Stepping out of your comfort zone is one of the best ways to learn a new life skill. So why not take a course that goes beyond the confines of a classroom? Outdoor Pursuits allow Binghamton University students to take credit courses using nature as their classroom and learn wilderness skills while meeting general education requirements.
There is a wide range of options for all types of learners. For those looking to immerse themselves in Binghamton’s natural landscape, hiking instructor Elias Miller teaches students safe, sustainable hiking practices that encourage students to develop a relationship with the natural world around them.
“I enjoy going into the woods with students, especially those who have no hiking experience, and observing how they react to things outdoors that I would take for granted,” he said. “I hope that the students will develop a long-term interest in hiking and continue hiking after the course.”
For Miller, being a good hiker means much more than being able to climb the highest mountains. It goes beyond the physical body: its students develop a knowledge of the wilderness and practice mindfulness to achieve greater harmony with the environment.
“I think hiking benefits students in terms of managing their mental health. We practice the Japanese concept of forest bathing, which means spending time meditating in nature,” he said. “My students use this time to focus on things in nature that are different from their daily lives, and it pushes them to live in the present.”
While hiking and forest bathing are great for developing general physical and mental health, some students may prefer to develop specific, hands-on skills. To her, Backcountry Medicine teaches basic first aid in the wilderness and helps students become safer and smarter in the outdoors. Instructor Kevin Hastings prefers hands-on tuition to theoretical learning.
“I emphasize a learning-by-doing approach. When my students spend time outdoors, I want them to be able to deal with an emergency and feel well prepared in any situation,” he said.
Hastings students learn about the forest and how to use natural resources to help someone in trouble. They make splints out of sticks, learn how to move injured patients and develop a greater awareness of natural dynamics.
“We are out in the woods throughout the session taking care of the grooming. We play role-playing games in which the students play the role of the savior. You learn to deal with injuries, illnesses, hypothermia and things like that,” Hastings said.
These types of skills are useful for everyone, whether you’re a lifelong skier or a beginner taking nature walks. Armed with a heightened awareness of the environment around them, students can leave class with peace of mind, prepared to protect themselves in an outdoor emergency scenario.
Backcountry Medicine focuses on the usefulness of natural landscapes and plants, but if students are more interested in animals, English Horsemanship is another option to consider. The course is offered by Unity Stables, a nearby facility with over 50 horses, a horse trail and a pond.
“I teach horses and people,” said Cailin Elliott, horse trainer and instructor at Unity Stables. “Students learn how to catch a horse, put on a halter, lead a horse, groom it… and of course how to ride a horse.”
Horseback riding is a total body workout that engages many of the same muscles as yoga and gymnastics. But students will find that the course is much more than a simple horseback riding lesson: it’s about expanding their understanding of animals and building a bond with another living being.
“Working with animals has such a positive impact on a person’s ability to deal with conflict and show empathy,” Elliott said. “When you’re on horseback, you might get frustrated or anxious, but you learn to channel those things. You learn to work with animals, which helps you work better with other people.”
Horsemanship is a great option for people looking to get out of their comfort zone. Many students who take the course have no horse riding experience and therefore come to the course feeling anxious.
“It’s normal to be nervous; everyone is nervous. But we prioritize safety and these horses are doing a great job,” said Elliott. “I think it’s great to see how the students develop more and more confidence in their abilities as the semester progresses. Not many courses at a university will challenge you and push you to overcome your fears.”
Consider taking the challenge! In addition to these three courses, options include disc golf and fly fishing. But no matter what you choose, you’ll expand your understanding of nature and experience Binghamton’s natural beauty first-hand. Break the routine with an Outdoor Pursuits class. When you return to the classroom, you have a deeper connection with the world just outside the window.
Outdoor Pursuits is a program area of Campus Recreation. Learn more about Campus Recreation’s programs and services at play.binghamton.edu.