There’s something about scaling a wall of rocks or paddling through Algonquin Park that brings people together.
Recreation and Leisure Prof. Tim O’Connell knows it and so does everyone else involved with Brock BaseCamp, the University’s outdoor orientation program for new students.
As O’Connell and crew get ready to host the first Canadian Outdoor Orientation Program Symposium at Brock on Friday, he’s hopeful others will see the benefits of getting outside to bring people into a community.
“The power and magic of BaseCamp is when you take people away from the trappings of every day life and put them in an outdoors setting… you get back to basics and it’s a powerful way to get people to connect with each other,” O’Connell said.
Problem is, few universities – in Canada, at least – offer outdoor orientation as a way to help first-year students feel more comfortable about the four years ahead of them and the people they’ll meet.
On the excursions that are led by current Brock students, a curriculum is taught, focusing on topics that include healthy eating, drug and alcohol awareness, where to find help when writing papers and tips for living away from home.
“The big goal is for people to make connections before they get here,” O’Connell said. “Research shows people aren’t nervous about the academic side of things but making social connections.”
Though popular in the U.S., particularly at some Ivy League schools where outdoor orientation has been used to help students transition to university life for decades, Brock is one of only a handful of universities in Canada to provide such an option. BaseCamp has helped more than 40 students connect in the three years it has been running.
All the while, O’Connell and fellow BaseCamp founders Anna Lathrop, Vice-Provost, Teaching and Learning, and PhD candidate Ryan Howard, have been advocating for more universities to follow suit.
Friday’s symposium is another tactic to help achieve that and will highlight research proving the benefits of such programs. The keynote speaker is Brent Bell from the University of New Hampshire, a leader in building successful outdoor orientation programs.
About 30 people from McMaster, the University of Guelph, Brock and elsewhere will be attending the day-long event, which will focus on the development, administration and benefits of outdoor orientation programs.
Though there are similar symposiums stateside, O’Connell said they aren’t always applicable to what’s going on in Canada.
“We’ve really pitched (our symposium) as having a Canadian flavour because of the differences between the university systems and a slightly different way in how people connect with the outdoors. We’ve got those iconic Canadian images of the outdoors that influence people’s perceptions,” he explained.
The symposium also offers Brock the opportunity to set itself apart from other universities, O’Connell noted.
“We’re trying to position Brock BaseCamp as leading the way in orientation programs in Canada,” he said. “We see (the conference) as a way of staying at the front of the pack.”
The symposium runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16 in Thistle 253.