When you think of a leader, do you think of a man in a suit standing in front of a boardroom, or a college student wearing a helmet and Chacos while whitewater rafting in the mountains of Colorado?
Here at CC, students not only participate in outdoor events and trips, but can also lead them. The Albergh Leadership Institute offers training courses and practical outdoor leadership experience to anyone interested in leading through Outdoor Education. With the new school year at hand, writer Nila Horner interviewed Neal Smeltzer, the Outdoor Education Specialist at Colorado College, to discuss the recent changes to the Leadership Institute, and what students should expect.
Could you describe the changes that were made to the Albergh Leadership Institute for this school year?
The biggest focus for the ALI this year is to NOT make any big changes! Over the course of last year, the ALI was put into practice with a very positive response from almost everyone involved. However, the downside of making such large improvements to a program is the lack of consistency for those already involved and the confusion that this creates. Our goal for this year is to set up a consistent schedule for leader training courses so that everyone will be clear on the opportunities that we offer. All leadership courses for the year will be up on Summit [the website that the Outdoor Ed. department uses to create and manage trips], so interested leaders can plan ahead and ensure they meet any prerequisites. With that said, there are still some areas that we are developing:
-With the addition of our new whitewater guru Tricia Chan, we are expanding our whitewater leader-training program. Due to limited water levels, these trainings will be based around Blocks 1, 2, and 7. Upcoming in the spring, we will be having Kayak Level II and III leader courses, as well as a brand new Raft Level II leader training over Spring Break for those with minimal whitewater experience. We are all very excited about the addition of these whitewater leader tracks.
-We worked with the Summit support staff this summer to create a level review process, which is a simple self-evaluation that is completed as the last step towards achieving level certification. In the review process, the leader ranks his or herself on leadership skills, stewardship, activity specific skills, and transference of learning. This creates a way for students to track their growth over the course of their time here, as well as a way for us to produce data that demonstrate the experiential learning that takes place in Outdoor Education.
Who were the key collaborators on the decision to adopt these changes?
The voice of students is at the core of any decision we make here in Outdoor Ed., and this was true for the ALI developments. We heard almost unanimously that we needed to offer more leadership development opportunities, as well as activity specific trainings. With the help of some of our most involved student leaders, we hashed out a plan for what this would look like.
What was the purpose of these changes, and how will they impact the lives of students?
The purpose of these changes is ultimately to keep up with the demand of students who come to CC with such a diverse spectrum of experience. We want to provide opportunities for everyone, no matter their experience coming in. Furthermore, we are trying to be more intentional about the learning that occurs through our programming in Outdoor Ed. If you talk to anyone who has been involved in our leadership training (including myself as a student), they all say it was worthwhile, but it is hard to put a finger on exactly what it is that creates the learning. We want to be able to pinpoint what is most beneficial to the growth of our students and build upon those aspects of our program. The better we do this, the better we can justify the value of Outdoor Ed. in the broader mission of CC.
As for the impact on the lives of students, we increased the opportunities available. With the different levels of leaders, we offer a spectrum of commitment levels, from weekend training, to 20-30 days worth of training and experience. We are continuously working toward increasing the value of each training session. We understand that CC students have busy lives, and if they are going to commit to training we need to make sure it is worth their time. Using feedback from students, we have eliminated requirements that weren’t worthwhile, and added others that will be. The same goes for the level review process. Though it adds work for our leaders (estimated around 20-30 minutes), the positive impact it will have at by the end of their CC Outdoor Ed. career will be extreme!