The small-group experience is a memorable fixture of the Princeton Orientation experience and provides incoming students an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with their classmates and to engage with upperclass leaders while participating in experiential activities. (Orientation began Monday, August 17 with academic meetings and will extend through Sunday, September 6.) Outdoor Action (OA) in particular was faced with the need to dramatically alter its program in mid-June, when the decision was made to move all orientation programs to the virtual space. In response to the challenges posed by the pandemic, the team developed ‘Expedition 2024,’ a theme exploring the idea that a group, working together to accomplish a shared goal, can do amazing things. From Friday, August 21 to Monday, August 24, over 500 first-year students, led by 90 OA Leaders, teamed up to join this adventure.
Traditionally, OA utilized the wilderness and activities like backpacking, hiking, canoeing, biking, rock climbing, and sustainable farming to build group trust, explore life at Princeton and develop outdoor and leadership skills. In rethinking the program and creating the ‘Virtual Frosh Trip,’ Director of OA Rick Curtis ’79 and OA Program Coordinator Caroline Stone ’14 applied the principles of design thinking, learned through sessions sponsored by the Keller Center. Through this framework, they re-developed the OA orientation curriculum, resulting in a modified program, clear thematic goals, and a new online learning Canvas website, which undergraduate summer fellows helped to develop during the months preceding the trips.
The program resulted in three days of virtual meetings and activities, with daily three-hour synchronous virtual meetings, alongside asynchronous informational and exploration-based modules hosted on the Canvas site. Students engaged with material such as videos, readings, or taking part in outdoor activities in their local areas. The penultimate activity was a virtual Leadership and Team Simulation, based on a team climb of Mount Everest. The final day was filled with rich discussion, journaling, and a program debrief before first-year students turned to the next stage of their Princeton welcome.
Expedition 2024’s themes were organized into six topics:
- Meeting New People: Through interactive, online tools like FlipGrid Video, students created fun, self-directed profiles to share with their groups, helping facilitate meeting one another in a virtual environment.
- Building Your Support Team: To facilitate synchronous engagement and build connection, students were placed in groups of 8-12 in time zones spreading from the US East Coast to Singapore. This provided first-years and their Leaders with the ability to participate in sessions that took place at a convenient time for their local timezone.
- Diversity & Inclusion: Through the lens of Everest, students viewed content about the Sherpa people, one of Nepal’s indigenous populations who risk their lives as mountain guides and trail blazers. OA incorporated many different voices and perspectives into the discussions by curating a module on Are the Outdoors Welcoming to All? It can be! that highlighted videos of people of color, LBGTQ persons, and people with disabilities in the outdoors.
- Learning About Princeton: Connecting with upperclass student Leaders provides a window to learning about what being a Princeton student is really like. Participants had a chance to explore their ‘hopes and fears’ about Princeton, and closed the day with a virtual campfire to reflect on what they want from their upcoming Princeton experience.
- Land Acknowledgement & Sustainability: Through structured exercises, students explored ethical and philosophical questions surrounding outdoor use, including global environmental issues linked to climate change as well as aligning personal actions with the “Leave No Trace” principles while hiking or camping.
- Outdoors for Health & Wellness: One of OA’s core missions is helping teach students that the outdoors are for everyone, and can be a vehicle for lifetime enjoyment, health, and well-being. Students were encouraged to go off and experience a ‘micro-adventure’ in nature in their own community and share their experience with their group.
While the small-group experiences may have come to an end, the friendships, community, and values explored during Expedition 2024 are foundational, both to the Princeton undergraduate experience and beyond. Participants of the OA small-group experience can continue to engage with OA through on-going access to the resource on the OA Canvas site, as well as several upcoming events. An event featuring Cason Crane ’17 (an Everest summiteer, openly LGBT mountaineer, and Princeton alum) will include a talk and Q&A session focused on his personal journey. A new “Intro to Outdoor Adventures” series will be launched in September to help equip individuals with the skills and confidence they need to explore the outdoors in their own communities.
Orientation for first-year students will continue throughout September. For the most up to date schedule, please visit the Orientation Calendar.