Bix Firer oversees an Outdoor Program at The College of Idaho that takes students climbing, rafting, and backpacking. But evidence would support the idea that his department does more than provide a recreational outlet.
“Our Outdoor Program is really great, it offers a wide variety of experiences,” Birer said. “More important than that, the Outdoor Program is very developmental for the students involved.”
No, he’s not talking about developing better geo-cachers. And he’s not talking about teaching students where to find the best hot springs. He’s talking about preparing students for life beyond the Caldwell campus.
“I would consider myself, above all, a professional facilitator and trainer,” Firer noted. “I consider it my job to create experiences that help people meet their own learning outcomes.”
So while he wants students to enjoy the actual outdoor experience itself, he wants it to be more than just an activity. His background is in outdoor education and youth training before coming to the College. He’s a member of the Association for Experiential Education and travels regularly to speak at events about outdoor activities and education. The value of the activities goes far beyond the trip itself.
“The research has shown that student retention, student mental health, student socialization all greatly improve with the presence of an outdoor recreation program on campus,” Firer said. “It creates a social support system for students who otherwise might not be feeling as connected on other parts of the campus.”
While doing that, the students are learning long-term skills, perhaps without even realizing it.
“It’s about communication skills, it’s about conflict management,” Firer offered as an example. “In backpacking trips with bad weather, conflicts arise. If you’re the leader, you need to learn how to manage that, just like you would on a job site.”
Or project management. Firer says that the Outdoor Program’s student leaders come up with the ideas for different events and see the ideas through. Then, once the event has happened, the leaders assess the trip and determine what, if anything, should be done differently next time.
The trips are popular. Firer says most of the program’s events fill quickly. They take students off campus and put the area on display in a fun, engaging way. Many of them are led by well-trained student leaders and attended by active and willing students.
“The student body is the most motivated and most engaged group of college students I’ve worked with,” Birer concluded. “When given the opportunity, they will fully throw themselves into it, to develop themselves professionally and personally.”
The College of Idaho has a 129-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.