goals be achieved indoors in a more accessible location? On the surface this seems plausible, but anyone familiar with the works of thinkers like Richard Louv understand that connections formed in a natural setting are much deeper and longer lasting. Additionally, as less and less of our young people have formative relationships with natural spaces like our National Parks, ultimately less and less college-educated citizens will become stewards of our planet, and all of us will suffer. 

With this year being the 100th birthday of the National Park service, it is as good a time as any to think more deeply about how we can use America's Best Idea to facilitate growth, community, and promote equity for all out college-bound youth. 



Have a doc or slides that you're collaborating in? Link it here.

Would Love To Have People Chime In With Their Ideas Or Support! - bit.ly/1oBC5r0

44 comments

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Photo of Kenneth Baker
Team

Hey James, I must say this started kit is such a great piece of contribution. I am Kenneth Baker, an associate career counselor at California Creek University. We are a team of career counselor and researchers who are always seeking to connect with people who talk about modern day approaches towards better education.

http://www.slideshare.net/CaliforniaCreekUni/california-creek-university-brochure



 

Photo of James Fester
Team

Hello Kenneth, Thank you for the comments regarding the starter kit that was developed as a result of this project. I am always interested in connecting with people looking to reform education and make it work better for students. What can you tell me about California Creek U? I'm interested in hearing about what online schools do to help students connect with each other? Any interest in sponsoring regional activities like this? I worked with an online school in the past who set up weekend socials for their students and thought it was a cool idea that could be replicated?

Photo of Edisha Brown
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What an empathetic idea! Congrats; everyone can benefit from using nature as a way to refocus with friends, colleagues, family and like-minded individuals!

Photo of Norka Padilla
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There is so much research around the value of being in nature, destressing, and a clear need in many high school communities to provide relief for extremely stressed students. I can't tell you how many students locally have committed suicide and find myself surprised at how badly we need to help students connect with nature. I was raised by a nature loving mom and took this aspect of life for granted. Excellent idea.

Photo of James Fester
Team

Thanks for your thoughts Norka,
I too was raised by parents who taught me to appreciate nature and I think that's where a lot of this idea stems from. I often wonder how much kids miss out on by not getting a formative experience and how much our country will lose from not making more of an effort to foster this appreciation in the next generation. So thanks. Also congrats on your idea getting some face time at the White House! Very cool!

Photo of Danny Scuderi
Team

Really digging the idea, James! We're thinking similarly, with some clear overlaps. Getting students connected to each other in order to connect to college life is key.

Photo of James Fester
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Hey Danny,
I just finished your Survival Week pitch and i'd say you are right and that there is a lot of crossover between our two ideas. I absolutely agree that if students were prepared more for the non-academic parts of college they would be much more successful. Also, you teach at Marin Horizons? I teach in Larkspur! We're practically neighbors!

Photo of Danny Scuderi
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Neighbors for sure! Love the Prezi, and way to go with nature stewardship. 

Photo of James Fester
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And way to go with you're White House tweet the other day. I hope to get a chance to come see your school someday. We've had a few former students of yours come by and they all have good things to share about it.

Photo of James Fester
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30 hours left and its been great connecting with all of you during this process. Thanks so much for your interest and passion.

Photo of Tracy Walker
Team

This is amazing. I like the idea of connectedness that is interwoven throughout the program. Balancing nature and technology is essential for students. I can't wait to hear more about it!

Photo of James Fester
Team

Thanks Tracy! I appreciate this feedback especially coming from someone who just went through their own design-idea challenge. And I'm glad that one of my fellow edtech folks sees the importance of unplugging! We should think about this as a possible presentation topic at a future CUE

Photo of Tracy Walker
Team

I would love to see what it could look like for other ages as well. Technology and nature blended together to create community. Technology has the potential to enhance isolation-your project embraces it, incorporates it, and creates something unimaginable!

Photo of James Fester
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I'm sensing a cross-district project/outing in the works . . .

Photo of Tracy Walker
Team

James-I haven't taken my 6th graders camping, but I have taken them to Safari West after receiving a grant. Taking them outside into nature allowed me to see them in a different light. I can only imagine the impact on students of a lengthier program.

