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Outdoor Action

Leadership Starts Here

Leaders Reflect on their Outdoor Action Experience

Outdoor Action provides the most extensive student leadership development program at Princeton. OA Leaders serve as leaders in all aspects of campus life from academics to sports and extracuricular activities. They go on to be leaders outside of Princeton.

by Lisa Newman-Wise '05

Outdoor Action, an incredibly large and wonderful part of my Princeton Experience, is a component of the Princeton Experience of approximately half of my classmates, of half the alumni of the last few decades, and of half of the current student body. OA is the only piece of my Princeton Experience that was with me from Day One through Graduation Day. I developed a small group of close friends through Frosh Trip, leader training, teaching HEART First Aid and the Leader Training Course, OA dances, time at the climbing wall, leader trainer meetings complete with dozens of pints of Ben and Jerry’s, and more games of “Go Bananas!” than I can count. I made my best friends through OA, and I credit Rick Curtis with providing that medium for so many Princetonians.

Through Frosh Trip, OA provides freshmen with friends and mentors, essential sounding boards during the uncertain first few months of college. Through leader training, OA allows students the opportunity to learn valuable first aid skills, to put challenging abstract group dynamics and facilitation issues into concrete terms, and to lead peers, one of the most difficult but (as I’ve found in my few months in the workforce) most useful skills around. Through the leader trainer program, OA promotes a tight-knit community, volunteerism, continuous self- and program-improvement, teaching skills, patience, and “work hard, play hard”—all key for future personal satisfaction and career success. My OA Experience, and therefore my Princeton Experience, became more rewarding the more time and energy I committed to the program. Though this lesson (the more you give, the more you receive) may not be an accurate portrayal of all facets of life, it is incredibly refreshing and energizing to know that I was a part of such an incredible program.

I am now a Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force, trying hard to put everything I learned at Princeton to good use in a huge organization where change is about as likely as my seeing snow fall in the Mojave Desert of California that is my current home. I am more likely and willing to step up than my peers and have been able to spin most frustrating situations into learning experiences. The ability to lead from in front as well as behind, a skill I developed with much thanks to OA, is invaluable.

Being an OA Leader shaped my goals for post-Princeton in numerous ways. I want to work for an inspiring boss in an organization with a mission I believe in. Time outside is essential and looking out the window while commuting doesn’t count. It’s ok if I don’t love it every day, because that means that it’s challenging and interesting, and what’s the point of doing anything if it’s too easy? I want to have the power to make each day an improvement from the previous one. The lessons I learned and perspective I gained through OA help me try to improve even the littlest slice of someone’s life on a daily basis, and that is something I will continue to strive for. I can look back on my Princeton Experience knowing that for four years, I made a difference, in OA and other activities, and skills I’ve taken away from OA will allow me to continue making a difference no matter where, when, or what I do.

by Laura Smith '05

Over my four years at Princeton, OA taught me more than just fun and games. I learned how to lead and how to teach. Through being a leader trainer, I not only got extensive leadership training, but also learned how to critically evaluate the situation that I was in. The leadership training was immediately put to use after I left Princeton. After graduation, I headed to Alaska to work on a geophysical research project that installed GPS (Global Positioning System) monuments to better monitor earthquakes, volcanoes and how the North American Continent moves. The job required extended work in remote Alaskan villages and islands while working in groups of 3-10. At the beginning of the summer, from the office, I watched a month long trip of 8 people almost collapse, because of a lack of communication, lack of clear leadership, and overall negligence of the crew. I felt I had a perfect case study in front of me of how not to lead a group. A month later, I participated in my own 2 week trip with five others on Unimak Island, in the Aleutians, a chain of islands off the Alaskan coast. As a group, we had clear communication about safety and our daily activities. We also had a clear delineation of who was in charge of what, and most importantly we were constantly checking in with each other. As I participated and helped facilitate this, I felt OA watching over me. I also took it upon myself to make sure that while the focus was on work, that we had fun together, which would lead to greater trust and confidence in each other. Ultimately, our mission was successful and the group was happy, and proud.

Through being a HEART first aid instructor, I got invaluable teaching experience, which is being put directly to use here in Vietnam teaching English with Princeton-in-Asia. HEART helped provide me with the confidence to stand up in front of 45 students for 3 hours and 45 minutes straight and it gave me the ability to sense the moods and comprehension of the class.

by Dylan Fitz '05

Some of the most important experiences I had at Princeton occurred through my work as a leader, leader trainer, and Frosh Trip Coordinator. These activities impacted me to such a degree that they influenced much of what I did in other campus activities. For example, OA taught me to break down my leadership into its key elements and to continually reflect on my own roles, and this process helped me immensely as club soccer captain.

This year I am a Project 55 Fellow at The Food Project in Boston. I get to spend a lot of my time working with youth groups, and I am appreciative of the skills I learned through OA. As a leader trainer, I learned when to step forward and when to sit back as a teacher. With the youth, being able to sit back and not micromanage their work allows them to learn more and develop more independently. For example, we recently took several youth to a conference and gave them each specific responsibilities. By giving the youth independence and ownership, they were able to think things through, demonstrate their talents, and develop their abilities, with us there for assistance and feedback.

My time with OA has also reinforced my goals to teach and work with others in the future, both by giving me skills and increasing my motivation to do this kind of work. I will not settle for any jobs where I do not both help others in important ways and love what I do.

by Jen Albinson '05

It turns out OA was more than frosh trips, more than LTTs, more than Going Bananas, and even more than Rick himself. OA provided my best friends, OA created my community. At Princeton, my roommate of three years was a fellow leader, my best friend a leader trainer. When I went on a backpacking/road trip over the past summer, I of course had three OA leaders as my companions. Now I live in New York, where I share a very small apartment with a girl I first met on my LTT. I do not think it is merely coincidental that I am connected to so many of my close friends through OA. As I wrote in a recent email to my leader trainer, “OA enables my friendships to be as special as they are. Being leaders gives us some common ground in cool and significant ways.”

This common ground in part stems from a shared language. We banter back and forth about how “hardcore” some trip was, we share our secret trail-tested cous cous recipe (the secret is in the raisins). We gripe about iodine, we pack for Winter Break in our backpacking backpacks just because we like the way they feel. But more importantly, our common ground stems from a set of shared values, values that brought us all to OA and values that the leader training program reinforced. OA taught us all to be good listeners, to be thoughtful and complete communicators. OA emphasized reflection, alongside self-awareness and acute awareness of others. As leaders, we appreciated the silly and zany in life, while ever striving for that next level of understanding.

And now that we’ve graduated, we’re learning the endless applications of our OA skills. As it turns out, co-leader chemistry is not a spark we see only on frosh trip. Debriefing is not a skill reserved for sims. Risk management and group dynamics pop up in situations beyond getting your group lost in a thunderstorm. I’ve found them in the most unsuspecting places, particularly now in my role as a kindergarten teacher. In the classroom, my Leader Radar is always on.

These skills and these friends come together in the OA community, a community that transcends the sometimes-fleeting unity of a frosh trip. The OA community consists of friends who are more than folks I led trips with, more than friends I enjoyed spending occasional time with during college, but individuals that I will long treasure. The OA community offers support to all those seeking a more reflective, more aware, more thoughtful, and more communicative outdoor (or even indoor) experience. And I think we should all chug a honey-bear to that.