5 new friends at Sierra Nevada College orientation river camp adventure

Choose Your Own Adventure at Sierra Nevada College Orientation

Becoming a college student is a rite of passage. You’re not just starting at a new school, you’re making the transition from adolescence to adulthood. At Sierra Nevada College, you’ll start with an adventure that shows how exciting learning can be.

SNO – Sierra Nevada Orientation is an innovative two-phase program. The first phase is a special camping adventure: A four-day trip for you to meet your fellow students, explore your new home, all while learning skills that will serve you well during college and after graduation. Best of all, you get to choose the adventure that best suits your interests and personal style.

Phase 1 – In the Wild

Fall 2019 incoming students got to choose between two adventures – high camp and river camp. Each trip included opportunities to learn valuable skills such as communication, creativity, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Peer mentoring and teamwork are other important pieces of the experience. Student guides lead new students as they get acquainted, make and break camp, cook and eat, and explore together.

High Camp

High campers started their 5-day backpacking expedition camping on Patterson Lawn the night before they departed. Since they had to carry everything that they used for the duration, the first night was a trial run to make sure everybody had the gear they needed. At 7:00 a.m. the next morning they set off for their trailheads in the Desolation Wilderness, above Lake Tahoe.

Two student leaders, all experienced in the outdoors, led each of four groups of about 10 students on a different 4-day route. Desolation Wilderness, despite its name, is actually a majestic setting high in the mountains. The students traveled 25 to 30 miles, completely self-sufficient. They learned about sustainability and stewardship of the land as they did trail maintenance. At the end of each challenging but fruitful day, they slept out under the stars.

For transfer student Sam Rusak, he felt that High Camp was an effective way to make friends, which is one of the hardest parts of coming to college. “At first it was kind of awkward not knowing anyone, but after we finished building camp that first night on campus, everyone was close,” said Rusak.

student enjoying the slack line at the campsite in Coloma CA at the Sierra Nevada College orientation river camp adventureTrying out the slack line
a group of new college students meet on the campus for the Sierra Nevada College orientationMeet-and-Greet!
student is ready for whitewater rafting at Sierra Nevada College orientation river camp adventureReady for whitewater
River Camp

River campers spent two days whitewater rafting down the South Fork of the American River, alternating adrenaline rush with peaceful floats. The guides, a mix of students and faculty, navigated through Class II – Class III+ rapids with the help of their raft teams. Along the way, they pointed out wildlife, geology, and the importance of sustainability and river protection. After that, they spent two days hiking the foothills and high passes of the Sierra Nevada range.

Each day’s activities ended around the campfire at their base camp in Coloma, California. Everybody gathered for dinner and conversation under the willows and oak trees along the river’s edge.

Phase 2 – On Campus

The second SNO phase brings everybody back together on campus. There are plenty of casual activities for you to meet more friends and explore the amazing opportunities close to campus. And, of course, there’s the usual introduction to the mechanics of college – academic policies, financial aid, dorm rules, library facilities. The main focus of the week, however, is a group of hands-on workshops. These introduce you to the college’s core themes and immersive learning style. This fall, students rotated through each of three workshops.

In the Entrepreneurship workshop, the class discussed various issues that we face in the Tahoe Basin. These included wildfire, housing, traffic, lake clarity, recreation and tourism, trash and recycling, and climate change. Students were divided into groups which each included a variety of personalities and communication styles, for a variety of perspectives. Then each team used entrepreneurial thinking and teamwork to propose a solution, build a prototype, fill out a sustainable business model canvas, and create a professional presentation.

Incoming freshman Kristin Helser learned a lot in the entrepreneurship workshop. “I really liked trying to come up with a project that would help solve a problem that affects us, and figure out what it took to design and produce the solution,” she said.

a student is overwhelmed during an entrepreneurship workshop as two other students look on at the Sierra Nevada College orientationEntrepreneurship can be challenging!
Animal Behavior students spend class catching crayfish at Hidden Beach at Lake TahoeA beautiful place for a crayfish census.
float test - students have built a boat out of scrap materials for a creativity workshop at the Sierra Nevada College orientationIs it seaworthy?

In the Sustainability workshop, students went to Chimney Beach to measure the crawfish population in Lake Tahoe. The students had their first college taste of collecting data for research. Environmental science is one of the many pieces of sustainability which will be part of their education at Sierra Nevada College. And they were introduced to the opportunities they will have to live and learn in such a beautiful, special place.

In the Creative Arts workshop, student teams built boats out of scrap lumber, fasteners, and duct tape. Empty 55 gallon plastic drums were the flotation. Each group’s boat had to be decorated with a unique paint job and flag. And each boat had to be able to support one designated paddler for a 200 yard regatta. The regatta was held on Lake Tahoe, and filmed both from the shore and a drone by digital arts students. The boats were tested for seaworthiness during construction in a kiddie pool on campus, but this did not turn out reliably mimic conditions on the lake!

Skills for Success

Each of these adventures is as much fun as it sounds, but they are also an important part of your future success. They introduce you to the valuable skills that will be at the core of your Sierra Nevada College education. These are the skills that will serve you well in college, in your future career, and throughout your life.

Communication: This includes written and oral communication but also active listening skills. Whether you are out in the wild or working on a team project, your success depends on your ability to listen and follow directions, as well as to communicate effectively with others.

Creativity: Creativity comes in many forms, including solving a problem in a unique way. New adventures and perspectives encourage you to think outside the box.

Entrepreneurship: The ability to take risks and innovate, and the willingness to develop and organize a new venture, are hallmarks of the entrepreneurial spirit. Each SNO activity is an opportunity to take on a project and see it through to completion, to the benefit of everybody involved.

Leadership: Leadership means taking responsibility for yourself, as well as cooperating with others for your mutual success. These are key skills that every potential leader must master.

Take your place among the EAGLES! That’s an acronym for Experience, Adventure, Group Leadership, Environment, and Style.

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