Multiple days and nights adventuring in the wilderness out of cellphone range with strangers in an inflatable raft was the perfect ice breaker for Anika Baker as she set off on her U of I journey.
“Having no technology out there can be scary for a lot of people,” said Baker, who joined a Vandal Ventures rafting trip on the Salmon River last summer. “But you’re doing things all the time, trying to accomplish something every second of the day – paddling through rapids or doing dishes or setting up a tent – so it’s really hard to not get close with people.”
Vandal Ventures helps new students make friends and bond with fellow Vandals before they come to campus. The transition program introduces them to some of the outdoor recreation available in the region and includes personal development elements.
Numerous studies show that outdoor orientation programs help students develop meaningful relationships and a social support network. Participation also fosters commitment to their college goals and increases future involvement on campus – all critical factors in students persisting to graduation.
Over the past four years, Vandal Ventures has made a difference for dozens of students like Anika, who transferred from Cuesta College in California.
“Coming in as a transfer student, I was extra nervous about meeting people,” Anika said. “But I was stoked to go rafting and everyone there came from diverse backgrounds. After one day we came together and we got along really well.”
Anika and two other students on last summer’s rafting trip enjoyed it so much, they joined the U of I Outdoor Program as trip leaders. This summer, incoming Vandals can choose from two Vandal Ventures rafting trips. There’s also a five-day Vandal Ventures backpacking trip through the Seven Devils Wilderness and Mission: Multi-Sport Moscow, which offers students a chance to explore the local area.
Rafting, hiking and other adventures have always appealed to Anika, an environmental science major from Salinas, California. But she said even students who typically prefer indoor pursuits benefit from the U of I’s array of activities through the Outdoor Program.
“I think personal development is really accelerated when you’re in an environment that is a little uncomfortable,” Anika said. “The Outdoors Program staff does a good job of preparing us and then throwing us out there and letting us sort it out, and that really helps escalate the friendships.”