Outdoor Action is Princeton University's largest student leadership training program. Our core mission is to facilitate the development of leadership skills among Princeton University students through active leadership experiences.
Outdoor Action’s leader training program is focused on developing the leadership of every student, regardless of the level of previous leadership or outdoor experience, through a combination of workshops focused on learning leadership models, and real, hands-on experience in leadership positions with abundant opportunities for feedback and growth.
All students are welcome to participate in OA leader training, whether or not they are interested in becoming OA trip leaders. We are looking for people who want to intentionally work towards improving their leadership and applying it to a variety of contexts. Each year, OA trains over 120 new leaders and there are over 300 trained OA leaders on campus.
OA offers a wide variety of leadership classes and workshops. Some of the core skills covered in OA Leader Training are:
- Leadership 101 and 102 Workshops: interactive, small group workshops with modules on:
- Situational Leadership
- Giving and Receiving Effective Feedback
- Creating Safe Spaces and Building Trust
- Conflict Resolution
- Debriefing Techniques
- Active Listening and Communication Skills
- Creating Effective Learning Sequences
- Stages of Group Development
- Each module includes a presentation of a leadership model, interactive activities to demonstrate and experience the model, and small group discussions on how to apply the model to a variety of leadership contexts.
- Judgement and Decision Making are introduced in the first aid training (HEART Wilderness First Aid and CPR) where students learn to make timely decisions to respond to emergency situations. It is primarily taught experientially during the Leader Training Trip, in which leaders-in-training are presented with real-world situations where they need to practice effective judgement and decision making. Debriefing and reflection provide opportunities for students to transfer these new decision making skills back to their lives on campus.
- Bystander Intervention and Emergency Response are taught through several of our courses, specifically HEART Wilderness First Aid, CPR, and Managing Safety in the Backcountry (Risk Management). We stress that bystander intervention is an essential aspect of leadership. OA leaders are expected to step up whenever they see an unsafe or inappropriate situation, both in the field and on campus.
- Full Value Contracts are incorporated into the Leadership 101 & 102 Workshops and are created at the very beginning of every OA trip. The notion of a “Full Value Contract” is to have a contract that “fully values” each member of the group for who they are as an individual and how they uniquely contribute to a community. All members of the group collectively set community values that are embodied by the group and serve as a model for being a member of the larger campus community. Leaders set expectations for appropriate behavior, emphasizing respectful and civil interactions where participants are encouraged to explore their similarities and appreciate their differences.
OA offers extensive opportunities for students to practice and develop their leadership skills. Since most aspects of the program are organized and delivered by students, there are numerous leadership roles and opportunities for students.
- One of the unique aspects of Outdoor Action is that the leader training program is open to any student who is interested in developing their leadership skills. There is no application or selection process. This ensures the broadest possible participation across the Princeton student body.
- Every aspect of leader training focuses on teaching students to become aware of their own leadership styles, manage effective teams, create inclusive environments, make good decisions, and give and receive feedback.
- The capstone piece of the training process is the Leader Training Trip (LTT), an immersive experiential leadership situation in which leaders-in-training experiment with different leadership strategies in an intentional manner, and receive direct feedback on their effectiveness. Each leader-in-training spends at least one day directly responsible for the needs and wellbeing of the entire group (logistical, medical, and interpersonal), implementing and practicing skills that were taught in the classroom.
- Through leading trips, OA leaders enhance the skills they developed throughout the leader training process. Leading a Frosh Trip adds the special variables of welcoming new students to the Princeton community, making them feel comfortable with each other, and orienting them to important University values and resources.
- Leader Trainers have the greatest responsibility in the program. They serve as role models and mentors in training new OA leaders, particularly focusing on leadership and group dynamics, through facilitating workshops and leading the experiential Leader Training Trips. Leader Trainers provide direct constructive feedback to trainees to encourage their growth and understanding of leadership.
- Leader Trainers are selected based on their strong facilitation and teaching skills, awareness of their own leadership styles, and ability to give and receive effective feedback.
- Leader Trainers are expected to actively work to grow and expand their leadership knowledge and skills, particularly focusing on feedback and debriefing of their trainees. OA offers advanced professional development opportunities for Leader Trainers to enhance these skills.
A key principle of Outdoor Action is students teaching other students. OA instructors are required to master a broad range of teaching skills, including effective curriculum development, skill and performance assessment, providing constructive feedback to their students, and intentional classroom management. Much of the teaching is experiential in nature, combining demonstrations, hands-on practice, role playing, and lectures to achieve the learning objectives. Becoming an OA instructor is an extensive time commitment, which includes advanced-level training in their area of expertise, intentional focus on curriculum development and learning objectives, and direct feedback on their teaching style. The experience that OA Instructors acquire from teaching workshops and classes is directly transferable to many of their other roles and responsibilities on campus.
- A critical part of OA leader training is competence and confidence in dealing with emergency situations. The Wilderness First Aid and CPR instructors teach the core skills of patient care and assessment, and judgement and decision making for the field treatment of emergency situations. Instructors help students develop the mindset and sense of responsibility to respond to situations when they see them occurring, both on campus and in the outdoors.
