Life on a college campus: hours spent lost in study at the library; coding away at a computer; courting new discoveries in the chemistry lab.
At UNH, that list of worthy pursuits might also include hiking through College Woods; surfing in the Atlantic, climbing in the White Mountains; innovating in experiential education.
Now, this long-standing commitment to getting into the great outdoors is getting some national attention: UNH has been ranked seventh on Money magazine’s “10 Best Colleges for People Who Love the Great Outdoors.”
True, UNH’s location helps the university do outdoor adventure better than many campuses. Even without leaving Durham, students can hike the eight miles from campus to UNH’s Browne Center for Innovative Learning and spend 90 percent of their time in the woods. But UNH’s designation as a best for the outdoors university is about more than location.
Whether students are seasoned hikers or have never set foot on a surfboard, the student-run New Hampshire Outing Club (NHOC) offers access for all ability levels, and Campus Recreation also provides instruction, gear rental and trips.
“NHOC’s goal is to give UNH students the opportunity to enjoy and take advantage of the phenomenal outdoors that New Hampshire has to offer,” explains Luke Violette '18, the club’s president. “We run multiple trips every weekend of the school year, which include hiking, surfing, rock climbing, skiing and much more. What makes the club special is that it is organized and operated entirely by students, and many of our trips are geared toward beginners.”
What would he like current and future Wildcats to know about NHOC?
“We’re always open to new members, regardless of their prior experience,” Violette says. “The outing club is full of friendly, welcoming students who all share a love for the outdoors.”
Stacey L. Hall, director of Campus Recreation, explains that the department provides instruction, gear rental and trips for students, faculty and staff through its outdoor adventure programs, noting “there are lots of opportunities to try a new outdoor activity or to continue with an outdoor activity that you already love.”
In addition to the proximity to outdoor resources, she notes, “UNH also owns property to facilitate outdoor activities, including College Woods and Mendum’s Pond. There are also indoor facilities to train in bouldering and climbing.”
For those who want to make a career out of their love for being outside, there’s UNH’s exceptional outdoor education program.
Associate professor Brent Bell '05G says his students often say they did not realize how well-respected the program is until they go to conferences or land their first jobs.
“We’re a big fish in a small pond,” he explains. “We are unique in not only the access to the outdoors but in the access to outdoor education, leadership opportunities, research, challenge course facilities, etc. Professionally, UNH has a really strong reputation in the field and has contributed to experiential education.”
UNH also has a wilderness therapy program, where students work with the outdoor education program and the social work department, and for more than three decades, UNH students have been receiving wilderness medical training through the university’s partnership with SOLO Schools in Conway, New Hampshire.
The UNH outdoor education program is the only place in the country where students can pursue a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology: outdoor education; master’s degree in experiential education and doctorate in education that specializes in experiential education connected to the same program.
“There is a certain vibrancy of having undergrads, master’s students and even some PhDs all in the community,” Bell explains.
Many outdoor education programs are part of smaller colleges, Bell adds, but at UNH, being part of a small community in a large university offers students myriad opportunities.
“By the time you graduate, you would have camped with all the outdoor education faculty. We really get to know the students quite well by spending time with them on the trail, having these long conversations, and they get to know who we are,” he says. “That’s a connection that’s unique.”