Photo of James Fester
Team

I worked for Grand Classroom, a travel study company that takes kids into national parks to teach them science. I took a group of kiddos from Virginia to Yellowstone once and it was SWEET! Totally transformed their view of science

Photo of Avnita Bir
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Hey James

i loved your idea of outbound programs to connect students in natural surroundings. Has huge potential for building trust among students. 

Photo of James Fester
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Thanks Avnita, I'm very happy about all the supportive feedback we've received so far and the value that the community here has placed on the outdoors and disconnecting. 

Photo of Laura Zinser
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Such an awesome idea. Love the connection between the environment and students. 

Photo of James Fester
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Thanks Laura! I appreciate your feedback. Have you ever taken your students off on a trip like this somewhere? I'm gathering anecdotal stories form teachers.

Photo of Chris Good
Team

James, I am blow away blown how this has evolved.  "Nature Mode" is the coolest thing ever -  and can have so many impacts even beyond this solution. So very cool!

Photo of James Fester
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Hey Chris! Thanks for the comment. I too am very surprised at how this idea has grown and evolved and am very excited that other educators and advocates see the value of this approach to community building. Please feel free to circulate it among other like-minded individuals especially if you see the value in other applications beyond simply college prep!

Photo of Melanie Gauci
Team

James, 

What a really great idea! I am a graduate student in the Parks, Recreation and Tourism department at the University of Utah and we just finished reading Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, so it was neat to see this. As time goes on, the nature/human divide is becoming larger and experiences in nature are, I believe, even more transformative. For some kids, simply being present enough to sit and look at the stars may develop a sense of wonder. I love how you have not ignored the technology component. Unfortunately, technology is not going to go away and it is our job to discover ways to mesh the two. Scott Sampson has a book called How to Raise a Wild Child and in it, I believe he emphasizes the need to balance nature and technology. (I have not read the book, but he did a brief interview with the American Camp Association). Our department offers a variety of "classes" that are outdoor based and provides students with opportunities to learn a new outdoor skill or have an experience in nature. I see this being very applicable to those courses. Can't wait to see where this goes! Rooting for you!

Photo of James Fester
Team

Hey Melanie! I used to work for my cities department of parks and rec and helped co-direct a summer camp after 20+ years on camp staff, so experience like yours was very formative in making this idea happen. As was the work of Richard Louv. Read the whole book cover to cover while this process was going on. We are definitely in the same ballpark and i'm happy that you chimed in with your support. I'll also look into that Sampson book. Let's continue this conversation and feel free to share this idea with your peers as well. Programs like this already exist at 200+ schools across the country. Maybe you could start one at your school? There's lots of test cases you can cite. Here's a link to an article I uncovered you can use as food for thought;
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/11/28/outdoor-orientations-can-help-students-acclimate-to-college

Photo of Julie Strande
Team

This is really cool!  It is such a great idea to get kids outdoors and have them bond before entering school - love the community building aspect here! 

Photo of James Fester
Team

Thank you Julie! I've been very excited about the feedback we've gotten so far. Hopefully we'll get to the next phase :)

Photo of Stephanie Woodson
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I would have thoroughly enjoyed something like this when I was in college - getting to know people outdoors with fresh air and easy conversation starters sounds much more preferable to stale dorm rooms and awkward silences. I think the app/Facebook component is interesting - I especially like the spread out reminders about the experience/to get back outside!

Photo of James Fester
Team

Hello Stephanie,

Thanks for your support. I also think its interesting using Facebook as a way to advocate for disconnectedness, but the people i've been working with there have been very receptive to this idea which has been surprising and reassuring. Please feel free to keep in touch and share any other feedback you may have, and if you'd like consider evaluating this idea to help us get to the next level.

Photo of Jessica Lura
Team

James,
love the slide deck!

Photo of James Fester
Team

Hey Jessica,

 Thanks! Things are coming along. Just finished another one outlining the tool that i've been working on with my coach and Facebook. Give it a look see and let me know what you think;
https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1wkq9qy9sFznsu48ATfVFjrSCGSDgMorqKBiWpic92QM/edit?usp=sharing

I also looked up your school and saw that there were lots of choices regarding the COOT program. What did you choose?

