As the semester draws to a close, many university students are packing their bags and heading out for some summer fun. Students at ten colleges and universities across the US are gearing up for the outdoor challenge of their lives; coming up with innovative strategies to help them win the title of ‘most outdoorsy campus’ in the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge.
The Challenge, fueled by The North Face, was developed to combat some of today’s bleak statistics around young people and outdoor participation. Current research tells us young people spend 50 percent less time outdoors in natural settings than the generation that preceded them. More than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas and only 20 percent of young people live within a half-mile of a park or open space.
In response, Outdoor Nation launched the first-ever Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge — working with colleges and universities across America to get more young people outside and active. This week, Outdoor Nation and The North Face selected ten schools who will go head-to-head in the fall, competing to see who can get the most people in their student bodies and surrounding communities outside and active. Think Mother Nature meets March Madness.
“College students are among the most creative, innovative and influential group of people in our country today,” said Chris Fanning executive director of the Outdoor Foundation. “Over the past several years, these young leaders have emerged as the drivers behind Outdoor Nation and the Campus Challenge builds on our investment in these change makers and thought leaders. If we are truly going to inspire a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts – the ideas and energy must come from them.”
During the eight-week Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge, participating individuals at each school will self-report on their outdoor activities through an interactive online platform powered by ContestCore. The school that logs the most activities outside at the end of the competition will win a valuable prize package, scholarship for an outdoor program assistant, a custom gear library, an outdoor festival for all students, and valuable bragging rights. An individual achievement award, ‘Outsider of the Year’, will also be given to the student that inspires the most people to get outdoors.
“We are excited to see the fresh, unique ideas that these young leaders develop to share their passion for the outdoors and ultimately find better ways to connect people and nature,” said Ann Krcik, director of Outdoor Exploration at The North Face. “There is no better way to address the issue of getting more people outside than to learn from the brightest minds of the next generation for a new perspective and creative solutions.”
Spelman College, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Atlanta, Ga. is among the schools selected to compete in the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge – an especially impressive feat given that just two years ago they didn’t have an outdoor club. Spelman was first introduced to Outdoor Nation In 2011, when two committed and passionate students, Candice Gaul and Seth Wolf from Spelman and Morehouse Colleges respectively, attended an Outdoor Nation Summit.
The following year, Candice and Seth worked hard to shift the culture on their college campuses to incorporate more of a focus on outdoor engagement. They received training, support and mentorship from Outdoor Nation to do so. Their work culminated in the summer of 2013, when they organized the first student-run Outdoor Nation Summit in Atlanta, bringing together more than 30 students to discuss the unique challenges of building outdoor communities of color. An idea sparked and the first-of-its-kind joint outdoor club was formed called, the “Spelhouse Outdoor Club”. This groundbreaking project expanded the outdoor network for hundreds of students from these two HBCUs to experience ongoing outdoor activities, many for the first time.
“Today, our outdoor programs are so popular among students that our outings fill up in less than an hour,” said Candice. “What started as culture void of outdoor recreation has flourished into one that is eager for outdoor engagement opportunities of all kinds. We’re thrilled to now be in the running with nine other colleges to see if we have what it takes to win the title of most outdoorsy university in America.”
Seth and Candice graduated and a new crop of strong leaders will be heading up the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge at Spelman. They plan to focus on health and wellness by inviting the community on a 3k walk/run around the city of Atlanta. Other plans include hosting a mass yoga event, participating in park cleanups, maintaining a community garden, and throwing After Dark Picnics that connect students from other HBCUs in the area to their thriving outdoor network – including them in the challenge.
Other schools selected to compete in the 2014 Campus Challenge include: Appalachian State University, California State University, Long Beach, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, George Mason University, James Madison University, Michigan Technological University, University of Central Florida, University of Iowa and University of Wisconsin-Madison. For more information, visit outdoornation.org.
Logo courtesy Outdoor Nation