Center for Adventure Leadership Builds Skills for Life

In a move that strengthens a growing program, Asbury University has brought together academic instruction, field experience and program administration under the umbrella of a new Center for Adventure Leadership.

The Center is now home to several popular programs:

  • The Adventure Leadership minor and emphasis within the Recreation major
  • Asbury Outdoors, a student-led club that coordinates activities such as whitewater rafting, backpacking and rappelling
  • Archways, a pre-orientation wilderness excursion into the Daniel Boone National Forest
  • The Challenge Course, an experiential learning program that focuses on building communication and teamwork through low- and high-course activities

Asbury's Center for Adventure Leadership highlights the benefits of experiential learning. Photo by Nicole Allen.
Asbury's Center for Adventure Leadership highlights the benefits of experiential learning. Photo by Nicole Allen.

Each of the programs within the Center for Adventure Leadership is built on a concept that Trent Ellsworth, Director of the Center for Adventure Leadership, has seen transform students and community members alike: “transferrable experience.”

“A transferrable experience is an experience that takes place in an adventure setting, but has influence upon our life that we then apply in a non-adventure setting,” he said. “What I mean by that is if I teach you leadership in an outdoor setting and you become an excellent problem solver, communicator, and leader in that setting, you are fundamentally going to be an excellent problem solver, communicator and leader in a business setting, a ministry setting, an academic setting — wherever you may find yourself.”

An emphasis of the Recreation major, as well as its own minor, Adventure Leadership combines serious academics with practical wilderness skills to create valuable experiences that apply to everyday life. While students are in the field, they learn problem solving, confidence and discipline — experiences that transfer back into the classroom and beyond.

One of the key features of the program is a “block semester” in which students take 15 credits combining theoretical and field-based learning.

Adv%20Lship%20interior%202.jpg“It’s a non-stop mix of the two,” said Ellsworth. “You are not allowed to enroll in any other credits during the program.” The classes are called Wilderness First Responder, Adventure Skills I and II, Outdoor Education and Stewardship, Leadership through Expedition Planning and Implementation, but Ellsworth says that all of the classes overlap significantly.

“The reality is that when you’re in that program, other than the Wilderness First Responder course, which is a combo of practical, technical skills and academic skills, you’re never really going to be super clear what class you’re in,” he said. “We’re talking about outdoor education theory while we’re on the water, and maybe we’re talking about stewardship activities or some Environmental Ed. as we’re talking about water quality, and some of the science that goes into that.”

Ellsworth says that the real payoff of the block semester becomes evident later.

“I often see a lot of struggle in the woods,” he said. “Application comes once they’re back.” 

Asbury junior Varee Vetters learned problem solving at climb sites during the block semester last spring, and this semester she is experiencing that application for herself.

“Just coming from that level and coming back to school — because I did the block last year — I’ve really learned to not just view a piece of literature one way, but to look at different ways, and not just view things with one answer, but with multiple different answers,” she said.

Vetters says that her experiences in the field have also made her more confident as a student.

“After the block, and having to be a leader in the field so many times, and having to be confident in your skills, and having to know your stuff, it’s definitely transferred back into my classes,” Vetters said.

Before the block semester, there were times that Vetters didn’t speak up in class, not because she didn’t have an answer to the professor’s question, but because she lacked the confidence. “Now I’m like, ‘I know why I believe this,’” Vetters said. “I can explain it, because I’ve thought about that stuff.”

Junior Alex McIntosh says that one of the most valuable things she has learned through the Adventure Leadership emphasis is discipline.

“When you’re backpacking you really have to physically be aware of your strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “So then, being back on campus, when I’m really busy I’m able to put into practice that discipline and endurance that I learned. Whether it’s being disciplined with my time, or putting in the time studying, you can really see the payoff.”

Vetters says that while Adventure Leadership is fun, the real payoff is in the skills students take away and apply to their own lives.

 “If you just want to have fun, go out with your friends, but if you really want to learn leadership and stuff — that’s what the major’s all about,” she said. “It’s teaching you skills that you’re going to use outside of college — leadership skills, and people skills, and teaching you different perspectives to have on things, and always to think about things straight on.”

--by Joel Sams '15

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