At 8 a.m. Sunday, May 22, a group of about 40 students, some having just finished their final exams, gathered at the Outing Club to head out for a remote Maine town called The Forks.
The students then spent three days at Indian Pond campground learning how to lead pre-orientation trips for incoming first-year students. These end-of-summer trips—in which first-years are split into groups of 8 or 10 to go hiking, backpacking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, etc. before starting college in September—are students’ first experiences of Bowdoin, and for some of them, of Maine.
Orientation trip leaders are taught “hard skills,” like how to light a camping stove, treat a blister, and tie a knot, and “soft skills,” such as how to coax a shy student to feel part of a group, or the best way to quell first-year worries about classes, parties, and living with roommates.
This group of 40 makes up about one-third of pre-orientation trip leaders; the rest are students who have already had training and experience leading outdoor trips.
The Outing Club receives more applications for orientation trip leaders than it has positions. In total, it selects about 110 volunteer leaders each year. “I think a lot of students want to pay forward the great experience they had on their pre-o trip,” Sarah “SJ” Johnson ’14 said. She is the Outing Club’s assistant director. “They felt the orientation trip was a great first experience and a great way to get to know Bowdoin.”
Johnson and three students led the training at Indian Pond — Carina Spiro ’18, Olivia Bean ’17, and Connor Phillips ’17. Johnson taught canoeing skills. Bean taught camping skills. Phillips taught stand-up paddle boarding, and Spiro taught hiking skills. Those activities are part of almost every pre-orientation trip.
“We make them feel confident in the skills and confident in teaching other people these skills,” Johnson explained.
At the campfire in the evening, the four leaders covered some of the softer skills, such as how to reassure first-year students that Bowdoin is accessible to everyone, no matter their interests. (However, group dynamics will be taught in more depth when the trip leaders convene again in August.)
“Our job is to get the first-years excited about coming to this really awesome place,” Spiro explained.
Bean, who will be working all summer for the Outing Club to coordinate the pre-orientation trips, said she began falling in love with the outdoors during her own pre-o trip canoeing in Merrymeeting Bay and camping on Swan Island. Bean, who is from Cleveland, Ohio, admitted that she had asked for a tamer pre-o trip doing community service. But she loved her outdoor adventure so much that she completed leadership training later in the year and led her first pre-o trip last fall—the same canoeing trip on Merrymeeting Bay.
Phillips, too, is working with the Outing Club this summer to help organize the pre-o trips. He said one of the big reasons he came to Bowdoin was for its outing club. “I love doing and organizing outdoor trips,” he said. “This is a great way for me to do that and to get other people into it, as well.”
The leadership training at Indian Pond concluded with a celebratory raft trip. When the group returned to Bowdoin on Thursday, they began wilderness first-aid training.
“They’ve said they’ll be thinking about orientation trips all summer,” Johnson said.
Photos below are of the three-day leadership training in The Forks, May 22-25, 2016