Becoming an OA Leader for Princeton and Beyond
Becoming an OA Leader is one of the most valuable things a student can do during their four years at Princeton. OA provides the most extensive leadership development program on campus. We teach skills that allow students to develop their confidence to make critical decisions, assess their group and develop effective communication, respect diversity and encourage students to explore cultures and experiences outside their confort zone.
What OA does so well is to create an experiential leadership laboratory where leaders-in-training get to practice their skills, and learn from their mistakes, through coaching and mentoring of experienced Leaders and Leader Trainers. This model, of students teaching other students, is the most effective way to enhance leadership.
If you talk to your student or any student who has become an OA Leader, they will tell you that it is one of the most important skills they will leave Princeton with. We hear this all the time from alumni of the program who tell us that it's their OA Leadership skills that they end up using every day in the workplace.
We hope that you've see your student grow through their involvement in the program. If you have thoughts to share, please take a few minutes to fill out the form below. Your input is really help to us in making our case to Princeton for why the program is so important.
The Outdoor Action Frosh Trip is the largest single outdoor orientation program in the U.S. Each fall, more than fifty-five percent of the incoming freshmen class begin their Princeton experience with a six-day outdoor trip through activities like backpacking, biking, canoeing, farming, and rock climbing. With the help of a dedicated group of Outdoor Action leaders—Princeton upperclass students—freshmen learn not only about campus life, but also about themselves and their new classmates by learning to work together as part of a team. There is something unique about traveling on the trail with ten other people, hearing their stories, dealing with challenges and needing to work hard together as well as ‘unplugging’ from cell phones and the Internet for six days that creates such a cohesive, engaged and interdependent group. Frosh Trip serves as a great ‘mixing bowl’ of the Princeton experience. It exposes freshmen to the rich diversity of their class, allows them to connect with students in their residential college and students in other colleges and builds relationships with upperclass students. The story from this year’s trip of the male varsity lacrosse player who met and became friends with a male dancer on his trip ‘someone who I never would have met or chosen to interact with otherwise’ illustrates how Frosh Trip encourages and amplifies University messages around diversity. The success of this unique formula over the past four decades cannot be disputed. The program has grown almost every year for forty years and ninety-nine percent of this year’s participants surveyed would recommend the trip to a friend.
What attracts so many students to the Frosh Trip each year is the unique emphasis that Outdoor Action places on how to create a successful student experience at Princeton. OA Leaders, as role models and mentors, teach incoming students about values like community and diversity and provide information about campus social life and academics that help reduce the anxiety that many students have about starting college. Princeton’s Frosh Trip is the most emulated of any college outdoor preorientation program. Since it began in 1974, more than 18,700 students have started their Princeton experience with Frosh Trip and learned what it means to be a member of a diverse community. Frosh Trip participants say it best:
I really loved OA and think it helped me so much. Before OA I was really nervous about fitting in and finding friends at Princeton, but OA showed me how awesome Princeton students are and how easy it is to make friends. I felt much better going into orientation week knowing that I already had a strong network of friends.
I made friends in my OA trip that I will probably have for life, we became that close. We all still hang out multiple times every week and I'm just so glad that I have this group to help me transition and be there for me when times are tough in Princeton. The conversations about Princeton social life made me feel much more at ease and excited to start my life at Princeton because I felt confident that I would find a place where I fit in.
The most valuable part was definitely the teambuilding and group bonding that went on throughout the trip. It was good to first get an introduction to college life in an environment where factors such as appearance and social status mattered very little. I felt that the OA environment reduced the tendency to be judgmental and instead encouraged people to search for similarities and make friends who might otherwise have been outside of their social circle.
This trip really helped me to see that the other students I would meet at Princeton were very similar to me in many respects, that they had many of the same fears and apprehensions as I did and that I wasn't alone in feeling nervous or overwhelmed. It was a huge help to return to Princeton already having a strong network of friends, especially the upperclassmen leaders that I knew I could turn to if I ever needed help.
The Frosh Trip provides an experience that is totally focused on the individual freshmen and their adjustment to Princeton. OA has led the way in developing a unique orientation curriculum that enhances the University orientation messages around diversity, social life and alcohol. The chart (page 8) illustrates the sustained growth of the program over the past forty years. This growth rate, primarily spread through ‘word of mouth,’ reflects a proven educational experience that students believe has great value.
