Ask an Adventurer

Morgan, in athletic clothing, rock climbing. Their feet are against the rock as they look over their shoulder.

September 13, 2021

by Peter Frank (‘22)

For many students, Westminster College offers the optimal outdoor college experience. Its location at the base of the Wasatch Mountains allows easy access to world-class skiing, climbing, hiking, and biking minutes away from campus. The college is also within driving distance of five distinctive national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Zions. It’s easy to understand why students who love the wilderness are drawn to Westminster for both a degree and the vast outdoor opportunity.

Many students take full advantage of these experiences, but for some, these experiences may seem out of reach or daunting. Whether it’s the nature of the activity or the stigma that surrounds outdoor adventure, some feel as though they have been pushed away from the great outdoors.

Westminster seeks to change this hesitation by inviting students of all experience levels and body types to get out and immerse themselves in what the outdoors has to offer. Morgan Nicholson (’22) is an outdoor education and leadership (OEL) major and history minor with a passion for introducing the outdoor experience to Westminster community members. When she isn’t working at the climbing wall located in the Dolores Doré Health, Wellness, and Athletic Center (HWAC), Morgan pursues ways to engage with the outdoors and help others see themselves doing the same. Morgan discusses the importance of the outdoors, her own experiences, and offers insight into the resources that Westminster students can access to help them get outside.

Experiencing the Outdoors

Why is getting outside important?

“I personally find the space that the outdoors provides to be incredibly impactful to the human experience. I wouldn’t be able to say why, but people are different when they interact with and exist in outdoor spaces. I have found myself having a meaningful connection not only with others, but also my surroundings when I’m outside. That’s why getting outside is important to me. Having meaningful connections with our environment is important because we live in a world that is truly beautiful, yet it is so easily and negatively impacted by humans. If we can’t connect with the outdoors, then we can’t empathize with it. If we can’t empathize with the outdoors, we will continue to have a negative impact on it until it is no longer there for us to make meaningful connections. Not to mention outdoor experiences are often fun, exhilarating, and full of growth."

What opportunities are there for first-time adventures at Westminster?

“There are so many opportunities for first-time adventures; think about what interests you. If you’re interested in everything, try everything. The outdoor community can be incredibly welcoming, so if you are looking for an adventure, all you need to do is seek it out. The Outdoor Program (OP) and Outdoor Education and Leadership (OEL) offer a range of outdoor trips and classes—all open to beginners. It is also amazing what a quick Google search of ‘outdoor activities in my area’ can bring you.”

Working Against Stigmas

Why do you think it’s daunting for some to try these experiences? How do you change this?

“Many outdoor experiences can be daunting due to the level of discomfort some people can experience. You won’t always be able to get the best night’s sleep on the ground, especially if you aren't used to it. However, it is often the discomfort that makes these experiences so impactful. Putting yourself in a position of discomfort and then enjoying yourself can be incredibly empowering. Going with a friend has always helped me face outdoor experiences that have felt challenging. You can also start out with low-risk and low-commitment activities, such as hiking, a trip to the climbing gym, etc.

“I have personally found that the outdoor community itself can be extremely daunting when it comes to trying new outdoor experiences. It was something that kept me from getting into the outdoors for a long time. As someone who knew almost nothing about the outdoors, the activities and community of people almost felt exclusive. I didn’t know what equipment was for what, what all the lingo meant, what the social norms were, etc. It was hard to find the courage to insert myself when I felt that I wasn’t ‘in the know.’ However, after having mustered the courage (with lots of help from the wonderful people at the OP), I have found the outdoor community to be one of the most welcoming and wholesome communities I have ever been a part of. Being vulnerable (a lot easier said than done), asking questions, committing to outdoor experiences, is the best way to take the first steps to trying outdoor experiences. Also recognizing that the exclusive feeling that is sometimes associated with the outdoor community is something that needs work to change and destigmatize.”

How do you get students to ignore these stigmas and sign up for an OEL class or experience?

“As one person (still fairly new to the outdoors) it feels hard to knock down stigmas that are already so in place. All I can really do is let people know that the OP and OEL programs here at Westminster try incredibly hard to provide open, inclusive environments. I can personally say I get so excited when I meet someone new at the OP who wants to learn about anything involved with the outdoors (I think I can speak for my fellow leaders on this note as well). I truly believe that if you sign up for a class, go on an OP trip, or even climb at the wall for an hour, you will find an enthusiastically welcoming outdoor community.”

Support and Resources

How do the OEL program leaders offer their support to new students to go outside and begin interacting with the community even though students can be apprehensive about it?

“The OEL program leaders offered support for me in so many ways! I think what felt most supportive for me is how willing the OP leaders are to teach others. They all love the environment (both physical and abstract) the outdoors can provide. That passion really shines through when teaching folks who are new to outdoor experiences. The willingness and desire of OP leaders to provide a comfortable space for others to learn was so impactful in helping me to start interacting with the outdoor community.”

What resources do students have access to for getting outside?

“Students have access to many resources here at Westminster through the Outdoor Education and Leadership (OEL) program. The OEL offers student-led trips, as well as rental equipment and almost anything you might need to get outside. We’re always excited to have visitors, even if you just want to stop by and say hello. You can also sign up for classes with the OEL program. There are lots of great classes that offer fun and easy ways to learn about different outdoor activities and skills. I’m particularly excited for the canyoneering course being offered this fall, for which I’ll be a TA.

“If you are an incoming first-year student, check out Outdoor Experience on the Westminster website. If you are curious about climbing, the climbing wall is a great resource. The staff are beyond amazing and always willing to answer any questions you might have. Email the Outdoor Program at outdoorprogram@westminstercollege.edu with any questions you have about the program, and follow our experiences on Instagram. And, of course, you can always stop by our office located in HWAC.”

Creating Memories

What’s been your most memorable outdoor experience?

“My most memorable outdoor experience was the Outdoor Education and Leadership Field Semester. I spent my 2020 Fall Semester in the field with five other students. We climbed rocks, explored canyons, played on the river, and learned so much about ourselves, each other, and this beautiful world we live in. I learned so many valuable skills that have set me up for success working in the outdoor industry (even though I still have a lot to learn). However, beyond the skills, the most important and impactful part of this experience was constantly being in amazing environments with the coolest beans I could have asked for.”