March 09, 2005

Students will ‘rough it' during spring break

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Twenty-two Southern Illinois University Carbondale students have no intention of taking it easy during spring break.

The students in Assistant Professor Andrew J. Bobilya's Recreation 331 course will spend the time concentrating on outdoor living skills during an eight-day expedition, March 12-19, through the Shawnee National Forest.

SIUC's program, in its 13th year, is one of more than 50 college and university programs affiliated with the internationally recognized Wilderness Education Association, housed at Indiana University. SIUC is one of the universities offering the most courses each spring.


Media Advisory

Reporters and photographers may contact Assistant Professor Andrew J. Bobilya at 618/453-4331 prior to the start of Shawnee National Forest expedition to arrange a place to meet and talk with students and instructors when the expedition ends March 19.


The Outdoor Living Skills class consists of eight sessions that culminate with this week's journey into the Pine Hills area of the Shawnee National Forest. A second class, Recreation 431 "Expedition Leadership," meets once a week for three hours beginning March 23. A maximum of 14 students will complete that class with a 23-day expedition to the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina during intersession in May.

The Department of Health Education and Recreation in the College of Education and Human Services offers the programs.

Both courses provide students opportunities for a foundation for developing decision-making and leadership skills, Bobilya said. The Outdoor Living Skills class focuses on basic skills needed for a backpacking expedition, including navigational skills, preparing meals, setting up shelters and learning the natural and cultural history of the area.

A key in both classes is for the students to minimize their impact on the environment while on expeditions by employing sound "Leave No Trace" camping principles, Bobilya said.

Minimizing the environmental impact includes how expedition members walk both on and off trails, cook, collect water and even use the bathroom.

"Our idea is to try to use an area that has been impacted previously, if it's available. Or else, to create a new site that when we leave the next morning it looks like we have never been there," Bobilya said.

In anticipation of the expedition, students are creating their own field manual, which includes handbooks and lesson plans on a variety of topics, such as fire building and restoring the site so it looks as if a fire was never built. The students are in three groups and have apprentice instructors – students who previously took the course – with them, but the emphasis is on current students teaching each other.

"These students are able to really put in practice what we teach in the classroom as we get out in the field on these expeditions and then walk away with not only a course credit, but with a certificate that is recognized around the world through WEA," Bobilya said, referring to the Wilderness Education Association.

The students are not all seeking bachelor's degrees in recreation and education, he said. More than 50 percent of the students are majoring in such areas as agriculture, forestry, business and university studies.

"I think the value – in addition to the leadership and decision-making skills that the students get out of the course – is just the opportunity for students to apply what they have learned and studied in the classroom in a real-world situation," professor and department chair David A. Birch said. "Anytime they can apply skills and be assessed in an authentic situation, that is the highest level of teaching, learning and assessment."

Students must take Outdoor Living Skills before they are eligible for the advanced class – where passing the course certifies them as outdoor leaders, Bobilya said. Students will plan and implement the 23-day expedition.

Upon completing the advanced course students are more qualified to lead groups at summer camps and other outdoor and wilderness education programs. Most major organizations that hire outdoor leaders list obtaining Wilderness Education Association outdoor leader certifications as a requirement, Bobilya said.

"We can't say they are certified to take a group up Mount Everest but we can say based on what we have observed in these 23 days traveling the mountains in North Carolina, this person has demonstrated a clear understanding and ability to be an outdoor leader," Bobilya said.

Creating citizen leaders is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

For more information on the program, contact Åndrew J. Bobilya at 618/453-4331.