Syracuse University Magazine


Katie Bero ’13 rappels down a waterfall in Costa Ricaone of many adventures students can experience through SU’s Outdoor Education Program.

Photo by Scott Catucci

On the Trail of Adventure

Ilyse Shapiro ’14 won’t soon forget rappelling down a 200-foot waterfall in Costa Rica. She’d been rappelling before, but the experience was nothing like this one on a cold, rainy spring day in 2011, when she took a step back off the cliff and let the adventure begin. “The first step is always the worst,” she says. “But once you start down, you think, ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.’ It was the most amazing feeling getting to the bottom, looking up, and watching other people come down.”

The activity was just one of the highlights of a nine-day Outward Bound experience arranged in collaboration with SU Recreation Services Outdoor Education Program (OEP). The group also took surfing lessons, went whitewater rafting, zip-lined in a rain forest, and hiked around a volcano. “Students really bond through sharing these amazing activities,” says Scott Catucci, who directs OEP. “It becomes a huge learning experience and we help them identify ways to reflect on it, so they see it not just as an activity, but as a metaphor for learning and how to carry that experience back to their lives.”

Nearly 1,500 students participate annually in OEP offerings, which are supported in part by the student co-curricular fee. There’s whitewater rafting on the Black River in Northern New York, bobsled and skeleton runs in Lake Placid, dogsledding and snowshoeing in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, and a Grand Canyon backpacking and Colorado River rafting expedition. Locally, students go on hikes in nearby parks, and snowboard and ski. Nir Swenson ’13 loves adventure and got a good dose of it on the six-day Outward Bound dogsled trip in January. Amid bone-chilling temperatures and no communications with the outside world, the students took turns dogsledding and snowshoeing in the Ontario wilderness and shared chores, feeding the dogs, setting up camp, gathering firewood, and cooking. “The dogs were great,” Swenson says. “Some of them were so small, you wouldn’t suspect they were sled dogs, but they could pull you. They haul.”

For Catucci, such experiences are designed to offer more than adventure. The students share responsibilities, learn teamwork, reflect on their experiences, build trust with one another, and often establish friendships. Catucci introduces incoming first-year students to OEP through the Leadership Outdoor Orientation Program (LOOP), a pre-orientation initiative in August that includes whitewater rafting, a ropes challenge course, and other team-building activities in the Adirondacks. “I loved it,” says Shapiro, who participated in LOOP and now serves as a leader for the program. “I came to school not knowing anyone and I was terrified, but once I did the program I had 40 friends and felt comfortable.”

Catucci hopes to further enhance student team-building activities with the addition of an outdoor ropes challenge course on South Campus anticipated to be open during the spring 2013 semester. It will complement an indoor ropes course that was installed in Flanagan Gym last August. Swen-son, a ropes course instructor, says the ropes can be intimidating, but team support and encouragement often help people master the challenge. “You have to take that leap of faith,” he says. Catucci believes the challenges of outdoor recreation pursuits create memorable learning opportunities and instill confidence. “If you think you can’t overcome an obstacle and then accomplish it through perseverance, wow, you can apply that to anything,” he says. “Instead of thinking you can’t do it, you think you can—and you give it a try.” —Jay Cox

waterfall.jpgRappelling down a waterfall gave students a unique perspective on the Costa Rican rainforest they visited.

waterfall-group.jpgThe SU group gathers at the base of the waterfall after completing the descent.


Students enjoy the snow during a dogsledding and snowshoeing trip in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario.

Photos by Scott Catucci