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Incoming Penn State freshmen hiked, camped in state forests

by on August 29, 2013 11:09 AM

PETERSBURG — About 240 incoming Penn State freshmen traded in their cell phones for canoes earlier this month for a weeklong backpacking trip in Rothrock, Moshannon and Bald Eagle state forests.

Part of Penn State’s ORION Wilderness Experience, the students spend five days backpacking, one day either canoeing or completing a high ropes adventure, and then conclude the program with a cookout at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, according to Hilary Appelman, outreach news and communications professional at Penn State.

The first session began on Aug. 16, with the second beginning Aug. 18.

Program director Jen Bean said the goal of the program is to remove the students from everyday distractions such as cell phones and social media so they can make new friends and find out more about college life from upperclassmen leading the trips.

“We try to get them to expand their horizons and make new friends,” Bean said in a press release by Penn State. “It makes this campus of 40,000-plus seem so much smaller.”

In its 18th summer, the program draws Penn State students from campuses across the state.

Matt Duncan, of Medford, N.J., said it was his first time doing “intense backpacking.”

What he enjoyed most during the program, he said, was group talks at night and swimming in a 40-degree river with a fellow student he met on the trip.

Duncan, 19, said he did not know anyone in his group before the session.

“Two days into it, everybody was friends,” he said. “We all came together as a family.”

“We pushed each other,” he continued. “The week flew by. We all came in with different skills. I don’t want to leave now … it’s just so awesome. (However) it’s going to feel good getting back in bed.”

Students earn two college credits for taking part in the program, which also requires them to write a reaction paper and do community service. Two related programs run by Shaver’s Creek send first-year students to inner-city Philadelphia and on a West Coast wilderness excursion, according to Penn State.

According to its website, some goals of ORION include: meeting other students and forming solid friendships; engaging in fun, physically challenging outdoor experience; fostering personal growth and increasing confidence; learn outdoor skills that focus on the “leave-no-trace” philosophy; and gain familiarity with the natural offerings of central Pennsylvania.

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Staff Writer at The Centre County Gazette
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