Outdoor education majors are used to some pretty stellar scenery, what with all those hikes and backpacking trips that take them into what is often the best that nature has to offer. So imagine the adjectives you’d need if the setting for such a trip was the Himalayas.
That was the view four UNH students had in July when they traveled to Kathmandu to help refine an experiential education program being developed by the Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) and founder Dr. Nima Namgyal Sherpa.
The four-week stay was aimed at guiding the community initiative that brings information, education and recreation to adventure businesses as they explore ways to grow the adventure tourism industry in Nepal.
"Being able to evaluate a program and provide feedback is what helps programs grow and do better."
“Outdoor Adventure has only been in operation for less than a year, so basically what we did was like starting from scratch,” says Cooper Bloch ‘19, an outdoor education major in the department of kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Services. “They didn’t really create programming that met U.S. standards; the first week was a lot of talking and meetings to find out what they knew and didn’t know and what they needed.”
Students then started working on more specific measures to help the center meet its goals. The website and Facebook page were updated. Locations for day hikes and overnight backpacking trips were assessed. A summer camp program was designed, and the OAC staff was trained to facilitate it. UNH students also ran a workshop for outdoor adventure professionals in Nepal to learn more about the challenges they face in the industry.
“The idea of outdoor adventure recreation is relatively new there,” Bloch says. “There really aren’t any standards. In the U.S., if you want to go rock climbing (through an adventure company), you will probably have a guide who has evaluated the site and will give you pointers as you climb. In Nepal, they don’t have any of that. There might be someone who knows how to rock climb but has never been certified. They’re just moving you from point A to point B. We gave them standards to follow.”
Based on what the UNH team taught its staff and the resources they left behind, it won’t take much for the center to raise its standards, Bloch says.
The UNH students also conducted strategic planning exercises with the management team and helped them to prioritize their goals and better understand their roles with the center.
“Going into the trip, we expected to be focusing on curriculum development,” says Bridget Kelley ’18. “However, we found that reviewing risk management and staff training was something the OAC also could benefit from.”
Kelley, who majored in outdoor education, says the trip taught her how to assess and improve the effectiveness of a program by evaluating its goals.
“This is an important skill to have as an outdoor educator because we want to provide the best experience possible for our clients," Kelley says. "Being able to evaluate a program and provide feedback is what helps programs grow and do better."
Amy Vallance ’19, Brad Boers ’19, Charlie French of UNH Extension and Maddie Smith, director of UNH Outdoor Adventures, also made the trip.
“While the main focus of the student project was to support the development of the Outdoor Adventure Center — including how they integrate outdoor education principles and best practices into their curriculum and ensuring that the equipment is safe for kids — we also were there to see what sort of partnership we might build in the future and what other departments or programs might become involved,” French says.