Every year, Cornell welcomes slightly over 200 incoming freshmen and transfer students to the University with a 50-year-old tradition: Outdoor Odyssey.
The program was established in 1972 by David Moriah ’72 and a group of Cornell students under the name Wilderness Reflections. Each year, the program offers 25 to 30 unique student-led outdoor backpacking experiences throughout New York state and beyond.
Outdoor Odyssey was also an initiation point for the establishment of Cornell Outdoor Education, which is now one of the largest collegiate outdoor education programs in the nation, according to COE co-director Mark Holton ’99.
The program offers various durations and types of outdoor experience options, including backpacking in the Finger Lakes, canoeing in the Adirondacks and farm service in the Ithaca area. Each trip typically consists of eight new students accompanied by two to three trained student guides.
Participants of Outdoor Odyssey voiced that the program offered meaningful friendships and exposure to different perspectives.
“Coming as a sophomore, I did not know too many people at Cornell. I made some amazing friends through my trip,” said Mikayla Kibel ’22, who participated in the program as a transfer student. “Everyone in my Odyssey [trip] was very genuine, and that is why I stuck with them until now, my last year here.”
Anabella Maria Galang ’23 participated in an eight day backpacking trip in the Adirondacks through Outdoor Odyssey as an incoming freshman. Galang currently serves as the diversity, equity and inclusion chair of the program.
“Outdoor Odyssey changed my life,” Galang said. “Through the trip, I met people who I would not have met otherwise. My friends from Odyssey introduced me to fields that I would never have been introduced to and really expanded the way I thought about the world at large.”
Participants of Outdoor Odyssey are not expected to have any hiking, camping or backpacking experience prior to their engagement.
“I recommend [Odyssey] to anyone,” Kibel said. “When I came into Odyssey, I had zero backpacking experience whatsoever, and I really just did it to make new friends.”
Outdoor Odyssey mainly conducts its trips in Upstate New York. The region has a long history of colonization and removal of Indigenous people. Many efforts have been made by COE to acknowledge this fact, according to Holton.
“Outdoor Odyssey recently held a seminar… to talk about the history of land use so that all of the guides, who are going out and leading these trips, are aware of the history of colonization and the native people’s use of land in this area,” Holton said. “It is part of our expectation that this information will be passed on to the participants, so people have a sense of where they are and the cultural history behind the land.”
Galang also highlighted the program’s continued efforts toward acknowledging the land and the culture upon which Cornell was founded and the trips take place.
“It’s important to acknowledge the painful history of indigenous people who lived and thrived on this land long before Cornell,” Galang said.
Registration is now open for the next Odyssey season.