College students acquire management expertise, confidence to show out of doors adventures

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The Student Experience Adventure Leadership semester, or SEALs, is an in-depth, long-term leadership development program designed to help participants develop effective life skills and self-confidence.

Before attending the University of Miami, Theo Krijnse Locker was a member of the Boy Scouts of America, so he spent much of his free time out in the Northeast.

When Locker arrived on the Coral Gables campus, he was pleasantly surprised to find that the Department of Wellness and Recreation offered Student Affairs Outdoor Adventures, a gateway to adventure sports like rock climbing, hiking, scuba diving, camping, stand-up paddleboarding, and surfing.

His love of the outdoors eventually led him to apply to the Student Experience Adventure Leadership Semester, or SEALs, a program developed and taught by full-time Outdoor Adventures staff. Students learn to embrace outdoor leadership opportunities and acquire the skills needed to teach others what is required for outdoor recreation.

“I wasn’t aware of what Miami had to offer outdoors, and I worried that I would have trouble finding something to do,” said Locker, a sophomore majoring in ecosystem science and policy. “SEALs have opened my eyes to what there is to do around here. Even though it’s totally different from the things you can do in New York, but it’s just as great.”

The semester-long course is a mix of classroom, campus, and field-based leadership training designed to help students learn how to lead large groups while exploring outdoor recreation. Trey Knight, Associate Director of Wellness and Recreation, directs students in the SEALs program, which includes more than 160 hours of training and development.

“The Outdoor Adventures employees have more than 20 years of combined experience,” said Knight. “The cost of the program covers participants’ guided and educational trips off campus, where they learn about search and rescue, meal planning, cooking, navigation, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, camping, and much more.”

Throughout the fall 2022 semester, the SEALs experience took participants to a five-week campus-based session from the week of August 29 through September 26. In the sessions, the students learned about group dynamics, different ways of leading others and how to plan their trips from start to finish. After the lessons, the outdoor adventure travel began over four weekends and a five-day expedition through December. Each weekend, students traveled to different locations to focus on a new activity and explore a different topic.

Brendon Hobbes, from Long Island, New York, is a senior majoring in Business Technology and Marketing. He said the SEALs program has allowed him to see South Florida in a new light and helped him develop his managerial skills — something he’s looking forward to after graduating in May.

“I’ve learned a lot about leadership compared to other student organizations that I’ve been a part of,” Hobbes said. “I learned how to think fast and why you should have a complete plan. I also learned the hard way that sometimes things happen.”

Miami native Trey Riera-Gomez, a senior specializing in exercise physiology, was scheduled to lead the first simulated SEAL trip to Jupiter, Fla. last semester, where he and his colleagues took a field trip to learn how to surf.

“I did my best not to make any mistakes along the way, which I think gave us a little more leeway,” said Riera-Gomez. “Attracting others to outdoor activities was my main reason for participating in the program. I’ve always loved doing that, and the people in my life always seemed to appreciate it.”

Riera-Gomez said he has had a lifelong interest in the outdoors; and before he enrolled in university, he enjoyed bringing his family and friends together for outdoor experiences. While not directly related to his major, he said he hopes to become a mountain guide after graduating this semester.

“I find the program very fulfilling and look forward to introducing more people to the outside world,” he said.

Jillian Cary, a junior studying biology and ecosystem science and policy, said taking her ideas from the classroom to the practical shifts made the trips unique. One of Cary’s most memorable moments was learning to surf during Riera-Gomez’s guided trip.

“It was really cool because a lot of us had never done it before,” Cary said. “I also really enjoyed learning how to facilitate and be a leader. A big part of this program is teaching others how to experience these things in a safe and confident way.”

All enrolled students have free access to the Outdoor Adventures section. Students interested in attending SEALs pay a one-time fee of $220 which includes transportation, equipment for all athletic activities, and meals for the duration of the program. Students do not need to have any prior outdoor experience.

“This program is unlike any other exercise program,” Knight said. “From learning how to deal with real-world situations to learning how to stand up paddleboard or how to navigate at sea or on land, it will help you gain experience for the life to come.”

Knight anticipates hosting more SEALs cohorts in the future, and he hopes they will even offer credit hours for those who successfully complete the course. To learn more about how to participate in Outdoor Adventures’ in-depth, semester-long leadership training, visit the Wellness and Recreation website or email [email protected]