Whitman Outdoor Program Wins David J. Webb Award

Hannah Bartman

On Nov. 9 at the Association Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) conference, Whitman’s Outdoor Program (the OP) won the David J. Webb Program Excellence Award. Whitman is the smallest college to ever receive this award, a testament to the accomplishments of the OP.

“We have a vibrant outdoor community here that’s dedicated to professionalism and a well-run program, and the award is recognition of that,” said OP Director Brien Sheedy.

Previous recipients of the award include University of Idaho (9,928 undergraduates) and Appalachian State University (15,721 undergraduates) among other universities with similarly large populations. According to the AORE website, the award recognizes universities that have “an outstanding non-profit outdoor program which has provided dynamic and innovative services to its participants … and contribute[s] to the outdoor community at large by sharing information and assisting other programs.”

“I think [AORE] recognizes that what we do is high-quality and is impacting our student body in proportionally a very large way,” said Assistant Director of the OP Stuart Chapin. “We may have a smaller program than some state universities in terms of total numbers, but compared to the relative size of the school, it’s a very active program.”

Similarly, senior Madelyn Player, who attended the AORE conference, believes that the large number of students who participate in Scrambles is proof of the general student body’s interest in the outdoors.

“I think, in relation to Whitman’s student body, the sheer size of our outdoor program is staggering,” said Player in an email. “Every year, we send about half of our freshman class on Scrambles alone –– that’s about 200 freshm[e]n.”

In order to receive the award, Whitman was nominated by students and faculty who pay to be members of AORE. A committee within AORE then chooses the recipient and contacts a member of the college to introduce the winner at the annual AORE conference. Alumna Heather Domonoske ’13 was chosen to introduce Whitman at the conference. This reveal came as a surprise to all Whitman attendees, which included five current students and two faculty members.

“They introduced Heather Domonoske who happened to be at the conference representing Outward Bound. I knew right then and there that we had won,” said Chapin. “It was an emotional and really cool experience.”

Over the last decade, the OP has made drastic changes through expansion of its facilities and introduction of new staff. When Sheedy started in 2001, the OP was located in a cramped room where the parking lot used to be. Reid Campus Center, the renovation of the Baker Ferguson Fitness Center and the Sherwood Athletic Center led to an expansion of facilities and opportunities offered. The rock wall became more accessible as it was relocated indoors, the rental shop could be expanded and kayaking and more SSRA courses could be offered.

“When I first started I was the only full-time person,” said Sheedy. “It was a big program then, and it continues to be a big program. But now I think we have a lot of student involvement and the professional staff [that] is able to work a lot harder on helping to support the students.”

Scrambles have increased, the bike shop was created, OP trips have expanded and students have more opportunities to participate with the instigation of the Bob Carson fund. Overall, the OP has responded to student demand and created an outdoor program deserving of the David J. Webb Award.

“It’s good to be recognized by your peers and by the students that go here for the outstanding job that we do and all of the people that contribute to what we do,” said OP Rental Shop Manager Lish Riley.

Riley states that this award is in large part due to the exceptional effort exerted by Sheedy.

“It was really gratifying for all of us, but especially for Brien [Sheedy] because he’s really in the heart and soul of the program and he gave a lot of sweat and tears into building the program into what it is. [He did this] because he loves it and because he’s passionate about what we do,” she said.

The drastic changes that have occurred over the years due to the hard work of many have turned the OP into an award-winning collective that students and faculty are proud of.

“I think this award formally recognizes a sentiment that a number of Whitman students working with the Outdoor Program have felt for a while: that the OP is a supportive, thoughtfully managed and fulfilling community that provides invaluable opportunities and life experiences to students and staff,” said Player.