Gap Semester students complete outdoor leadership program
Fifteen freshmen are now traveling to South Dakota to do service work as part of the innovative first-year experience.
Freshmen in Elon University’s inaugural Gap Semester Program have completed the first segment of their studies at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming.
Students spent three weeks in the Absaroka Mountain range where they earned four semester hours of credit in environmental ethics and leadership. Additionally, as part of the leadership curriculum, students were challenged to thrive in the wilderness as teams and develop in areas such as:
Self awareness: Acknowledge personal skills and abilities, seek peer feedback, function without need for reassurance, and critique past experiences, among other goals.
Team dynamics: These include establishing healthy relationships, managing interpersonal conflicts effectively and seeking help from others when needed.
Leadership: Demonstrate skills in guiding and assisting a group, exhibit democratic principles as a leader or group member, and communicate a vision, mission, or purpose that encourages commitment and action in others
“I am so glad I am here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” said Elon freshman Corey Shegda. “I am excited to share more days out in the wilderness with such great people. I am learning numerous qualities from leadership skills to outdoor ethics and I can honestly say I feel I am growing as a person.”
Elon and NOLS partnered to create a unique trek for the GAP program that integrated the two curricula. NOLS facilitators and Elon Gap Coordinator Steve Morrison traveled with the students as they hiked 80 plus miles.
Rex Waters, associate dean of students, traveled to NOLS to greet the team and join them for the first service week. “It quickly became clear that while these were the same students I had met three weeks earlier, they had definitely changed,” Waters said. “The group had progressed and they functioned quite well. Their successful completion of the trek had created a definite bond and a sense of confidence individually and collectively was evident. I enjoyed observing the relationships that were developing and the ease with which the group moved, made decisions and supported each other.
Students said that group developed a sense of unity during their outdoor leadership experiences. “The fifteen of us definitely evolved from a group to a team,” said Elon freshman Dan Zangmeister.
Meredith Smith, associate director of admissions, visited with the students when they arrived back in Lander.
“Seeing the students at the end of the NOLS experience was truly inspiring,” Smith said. “It was amazing to see how much these students had learned, and had changed their own lives, in a matter of weeks with each other.
“It just goes to show how something so different, and unique, can truly impact someone’s life and their future. It was definitely a proud moment for me to be standing there with the students that I had been interviewing over the phone just a few months prior.”