Outdoor Program plans for future

Lane Barton

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The staff of Whitman’s Outdoor Program are developing and implementing a new strategic plan to help guide the program’s focus through 2020.

The new strategic plan will take into account student, staff and alumni feedback via survey, and it includes goals such as enhancing collaboration with departments and clubs on campus and increasing the diversity of students who participate in the Outdoor Program.

“I think one of the things that the Outdoor Program is good at is long-term planning. We’ve been operating on long-term plans ever since I’ve been here [in 2001] … The difference with this one is that we went through a much more inclusive process of involving students, staff, faculty, alumni and anyone else who want to respond to some surveys to get their ideas on where they thought we should be moving,” said Outdoor Program Director Brien Sheedy.

The strategic planning process began with an assessment of current strengths and weaknesses, as well as possible opportunities for or threats to the future of the program. In November a survey was distributed to students, staff, faculty and alumni. Responses to the survey identified strengths of the Outdoor Program, including the organization of Scrambles, training opportunities and the professionalism of staff.

Survey responses also identified areas in need of improvement, which the Outdoor Program is moving to address. One common response was the impression that students feel intimidated from engaging with the program, either due to a lack of experience or the difficulty of finding activities at their skill level.

“In a variety of ways, people feel intimidated or nervous about engaging with the Outdoor Program. That comes from not feeling like they know anything about outdoor [activities] and didn’t want to hold other people back. It comes from people who felt like they had experience but didn’t feel like we did a good job of appreciating the experience they had and getting them onboard with things that we do,” said Assistant Director of Outdoor Programs Stuart Chapin.

Feedback from the surveys was used to identify goals for the program and develop strategies for reaching those goals. Currently, Outdoor Program staff are developing methods to evaluate their progress towards the goals laid out in the strategic plan so that they can measure their success over the next five years.

Many of the goals in the plan have a strong relation to some of the responses given in the surveys. For example, in the next couple years the Outdoor Program staff is hoping to interact more with academic departments and student clubs that have specialties or students that might not normally engage with the program.

“We’re trying to branch out and work with more clubs that have a broader diversity of types of students that are involved in them and a broader diversity of types of things they’re interested in. So it’s not just people who’ve sought out outdoor [activities], but we’re seeking out people who might be interested in outdoor stuff but haven’t made that a big priority in what they do,” said Chapin.

As the strategic plan is adjusted and measurements are set, staff members cite the importance of adhering to the Outdoor Program’s mission when focusing on the future.

“The mission of the Outdoor Program is to support outdoor recreation because we think it’s the right thing to do. We think it’s really good for [people] to have some familiarity with being out in nature; it brings a lot of health benefits and positive benefits to the students, faculty and staff,” said Chapin.

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