by Josh Elder
Feeling cooped up? Ready to learn something new, challenge yourself, and meet like-minded people in the process? With spring right around the corner, students looking for an affordable adventure can turn to the University of Tennessee Outdoor Pursuits or UTOP for short. UTOP offers adventures of all skill levels and activities through their adventure trips. These trips are student lead, for UT students, by UT students.
But how does your adventure trip leader get their job? How do they begin to learn to lead others in all types of awesome outdoor adventures? The answer is the Student Outdoor Leadership Experience or SOLE for short.
SOLE is a semester-long outdoor skills and leadership course and is designed to provide real opportunities for students to develop both the technical and interpersonal skills necessary for outdoor leadership and beyond. The class is designed to prepare students to become trip leaders for UTOP but is beneficial for anyone looking to develop confidence in leadership among their peers. Just like daily life in a traditional classroom, this year’s SOLE class is facing challenges unlike any others before; but the show must go on.
After two classroom sessions covering the basics of trip planning and preparation, teaching methods and learning theory, and other useful leading concepts, it was time to go into the field. The first weekend consisted of two different day trips: one to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, and one to the Great Smoky Mountains, to focus on backcountry navigation, risk management, and group dynamics. Masks and social distancing in mind, the great outdoors provides a grade “A” classroom for learning in this difficult time.
This year’s class will continue to challenge themselves on three more weekend trips, based around mountain biking, rock climbing, and whitewater kayaking, as they prepare to become trip staff for UTOP.
Want to meet some of our previous years’ SOLE class? Take advantage of the number of adventure trips UTOP offers. The SOLE class members of years past will be your leaders for the day. Advance registration is required, and most trips fill up fast. Feel free to contact UTOP at 865-974-9749 for more information.
Josh Elder is the Outdoor Pursuits coordinator in the RecSports department. He has been with the University of Tennessee for three years now and has a master’s in Recreation and Sport Management from UTK. When not in the office or teaching Outdoor Leadership for UTOP, he can be found on the many whitewater rivers and creeks throughout the southeastern United States. He loves his coffee black and is always willing to chat if you have a fresh cup in your hands. Visit Josh in the Outdoor Center, or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.