Photo of Jessica Lura
Team

Umm.. I did medium hike in Acadia. We camped and then did day hikes. My roommate did a service learning.

Photo of James Fester
Team

Hey Jessica,
This links for you! Thanks for all your ideas and feedback;
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcUbxI85yi4&feature=youtu.be

Photo of Jessica Lura
Team

Fabulous video! I'd sign-up! Great job.

:)

Photo of James Fester
Team

You kinda already did :)
Thank you Jessica. I hope you'll consider sharing this with other like-minded people so it can move to the next phase. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Photo of Julie Ron
Team

Your slide deck sold me on the Nature Mode tool, especially with the reminder features  after the initial experience! Continued support would be critical for many students and I love how this tool leverages something students are already using to help provide it.

Photo of James Fester
Team

Thanks Julie. I'm glad you see the value. The folks at Facebook i've been working with and I have been joking around a lot about how we're using an app to connect people to nature, but somehow the whole thing still make sense. Thanks so much for your feedback. Any other questions you have would be great in helping this idea reach the next stage.

Photo of Julie Ron
Team

Hi James,
As someone who has taken kids on outdoor programs, I agree they can be powerful and I love this idea. What do you think about faculty participation?

In addition to building bonds between students, which could persist as a supportive college community, I think this kind of experience could be a valuable in connecting students and adult mentors. Also, it might give faculty an opportunity to see students outside the walls of the classroom, where they may have expertise that doesn't traditionally align with the academic world. I wonder how this might impact faculty perspectives on students who are struggling with the college transition. How does this mesh with your vision?

Photo of James Fester
Team

Hello Julie,
I can see from your profile pic that you're just the kind of person that could help really improve this idea. I'll be adding you to my team. Any thoughts you have would be much appreciated.

I think faculty involvement is crucial and the comments you've made are definitely a part of my vision for this idea. It would be an amazing opportunity for faculty advisers to meet/be assigned to students as an added layer of support. As a teacher, I know that getting to have outside-of-class experiences as a way of forming relationships with students. They need to see you being a person and not just a teacher to respect you as a person. So yes, I totally agree that this could be formative in finding students mentors. Many youth organizations like the YMCA and Big Brothers/Sisters use a similar system to match youth to mentors.

Photo of Chris Good
Team

James, great post. I wonder what the impact would be if every college bound student were engaged in a summer naturalist program?

Photo of Jessica Lura
Team

I went to a college where every student participated as a first year in a outdoor orientation trip. For most of us, this involved hiking or spending time outside, making new friends (since none of us knew anyone), and creating connections. It really helped with the transition to the college --we ended up having a set of friends based on our common outdoor experience. It also helped create connections with where we were now living.

Photo of James Fester
Team

Hey Jessica, That's essentially the opportunity I'd love to see every college student have access to. What school did you attend?  

Photo of Jessica Lura
Team

Colby-- in Waterville, ME.

https://www.colby.edu/officecampuslife/outdoor-education/colby-outdoor-orientation-trips/


COOT (Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips) is an outdoor-based orientation program required of all first-year Colby students. Trips are designed to be fun and engaging while preparing students for their transition to living and learning on campus.

COOT provides students with the opportunity to develop meaningful social connections while being challenged at an appropriate level through a wide range of experiences throughout the beautiful state of Maine. COOT leaders provide an ongoing mentoring presence on campus throughout the academic year.

Photo of Ela Ben-Ur
Team

Lovely, I'm always a fan of taking things outdoors.  What might some of the reflection, and pre-flection, be in this program?  It's a nice opportunity for students to see themselves, past, present, and future, away from their usual stressors.

Photo of James Fester
Team

Hello Ela,
I see numerous opportunities for students to reflect both at the end and during this program. I feel like in education, we don't give our students nearly enough time to reflect on their learning and the formative experiences they share. Just off the top of my head I think getting college-bound students into smaller groups to reflect on the path the path got them to where they are or asking them to think about what the expect to get from their first year would be beneficial. Also maybe letting them think about ways they could overcome the stresses that lead to drop-outs could be of value. The idea of pre-flection about the experience is interesting and I'd like to know more.