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The Impact of an Adventure-Based Freshmen Experience. Presenters: Danielle Schulta and Chase Steiner University of Wisconsin –La Crosse. Co-Authors Dr. Jeff Steffen and Ryan Olson University of Wisconsin La-Crosse. Overview of Presentation:.

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the impact of an adventure based freshmen experience
The Impact of an Adventure-Based Freshmen Experience


Danielle Schulta and Chase Steiner

University of Wisconsin –La Crosse


Dr. Jeff Steffen and Ryan Olson

University of Wisconsin La-Crosse

overview of presentation
Overview of Presentation:
  • This study investigated perceived knowledge and skills students gained in a Wilderness Orientation Program provided by a Midwest Division III University.
  • Seventy-five freshmen participated in a six day, wilderness-based orientation program called “First Flight”.
  • Student activities included canoeing (17), climbing (44), and sea kayaking (14). After completing of First Flight, students were randomly (N=12) selected to participate in a focus group.
overview of presentation3
Overview of Presentation:
  • The focus group session was held four weeks after the “First Flight” experience and 30 days into the fall semester.
  • Students were prompted with general questions such as “What was your overall impression of “First Flight”?”
  • The session was tape recorded, transcribed and analyzed for content following ground theory defined procedures.
  • Several themes emerged, but these two were frequent: the students felt a strong sense of belonging to the university and had feelings of comfort for starting their first semester of college. Students also commented that the program helped established relationships on campus and that it was comforting to see others on campus who had also participated in the “First Flight” program.
  • “The use of outdoor experiences for educational purposes has a rich history that can be traced back as far as the philosopher Plato” (Priest, 1990; Ryan, 2004).
  • An article written by Gass, Garvey and Sugerman (2003) found “the first such program was implemented at Boston University in 1888” (p. 34).
  • Young adults are involved in a wide range of life transitions (Bell, 2006).
  • One major life transition is going away to college. This important transition often consists of students separating from established family and friends at great distances for the first time (Bell, 2006; Tinto, 1993).
  • The focus and design of wilderness orientation programs are to assist incoming freshmen with the transition from high school to college: Gass states (1990) “by creating the necessary chances that enable students to stay in school and achieve their educational goals” (p. 33).
  • Most of the studies done on wilderness orientation programs examine retention rates as well as examine the results of an adventure education experience on social skills and social interactions within the group.
uwl first flight overview
UWL First Flight Overview:
  • There are three main components to the wilderness orientation program “First Flight” at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse:
  • adventure education
  • outdoor pursuits
  • experience in goal setting strategies.
uwl first flight overview8
UWL First Flight Overview:
  • Students selected, from 6 to 7 days of which 3 or 4 nights were spent in the field with canoeing, down the St. Croix River, climbing at Devil’s Lake State Park, or kayaking in the Apostle Islands. A typical experience in “First Flight” included the following activities:
uwl first flight overview9
UWL First Flight Overview:
  • Moved in dorms early
  • Participated in an adventure series (acquaintance, deinhibitors communication, problem solving, trust and debriefing)
  • Preview of trip logistic
  • Participated in night activities: night hike, biking, rollerblading, and slack lining and Frisbee disc golf.
  • Loaded bus and traveled to outdoor destination
  • Established camp site
  • Instructed on rope handling, knot tying and belaying.
  • Cajun boil
  • Question and answer session involving note cards, lead by student staff
  • Executed the outdoor pursuit until had enough
  • Returned in four days to campus and provided night activities: night hike, biking, rollerblading, slack lining and Frisbee disc golf.
  • Provided early rental of books and lofts
  • Offered campus tour
  • Regrouped and reintroduced all the groups before taking part on the Ropes Course
  • Closing session, with pizza, presentation on trips and group picture
uwl first flight overview10
UWL First Flight Overview:
  • Show Closing session video
research methods specifics
Research Methods Specifics:
  • After the completion of “First Flight”, on August 31, 2007, student participants received an e-mail inviting “First Flight Freshmen” to participate in the study.
  • A group of 12 First Flight students were randomly selected to participate in this study. Students were told they would be discussing the issue of “First Flight”.
  • They were informed that they were there to exchange opinions and have fun while doing it (Stewart & Shamdasani, 1990). The eleven questions were written ahead of time:
  • The discussion produced approximately an hour and a half of audiotapes. The tapes were sent out to Legal Language Services for professional transcription. A number of resources were consulted on guidelines for a successful focus group session (Stewart & Shamdasani, 1990; Trevino, 2006; Templeton, 1994, Strauss & Corbin, 1998, Patton, 2002).
  • The transcription was reviewed using ground theory, open coding and selective coding to identify emerging themes (Patton, 2002, Strauss & Corbin, 1998)
  • Themes that emerged from “First Flight”
  • Self consciousness, where participants commented on how they were intimidated
  • Benefits
  • A fun factor According to Bisson &Luckner (1996), “fun in adventure programming is a process as well as an outcome “(p. 112).
  • Expectations
  • Highlights
  • The twelve freshmen from the 63 freshmen who participated in “First Flight” served as subjects for this study. The major theme that came out of this analysis was how many friends they made and how unexpected it all was. Participants discussed their experiences in these examples.
  • Several participants commented on feeling intimidated from “First Flight”.