- First Aid Instructors teach 3-hour CPR courses and 25-hour Wilderness First Aid courses.
- Technical Skills Trainers teach important skills for safely and successfully managing groups in the backcountry, including backcountry navigation, campsite selection and set-up, outdoor cooking, as well as numerous safety protocols. These skills provide students with the knowledge and the confidence to successfully lead groups of novices in the outdoors.
- Technical Skills Trainers teach 8-hour backcountry skills classes.
- Outdoor Action is firmly committed to practicing the principles of Leave No Trace by minimizing the potential impact our trips have on the environment, both in the outdoors and back on campus. Leave No Trace Instructors facilitate the development of a personal wilderness ethic in all Leaders and participants, which they will carry with them beyond their OA experiences.
- The outreach of Leave No Trace Instructors extends beyond campus to the broader Princeton community. Instructors volunteer with elementary schools, scout groups, and environmental clubs to spread awareness and respect for the environment through hikes, activities, and workshops developed for different audiences.
- Leave No Trace Instructors teach a 2 hour workshop and the more advanced 2-day trainer trip.
- Each specialized team of instructors has 2-3 student coordinators who are responsible for setting priorities for the year, developing course curricula, managing the other instructors, establishing standards and expectations, and selecting and training new instructors. Coordinators oversee the completion of all courses, from initial preparation to final exam grading.
- Groups select new coordinators towards the end the fall semester through a process of application and nomination. A coordinator typically has served as an instructor in that group for at least one year before becoming eligible to be a coordinator.
- The Frosh Trip Coordinator position provides a unique opportunity for students to work together on a team in building the single largest outdoor orientation program in the US. They are involved in all aspects of decision making, including pairing leaders, assigning participants, purchasing supplies, and scheduling training. Each Frosh Trip Coordinator is individually responsible for all aspects of logistical planning for their specific trip areas. They also collaborate on program-wide initiatives, including shaping the Orientation goals of Frosh Trip and developing the training in order for trip leaders to be prepared to implement these goals.
- Frosh Trip Coordinators have direct management responsibility for over a dozen regular student volunteers throughout the summer. They orchestrate a 4-day pre-trip training for 300 students, which demands strong logistical and interpersonal leadership skills.
Reflection and feedback are fundamental aspects of all Outdoor Action programming. OA Leaders and Instructors facilitate group debriefs, provide opportunities for personal reflection, and deliver feedback on the experience. A few examples of opportunities for reflection
Leader Training Trip
- The programming for the entire trip is intertwined with both leadership practice and reflection on that practice. A core value of experiential learning is the need to stop and reflect on the experience and how it can be transferred and applied to a more general situation. In recognition of the balance between working towards individual leadership goals and the opportunity to learn from observing others in leadership positions, the Leader Training Trip contains two major categories of debriefs:
- Individual Leadership Meetings: Participants meet individually with the trip leaders at the beginning of the trip, after their day(s) leading the group, and at the end of the trip to discuss strengths and weaknesses as a leader, goals for the trip and how they are being reached, and what they have gained from the experience. During this time, individuals receive personalized feedback on their leadership.
- Group Debriefs: Whether the group has been challenged with a medical, interpersonal, or logistical situation, the group pauses multiple times a day to recap the situation and the leaders’ response, assess the effectiveness of the leaders’ strategy, and discuss alternate possible responses.
- A key aspect of the orientation process of Frosh Trip is for students to explore and reflect on what it is to be a member of the Princeton University community. Through small group discussions and guided activities, students are given opportunities to reflect on their transition from high school and home to college life.
- “Letter to self” is private letter that will be redelivered to each individual several months after the trip. It is an opportunity for students to capture a snapshot of their current mindset and then revisit it to see how they have grown and changed over time.
- “Hopes & Fears in a Hat” allows participants the opportunity to anonymously share their greatest hopes and fears about this transition period in their life. Through sharing, feelings are acknowledged and participants recognize that they are not the only one facing a challenging and exciting transition.
- “Fill My Cup” is an end-of-trip debrief where members of the group identify and celebrate the unique contributions each individual has brought to the group over the course of the week. It is a powerful affirmation of individual impacts and a recognition of moments that led this group of strangers to come together as a unified team.
Post Trip Leadership Debrief
- After every trip, leader teams meet with a facilitator to reflect on their leadership experience as a formal extension from the informal daily debriefs that have occurred throughout the trip. This is an opportunity for co-leaders to give constructive feedback to each other and for the team to assess how they worked together over the course of the trip in order to achieve their group goals and uphold group values. Individuals revisit the personal leadership goals they identified at the start of the trip, reflect on their progress towards these goals, and look ahead towards future opportunities for growth and development.
- This more advanced version of the Leader Training Trip is designed for current leaders to expand and enhance their leadership skills through feedback and focused reflection. Topics of the trip are shaped to the specific goals of individual participants.
- Participants are given significant responsibility for leading group debriefs and reflections. By being placed in the role of a facilitator, participants gain a greater understanding of their own reflection process.
- Throughout the trip, the trip leaders provide direct feedback to each participant on their specific goals.