By virtue of its sheer size the Frosh Trip brings together the largest number of freshmen in one experience. It is OA’s goal for our participation to mirror the diversity of the class. Students always comment on how much the diversity of their groups enhanced their experience.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned was to keep an open mind and not to judge people. There were a wide range of personalities on my trip, from hard-core partiers to quiet geniuses to varsity athletes to talented musicians. Had I not been on the trip, I might have been tempted to judge the various people in my group at first glance. After spending a week in the wilderness with them, however, I learned that everyone made unique contributions to the group and that I had traits in common with everyone. The trip also helped to ease the fears I had about adjusting to college life, meeting new people, etc. It was a great experience!
Outdoor Action is without a doubt the most rewarding experience I found at Princeton in the way it taught me about myself and about others. In the first few days of getting to know my group, I encountered a greater variety of backgrounds and interests than I did all throughout high school. My leader said that’s his favorite thing about OA: because such a large portion (over 60%) of the freshman class is represented, OA groups are the most eclectic on campus. For several of my OA friends with completely different activities and classes from me, I can’t help but think how I probably would never have met them otherwise.
At the end of this year’s frosh trip, I was really proud of the place that we had reached as a group. I had a really diverse group of freshmen this year— several international students and others with very interesting backgrounds, and all except for one were new to backpacking. We had managed to create a safe space in which everyone felt comfortable sharing personal things, and I took note of the special place that my frosh were in. They were out in the woods, but on their minds was Princeton, and college, and their changing lives. I got a sense from this particular group that they were eager to reflect on this transition and talk about it, and also to connect with others at a level that in many other contexts would be out of the ordinary.
Leader Training Program
While Frosh Trip is the single largest part of Outdoor Action, there would be no Frosh Trip without highly trained leaders. The OA Leader Training Program which takes place in both the fall and spring semesters is the ‘engine’ that drives the rest of the program.
I am proud to report that OA’s student leaders are the most diverse of any Ivy League outdoor program. OA is unique in the Ivy League in that we encourage and accept every student who wants to train as an OA Leader. Our peer institutions limit the number of students who can become leaders. We believe that all students can benefit from the Leader Training program and should have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills through the training that OA offers. The principle that “anyone can become a leader” is a cornerstone of the program. As a result, OA has one of the most diverse pools of outdoor leaders of any college in the country and we can and must do even better at encouraging an even broader range of students to become leaders.
Teaching leadership is not a simple task. Becoming an Outdoor Action Leader is much more than learning technical skills. It requires mastering listening and communication, group facilitation, conflict management, and mentoring—all of which is taught through a values-oriented framework that encourages diversity and tolerance. OA Leaders receive the most extensive training of any student orientation leader. RCAs receive 60 hours of training. OA Leaders complete 150 hours of experientially-based training allowing them to practice their leadership skills in a supervised setting prior to assuming actual leadership responsibilities. Over half of the students who become OA Leaders had their first outdoor experience on the OA Frosh Trip. This illustrates how effective Frosh Trip is in encouraging incoming students to take on leadership roles on campus. Here is what some leaders have said about their leadership experience with Outdoor Action:
For me, the most important aspect of leadership is self-awareness: Understanding what I am doing and how my decisions will affect others. From self-awareness comes the ability to reflect, which is a crucial step towards improving one’s leadership. Also tied with improvement is the ability to both give and receive constructive feedback on a leadership experience. Finally, a good leader demonstrates flexibility and resiliency; she is willing to adapt to new situations and is not fazed by successive challenges that seem impossible to overcome. With these five characteristics, an individual is prepared to respond to new situations and able to continually improve her course of action; anyone is able to follow a detailed list of tasks to accomplish a pre-determined goal, but strong leadership is necessary to overcome the new and unexpected situations.
I think OA does it right. Our trip was successful not only because my Co-leader and I were trained well to lead, but because OA’s strong foundations gave us frameworks to work with and adjust as we went along. Our trip had its fair share of challenges, but we were able to comfortably improvise to keep things safe and fun for our Frosh. I wish I could adequately describe how much OA has meant and means to me, but I don’t think I can. At best I can say that it has helped me grow, made me feel like a part of an exciting and welcoming community, and shown me how it is possible to actually have (and witness) one’s positive impact on another human being.