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New Outdoor Education Center Brings Pomona Learning to the Great Outdoors

The new Outdoor Education Center offers a large storage space for equipment, easy access for loading vehicles, a library of books and maps, and space for students to gather.

The new Outdoor Education Center offers a large storage space for equipment, easy access for loading vehicles, a library of books and maps, and space for students to gather.

An inviting mural frames the interior entrance of the Outdoor Education Center.

An inviting mural frames the interior entrance of the Outdoor Education Center.

New students enjoying Orientation Adventure, Pomona's off-campus orientation program which is administered through the new Outdoor Education Center

New students enjoying Orientation Adventure, Pomona's off-campus orientation program which is administered through the new Outdoor Education Center

Pomona College is surrounded by an accessible wilderness--within a few hours’ drive--full of experiential learning opportunities. For years, freshmen in Orientation Adventure, students from On the Loose (OTL) and various field-trip-oriented faculty members have been taking advantage of these opportunities to learn and explore in the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree, the Channel Islands, and other Southern California spots.

Now, Pomona College’s new Outdoor Education Center (OEC) will be the organizing force behind recreation and learning in the College’s environs. The center, which has been in the planning stages for about two years, is a part of an initiative to “build local and global connections” in Campaign Pomona: Daring Minds. It has received a generous $600,000 gift from Lucila Arango ‘88 and the Aramont Foundation to help fund the initial startup costs of the center and provide annual support.

Located in Pomona Hall, one of the College’s new residence halls, the OEC serves several purposes. It’s a physical hub that offers a gathering place for students who want to learn more about outdoor recreation through the staff, books, workshops and mapping resources. It offers an organizational center for Orientation Adventure, equipment check-out, the On the Loose outdoors club, and other campus groups and faculty who wish to arrange field trips. And it is an educational center with workshops, new credited Physical Education classes, and a new three-level Outdoor Leadership Series certification program.

“You progress through the levels through your college career,” says Martin Crawford, senior coordinator for the OEC. "By level three, you are helping to arrange trips for the faculty and putting on workshops at the OEC.”

The certification program offers curriculum in a variety of ways—OEC workshops, credited P.E. classes (Beginning Rock Climbing, Wilderness Survival and Beginning Backpacking), wilderness first aid training, professional training, and real-world experience co-leading trips and teaching workshops. Workshops--both for certification and just information purposes--include outdoor cooking, “leave no trace” practices, packing your pack, kayak certification and rock climbing. The OEC will also host some purely social activities like barbeques and a film festival in October.

What is unique about Pomona's Outdoor Education Program, explains Crawford, is this combination of recreation and education; most schools usually just have one or the other (i.e., a major in recreation management). "It is a fully 'recreational' center for students to use for trips with On the Loose and it is also now a resource on campus for faculty field study trips, outings for other campus organizations like International Place and the Queer Resource Center That's what is unique to our arrangement--the 'education' in Outdoor Education Center," says Crawford. 

On the Loose will continue to exist as a student-led program, but students can now benefit from the additional safety training and equipment management offered by the OEC.

“I was a bit thrown off when I heard about the creation of the OEC until I understood that it wasn’t taking away the student leadership role in OTL, but actually helping it,” says Lauri Valerio ’12, an English major who has led trips with OTL and credits the club with her interest in the outdoors.

“I’m especially excited for the wilderness survival classes because they teach lifelong skills. The courses offered by the OEC are very comprehensive. They don’t just teach you technical skills like rock climbing. They also teach you how to minimize your environmental impact and be prepared for calamities during these trips. Confidence inevitably accompanies all this learning. It’s incredible to have such a comprehensive and quality program.”

This organized approach to outdoor exploration and learning will also assist faculty with planning field trips and providing trained student guides. Bryan Penprase, professor of astronomy, has gone on several trips in the past with professors and classes in other disciplines like anthropology and geology, and is planning another for November, now with the OEC and Crawford involved.

“It’s an amazing thing to mix classes of students and subjects, and take people out of the box a little bit and get them out of their usual classroom mode. I think both the professors and students find that refreshing, and the outdoor settings around here are so amazing,” says Penprase, who will visit the Mojave Preserve in November with students from his Earth’s Cosmic Origins class. Penprase will lead a star party at night, while Associate Professor of Anthropology Jennifer Perry will discuss prehistoric rock art, Associate Professor of Geology Bob Gaines will discuss the geological landscape, and Crawford will lead a trip into a lava tube.

“[The OEC] is a great opportunity for Martin to help us, as professors, more easily plan and execute field trips. And in return, we can help him by bringing greater awareness of the center to other professors and students and to highlight opportunities that exist for the OEC.”