Outdoor Education and Fun Adventures Await

Outdoor Education and Fun Adventures Await

When a class discussion in Riley Henning’s environmental ethics course shifts to Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home: Laudato Si’, the University of San Diego junior’s mind may wander a bit first before she speaks.

Perhaps she’s thinking about a favorite hike, an outdoor leadership summer course, or the joy of seeing mountain rocks and studying their intriguing layers. She might even be reminiscing about her first USD Outdoor Adventures trip, a 2015 pre-orientation camping excursion to Southern California’s Channel Islands with other new Honors Program students.

Henning smiles and then demonstrates her passion for the outdoors, why she cherishes the environment and why Pope Francis’ call to take care of our planet agrees with her own.

“I think it’s so important to be aware and to care for our common home. It’s super important just to know that everything has value,” says Henning, an Environmental and Ocean Sciences (EOS) major emphasizing marine ecology and minors in biology and chemistry. “As Catholics, we are instilled with this responsibility to take care of things around us, whether that’s people or the environment. We need to try and make the best possible environment for everyone to thrive and be able to seek God. That’s what I think nature is for me. It’s a place where I can be calm, get away from the stress of everyday life, be one with creation and seek life in God. It’s kind of my purpose. I really like being outside because it always points me in that direction.”

Connecting at USD Through OA

An Atlanta native, Henning’s love for the outdoors has blossomed at USD. She knew marine science was what she wanted to study before she knew where she wanted to attend college. Visiting San Diego, a city that both her father and grandfather knew well and upon learning what USD could provide, made the decision relatively easy.

“I loved the small class sizes, the community and how personal everything was. Everyone was always smiling on campus. All the professors and staff really care about you. I really valued that in high school and I wanted that same experience in college,” she recalls.

After deciding on USD, Henning learned about the Pre-O trip and signed up. Little did she know it would turn into a steady relationship with Outdoor Adventures (OA).

“I’d never been overnight camping before. I went on the Channel Islands trip because I wanted to get to know the other Honors students before I started school. It was an amazing experience. I did all kinds of fun things. We did a ferry ride and for the first time I saw a whale in the wild. I snorkeled through kelp beds. That trip was something out of my wildest dreams.”

Kiana Lindsay, who met Henning on the trip, convinced her to join her and attend a new guide meeting. Both are now veteran OA guides. For Henning, she’s grown so much she is OA’s new student training guide coordinator.

“I started the process at that very first meeting and really just fell in love with it. The guides I had did a great job of mentoring me and helping me grow as a guide and I just dove in,” says Henning, who plans to implement a mentoring program for other new guides.

Outdoors Education

Henning’s OA involvement complements her academic interests well, too.

“We just returned from a trip to Zion National Park where I guided the fall break trip. Because I had a geology class in my department, I’ve learned all about the geological processes, so going to Zion and physically seeing everything got me so excited. I talk about crossbedding, the different layers of rocks. In Zion, they’re basically petrified sand, so all the different layers of rocks are from the different sand storms that have occurred. I’m fascinated how rocks can tell the story about the land long before the people were there.”

OA trips vary by location, activity and special trips for campus groups and organizations, but Henning’s knowledge and dedication is a commonality among OA guides and most participants. The OA staff wants everyone to understand nature’s fragility and environmental justice issues. OA follows Leave No Trace (LNT), a program designed to assist outdoor enthusiasts with decisions on how to reduce their impact while enjoying the outdoors.

“We want to create informed citizens around environmental issues,” says Program Director Mark Ceder. “Having direct exposure with the location is important to show the students just how much people can have an impact on the environment.”

Emma Moran, a senior OA guide and Marine Ecology major, said LNT isn’t exclusive to OA trips.

“I really appreciate how OA practices LNT not just on our trips, but in our lives and even around the (OA) office,” she said. “We’re really good about repurposing things. If we have meetings that involve cooking, we’ll use fuel left over from trips before to be sure we use it all up. And I’ve lost track of all the things around this office that are recycled or repurposed,” she says while pointing to an old climbing rope that lives on as a decorative element. “Limiting what we use in the first place and repurposing things that have expired in their traditional use, I think, is a great way to think about the world in general.”

‘Home Away from Home’

Henning’s connection to USD through OA has been rewarding. She took the initiative to meet others, including two friends on the Pre-O trip who later were roommates. She’s doing lab research with Environmental and Ocean Sciences Assistant Professor Jennifer Prairie, PhD, she is president of USD’s Marine Science Club and is a student ambassador who gives campus tours.

Best of all, though is when Henning enters OA’s office, she knows where she is. “There’s a sign on the door, ‘Are you looking for your home away from home?’ I think that’s what OA has meant to me and a lot of us: Home. Never have I felt more included, so loved, than when I’m in this community. I always learn something new — a new knot, a technical skill, leadership skills, the ability to facilitate groups and to form one-on-one connections that translate very well to my overall school experience.”

— Ryan T. Blystone 

Watch this clip of students Brooklyn and Jae sharing their excitement of the hike in Havasu Falls over Thanksgiving Break 2016:

Brooklyn and Jae from USD OA on Vimeo.

Photos by USD Outdoor Adventures

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