Kachemak campus introduces outdoor courses

Winter camping and telemark skiing are among the new courses set for the 2012 spring semester at the Kachemak Bay Campus (KBC), located in Homer. This will be the first year that KBC will be offering outdoor classes, though attempts have been made in the past.

“This is a pilot program,” said Carol Swartz, campus director of KBC.  “There aren’t that many opportunities here at UAA to take these classes.”

Swartz believes it is up to students to show interest in order to expand the program.  She also said she has received help from faculty at UAA’s main campus in Anchorage to get the program going at KBC.

Students who enroll in telemark skiing will be taking two field trips to Ohlson Mountain near Homer and Anchorage’s Hilltop ski area. Winter camping will also travel to Ohlson Mountain for an overnight camping trip. Both outdoor classes will be taught by Adjunct Professor Libby Bushell.

Bushell is the executive director and lead instructor for the Homer Wilderness Leaders and has international outdoor experience.

“She’s climbed mountains all over the place like Mexico and France,” said Swartz.

Outdoor classes are not entirely about play, however.  Along with being outdoors, both classes at KBC will spend time in the classroom learning about safety and risk management.

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According to Swartz, KBC will follow closely in the steps of the classes taught out of the main campus of UAA.  For most beginning outdoor classes, safety is an important highlight in the curriculum.

“We’re focused on getting people comfortable with the outdoors and safety,” said T.J. Miller, an assistant professor at UAA who teaches outdoor education.

One goal of the program is for students to become “a competent second to a skilled leader.” According to Miller, that goal entails shaping foundational safety skills and developing good decision-making.

For outdoor classes at UAA, most equipment is provided except for the personal clothing appropriate for the class. Students have to provide their own food for winter camping through KBC, but sleeping bags and tents will be rented from UAA’s Outdoor Leadership department. However, students at KBC take telemark skiing will have to provide their own skis.

Outdoor Leadership is a minor students can complete at UAA. Other classes that are part of the minor include backpacking, canoeing, river rafting, sea kayaking, rock climbing, ice climbing, skiing, crevasse rescue, water safety and an assortment of leadership courses.

Outdoor education is an interest spreading to other campuses like KBC and, according to Miller, each outdoor class he has taught has had full enrollment. Outdoor students come from various backgrounds in skill level and outdoor experience.

“We’re really a part of this,” said Swartz.  “We’re able to do this with collaboration with UAA’s Outdoor and Recreational departments and T.J. Miller.”

Miller’s reason for getting interested in this particular field might also inspire students to do the same.

“[I’m] never working a day in my life,” said Miller.