Backpacking trip

Freshmen Katrina Ward (right) and Katie Schumacher made friends with each other and the rest of their group during a school-sponsored backpacking trip before the fall semester began.

The week before fall semester began, freshman Katrina Ward joined a four-day backpacking trip along the Colorado Trail with seven classmates, her future resident assistant and two guides from the Mines Outdoor Recreation Center. Part of a program aimed at enriching the transition from high school to college, the trip was their first organized activity.

Perhaps the biggest challenge the group encountered was a turn in the weather; a light rain fell most of the second day, dampening their spirits, along with everything else. “We were sopping wet and freezing,” recalls Ward. Rather than stop for lunch, Adam Ahnhut, the designated trip leader, such roles rotated each day, made the decision to keep moving toward the campsite, where dry clothes, a meal and hot chocolate quickly revived their spirits. By the time the students climbed into the van to return to campus, a tightly knit group had formed.

On a ropes course south of Golden the next day, the backpackers got to meet (and learn to trust) the 29 other freshmen with whom they’d be sharing the second floor of Maple Hall for the remainder of the academic year. It was a great way for the students to come together. “The group felt totally integrated by the end of the day,” says Ahnhut.

Named the Adventure Leadership Community, students on Maple Hall’s second floor make up one of four such communities established this fall as part of a program that groups freshmen in dorms based on common interests. The three others are Visual and Performing Arts, Service and Social Justice, and Women in Engineering.

If the measure of success is establishing trust and strong relationships, then the program is off to a great start. “All four communities gelled almost immediately,” says Brent Waller, director of housing and residence life, who has co-led the initiative with Katie Schmalzel, residence life coordinator.

Is this unusual? Ward thinks so. “I have some friends who, for the first week and a half of school, didn’t get to know anyone in their dorm except for their roommates. I knew everyone on my floor before classes even started. It’s a very positive environment.”