OE Open House Promotes WA, Outdoor Activities to Class of 2026

Sivi Colberg , Staff Writer

Have you ever wanted to participate in Colgate’s range of outdoor activities? Colgate’s Outdoor Education (OE) program  held an open house at Base Camp for prospective students as part of the Office of Admission’s April 8 “Experience Colgate” accepted students days. The event gave visitors the opportunity to learn about programs and activities offered by Outdoor Education and ask questions to OE staff members. According to senior Grace Leightheiser, the open house was also an opportunity to promote Wilderness Adventure (WA), OE’s pre-orientation program.
“I pitched Wilderness Adventure to get [students] excited about [transitioning] into their time at Colgate by spending five days outside getting to know fellow first-years and two upperclassmen leaders while also having fun,” Leightheiser said. “I explained that we offer a variety of WA trips — mountain biking, canoeing, sea kayaking, rock climbing, hiking and more — with offerings for incoming students of all experience levels. Many of the students and parents I talked to left sounding like they were excited to sign up.”
In addition to WA programs, OE offers a variety of courses and activities that give students the opportunity to get involved with OE on different levels.
“Wilderness Adventure is the biggest way that we try to get first-years involved with OE,” senior Grace Freundlich said. “There are also a lot of classes that first years can take. We have backyard adventures like hiking and cross country skiing, and then we have our PE classes, like backcountry cooking and other hiking trips, and we also have our staff training program which is what I help run.”
Freundlich joined the OE staff training program her sophomore year after taking OE classes as a first-year. As a staff trainer, Freundlich and three other students are in charge of training the next class of OE leaders. In addition to WA and other OE courses, the staff training program is available to first-year students who are interested in leading OE trips.
“We have first-years and sophomores training together, so we’re currently choosing our sophomores to train next year, and in the fall we’ll pick the rest of the group,” Freundlich said. “They train from September to May, so it’s essentially a full year of training.”
Leightheiser joined the staff training program as a first-year and since then has led a variety of classes and trips.
“I had participated in a WA and knew coming into Colgate that I wanted to be involved with the program,” Leightheiser said. “I trained all of my first year, which involved going on a variety of weekend trips, taking weekly classes, becoming certified as a Wilderness First Responder and apprenticing under older student leaders… I would say my specialty is lightweight backpacking. I’ve led two WAs, a fall break and a spring break version of lightweight, but I have also led a variety of other classes [including] day hikes, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and ice climbing.”
With approximately 25% of incoming first-years participating annually, WA is the largest pre-orientation program on campus. The pandemic pushed OE to get creative with the way they structured WA, yet also increased flexibility according to Leightheiser.
“During the summer of 2020, we held WA over Zoom and Discord which meant we could offer it for free to first-years,” she said. “We offered ‘trips’ like cooking and baking, book club, music creation and appreciation, sustainability and more. We’ve never done anything like this before so it was cool to be able to cater to people who might not want to spend pre-orientation in the woods. We had lower participation than usual, but still a surprisingly solid turnout given the circumstances.”
OE returned to outdoor WA in August of 2021, but only offered one session instead of the usual two. According to Leightheiser, the pandemic has potentially increased signups for OE trips in general.
After a positive experience with her WA, senior Maddy Leibinger joined OE as a sophomore. According to Leibinger, the OE community has been a formative part of her Colgate experience.
“My leaders from my WA reached out to me … and I found out that I could apply that spring to train as a sophomore the next year,” Leibinger said. “Going through the different interviews was an incredible experience and getting into OE has changed my life here at Colgate and in general. I don’t know where I’d be without some of these people and it puts the biggest smile on my face to see that, as a senior, I have impacted the lives of freshmen, sophomores and juniors in leading different trips.”