The Ahlberg Leadership Institute: Where Students Learn to Become Leaders For Life

“Outdoor Education builds on the mission of the College by allowing students to enhance their leadership skills, gain a sense of stewardship, and engage in self-discovery through experiential opportunities in the outdoors.” –The Outdoor Education Mission Statement

As demonstrated in the mission statement above, leadership and initiative are central to the success and solidarity of Outdoor Education at Colorado College. As a result, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the Ahlberg Leadership Institute (ALI), which is designed to prepare students to lead outdoor recreation trips. The trainings are constructed so the skills gained will transfer into life after CC, while remaining applicable to leading excursions as a student. Learning ideals such as communication and problem solving in the outdoors will be useful for leadership in any other field as well. Senior Ruthie Rabinovitch spoke of learning how to balance being a mentor and a peer simultaneously, and how it is not usually taught by leadership programs, but the ALI programs ensure it.

Five tracks of leadership are available through ALI: backpacking, skiing, kayaking, rafting, and climbing. The backpacking track is used as the foundation for the others. Backpacking I, which requires taking the Level I backpacking course, getting certified in basic CPR and first aid certification, and participation on two Outdoor Education trips, is necessary before one can be certified in any of the other tracks. After that, a Level II certification generally requires becoming a Wilderness First Responder, taking an additional class or classes, and gaining more experience.

Backpacking I is the initial hurdle for most CC students. Over 100 students attend the trainings each year. Be that as it may, according to Rachael Abler, Outdoor Education Specialist, “Nearly twice as many candidates apply for the Backpacking I training.” In the past, students were placed on a first come, first serve basis. This year, Abler said, positions were given to those deemed best suited for the training, based on an application. The goal was to ensure that those who were most committed and excited about the program were prioritized over those who were merely following the crowd. The ALI is looking to add additional trainings both this year and next. However, because each training is student led, this initiative relies on more participation in the higher echelons of the program.

Sophomore Sophie Redpath discussed one possible obstacle in moving past level I: Wilderness First Responder training. This training is necessary because, due to the remote nature of many favored trip sites frequented by CC students and the need to empower leaders to handle any situations, many things could go wrong on outdoor recreation trips. However, “WFR is a large commitment, of both time and money,” said Redpath. Nevertheless, a great deal of financial aid is available through Outdoor Education. Students can receive up to 50 percent of the cost in financial aid. In addition, because three WFR trainings are offered at once, the course costs less at CC than at many other places.

Abler stressed that more support and opportunities are available than students tend to realize. The professionals who work in the ORC are available to help students plan and achieve their goals, whether they want to move through the ALI ranks, learn more about outdoor recreation, or develop specific skills. The ALI aims to allow students with a lot of experience to help teach those candidates that come to the program with little or no experience. The Outdoor Education Program at CC is unique in that way; not only are programs and trips student-led, but they are student-inspired, and can even be planned by students.

The Outdoor Education staff welcome feedback and love receiving more information from students about what they are looking for and what they like about the program. Abler asserted repeatedly that you do not have to be a first-year to get involved. If one does not get placed on a training, they can still come to events, trips, and clinics, just drop by the OEC (Outdoor Education Center), or even join the Outdoor Recreation Committee (ORC) email Listserv. There is always something going on in Outdoor Education here at CC.

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