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York College students discover passion through Outdoor Leadership minor

June 07, 2018
Outdoor Leadership Trip

Sarah Hurley and Michelle Sachais went white water rafting a week before graduation. It was the culmination of months of planning — a trip neither of them will forget.

After a cold spell, the weather had finally warmed up. The sun was shining, and they grinned from ear to ear as they maneuvered through the rapids, enjoying every moment of the adventure.

As they stopped for lunch, each had the same thought: Can you believe we’re getting graded for this?

Pioneers of the program

Sarah ’18 and Michelle ’18 are the first to graduate from York College of Pennsylvania with a minor in Outdoor Leadership. The 2017-2018 school year was the program’s inaugural year.

Planning the white water rafting trip was the capstone project of their expedition class.

“We do a lot of hypothetical things throughout school,” Michelle says. “But this we actually got to plan and go on the trip and see how it all works all in the same semester.”

From pricing to travel logistics to meal planning, the two oversaw all aspects of the trip for themselves and seven others.

The trip was a blast but planning it was a challenge. Every week, it seemed they’d come up against some unforeseen obstacle and have to work together to overcome it. It was hands-on practice for what it takes to succeed in the field.

“People think it’s not hard work because to them, recreation is fun,” Michelle says. “But planning recreation is not as easy as doing it.”

Hands-on experience

Both Sarah and Michelle came to York College undecided and found their passion in Recreation and Leisure Administration with a focus in Recreational Therapy.

Sarah knew she wanted to be in a field where she could help people. Recreational Therapy was a way to do that without being stuck in an office.

“I’m not a sitter,” Sarah says. “I like doing and going.”

Growing up, she was always outside playing with her brothers.

So, when she learned Outdoor Leadership was being offered as a minor, she jumped at the chance to be in the inaugural class.

A future in Outdoor Leadership

The introductory course started out running small activities — learning how to debrief a group and process through team building. Then, there was a flat-water paddling class and ropes course facilitation. That’s where Michelle hit her stride.

Every Friday, the class practiced on an actual ropes course, learning first-hand what it takes to lead.

A few weeks after graduation, Michelle will start her job at the Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center — leading groups through low and high-ropes courses.

Her job won’t just be about teaching people how to physically do something, Michelle says. It’s a lot of processing and application to real-life challenges. Everything (even the ziplining) has a greater purpose.

The Outdoor Leadership program helped Michelle find her greater purpose — and her passion.

“It’s a good feeling to know that the things that you’re saying and doing are helping someone else,” she says.

Sarah will be spending her summer interning with an agency that specializes in adventure-based therapy and at-home therapy with military veterans.

“I never imagined I could have this kind of job,” she says.

The Outdoor Leadership program opened new job possibilities for both women.

“The skills that I’ve learned and the practice I’ve had with facilitating will definitely help me wherever I go,” Michelle says.

Wherever that may be, it won’t be stuck behind a desk.

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