I also felt intimidated. When I first signed up for it, I was excited, but then once it got closer, I realized I felt like intimidated really. Sitting here and seeing all the people that first day and trying to figure out where to sit, who to talk to, that was all pretty intimidating. But once we got meetings and stuff, after that, it was fine.

  • Another participant mentions being afraid of heights.

I actually wasn't sure Because I'm afraid of heights. I went on the rock climbing trip But I actually climbed lots of times and it was a lot of fun. So, I don't know what I expected.

  • A participant communicates feeling like she already knew were places were on campus.

I felt like I already knew so much about like [UI Phrase: voice muffled]. Or I knew where everything was on campus and the move in day for everybody else, I was helping out my roommate move in and she just…I felt like I already knew everything and she just kept asking me questions and I could actually answer like things about like the bath, like don't go to the bathroom. 

  • Participants spoke about feeling like they had been on campus for a long time already.

I feel like I’ve been here for like a really long time. In a good way.

I'm really glad. Yeah, it was going to be really hard for me to leave all my friends behind. But, because I went and I know what I did, they're all like, you actually did that? We're so proud of you.

  • Participants verbalized about fun they encountered and what the effects were.

 I had a lot more fun. There was a lot more people to hang out with, because we got to meet so many more people. And college as a whole is a lot less frightening, just because you were here earlier and you got some [UI word] and it’s like the first day wasn’t as hectic. And like you didn’t feel like one of those, well, okay, you still kind of felt like a freshman, but you didn't make as many stupid mistakes, like where to eat and just knowing where all the buildings were. Like you were acquainted with the school.

  • Participant expressed how First Flight took her mind off of being homesick.

I think First Flight took my mind off of being homesick, because I'm a homebody. So, like when you're out having fun, you don't have time to think about wanting to be in your bed, instead of like…you know. So, yeah, it made the transition easier once we got there, because I had already done it for a week.

  • Many participants brought up an overwhelming connection to an upper classman.

I think it's also being connected to like the upper classmen and stuff. And even like even, like the…I was also familiar with the admissions counselor, Angie. Like when I go and talk to people there, they'll ask me, oh, you did First Flight. It's something that the like administrators here really know about. And it seems like

  • One participant commented on how First Flight made her push herself.

I think it taught me personally to push myself to a point where I didn't think I could go and I pushed myself farther than that.

  • Participants stated their highlight was not just doing the outdoor pursuit, surprisingly.

Well, the highlights for me, obviously the new experiences like the rock climbing and stuff, but it was out here in an atmosphere where we're all incoming freshmen and like for the rock climbing trip we would have the campfires that night and we would write questions on the cards and ask them and read them out loud. Like, I never think of a question, but I’m so glad that they were read out loud, because, oh, glad I know that now.

  • What one participant would tell another freshman next year about the First Flight

Yeah, I would say like the same thing to everything you've talked about, being creative, fun. And it's like everybody here, you know, you're a senior in high school, everybody's telling you about like, yeah, college is hard. Read the books, blah-blah-blah. And it kind of builds up that fear and First Flight is basically kind of just goes and erases that fear. And you just, you actually get acquainted in the college instead of coming here and like living that year. I never had that. It just really helps to get to know the campus. It's really, really nice to be here early, because like everybody said already, it was really nice when everybody was here and we already knew what we were doing and we weren't just sitting there looking like you're in headlights going, oh my god, what do I do? So, yeah, definitely worth it.

  • The purpose of this study was three fold:
  • examine what was perceived as a gain from “First Flight”
  • how it has impacted students college experiences
  • evaluate the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse program as a whole.
  • The interviews were analyzed using the grounded theory (Patton, 2002).
  • This study was conducted a month and half into students’ college careers and they had already felt the benefits of participating in this wilderness orientation program.
  • One limitation of this study was that it occurred three weeks after the experience, where maybe the experience was not as fresh in their minds as it would have been if the study would have been taken closer to the “First Flight” experience.
  • One of the key components to the “First Flight” program was ending the experience and gearing for the start of a new one.
  • Another finding is many universities still do not offer any follow up after the initial experience.
  • Based upon our research wilderness orientation program the primary benefit is not just about the outdoor pursuit itself, but rather using adventure experiences to kick start the freshmen year.
a special thank you to
A Special Thank You to:
  • Dr. Jeff Steffen

Director of Graduate Physical Education Teaching

Director of Adventure Program

University of Wisconsin La-Crosse

Ryan Olson

Excise Sports Science/ Adventure Programs Coordinator

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

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