July 15, 2004

Students Explore Great Outdoors

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Cornell University’s Wilderness Reflections, now a part of Cornell Outdoor Education, is a program that allows groups of incoming freshman students to discover the beautiful wilderness surrounding Cornell.

Wilderness Reflections is a student-run organization that sets up and leads wilderness orientation trips for incoming students. The program allows participants to spend one week in the wilderness — backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing and experiencing nature.

The students explore locations such as Adirondack Park, the Catskill Mountains, the Black Forest in Pennsylvania, the Green Mountains in Vermont and the Finger Lakes Region of New York State. Wilderness Reflection trips are open to all incoming Cornell freshmen and undergraduate transfer students. Students do not need previous outdoor experience.

Trips are five, seven or nine days long and take place prior to the University’s orientation. Additionally, week-long trips run throughout the summer for students who are not able to go before orientation.

Approximately 250 students will be participating in the Wilderness Reflections program this year. “Students should go on a WR trip because it’s the absolute best thing to do before coming to Cornell,” said Lindsay Watkins ’05, one of the progam’s coordinators. “WR is really an awesome way to make the transition to college life.”

Watkins is responsible for organizing all of the wilderness trips for the fall. “Wilderness Reflections runs largely on the passion of the students involved,” she said.

Watkins said that eight to 10 incoming “trippers” explore the wilderness with two upperclassman guides. New students who participate in WR explore the woods while forming a deep bond with their peers.

“When you don’t have cell phones, computers or modern plumbing or appliances, there’s a lot more time for contemplation and conversation and interpersonal bonds to form more quickly. Even in just four days, it’s amazing how close some groups become,” Watkins said.

Many students meet their closest friends while on the Wilderness Reflections trip.

“Two Cornell students who are now my best friends met on their WR trip, and when I met them during freshman orientation week, I thought they were seniors because it seemed like they’d already known each other for years,” Watkins said.

“Although we run canoeing, rock climbing, backpacking, and mountain biking trips, we require absolutely no experience of our participants,” said Calvin Croll, another coordinator of the WR program.

Croll explained, “Cornell can be an intimidating place to come into, so coming in with nine good friends is an awesome first experience. WR trippers have been known to stay together as friends, even room together, for all four years of college.”

All guides are returning Cornell students, many of whom were WR trippers themselves. Each guide has demonstrated his or her judgment in a thorough screening process.

“Having two upperclassmen to answer questions and put them at ease about coming to Cornell is a big plus,” Croll said.

Guides must have current first aid and CPR certifications and undergo WR’s specialized training program each spring.

The Cornell Outdoor Education programs shares its resources with the WR program, provides first aid trainings, and logistical advice and help.

Watkins and Croll both agree: everyone seems to get a lot out of their trip. Students make new close friends, enrich their interest in the outdoors and respect for the wilderness, and gain a sense of accomplishment from overcoming the physical or social challenges of a WR trips.

“WR is also a great way to see some of the natural areas surrounding Ithaca, and is a great introduction to a diverse group of Cornellians. Our trippers and guides come from incredibly diverse backgrounds and have many different majors and interests at Cornell,” Croll said.

All incoming students received a brochure sometime in May, and online registration began June 1. Registration will continue until trips are full. Students can sign up through the web page www.coe.cornell.edu/wr or call 607-255-4168 to register.

And if all of this information about the Wilderness Reflections program still cannot convince you to sign up, consider this:

Research at the University of New Hampshire indicates that students who participate in a pre-orientation wilderness trip earn higher grades and are more likely to stay in college. (Arenson, New York Times, 9/3/1996, p. A16)

Archived article by Allison Markowitz
Sun Staff Writer