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Turning 20: Adventure WV guides WVU students toward meaningful relationships, pride in West Virginia

Photograph of WVU students sitting around a glowing campfire. Dusk is setting in, a yellow tent is off in the distance as well as various camping gear. The Seneca Rocks formation is on the horizon above them.

Adventure WV, including the First-Year Trips program, introduces West Virginia University students to the state’s many outdoor activities, new friends and new skills as they travel to many famous natural landscapes in West Virginia. (WVU Photo/Brian Persinger)

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For almost 20 years now, Adventure WV has been an important part of the student experience at West Virginia University, introducing thousands of students to the Mountain State’s outdoor opportunities while helping them make friends and learn new skills.

Heading into the anniversary year, one of the longest-running Adventure WV success stories is the First-Year Trips program, which was created as a peer-led, outdoor-based effort to help incoming first-year students become familiar with their new home in West Virginia by visiting some of the state’s most popular places.

“We want to create a tight-knit community for incoming students even before they set foot on campus,” said Morgan Haas, associate director with Adventure WV, who oversees the First-Year Trips program. “This helps them transition to college smoothly by assisting them in getting to know each other, including their peers and leaders, and by introducing them to the resources available on campus. One of our goals is to foster an early connection between students, WVU and the state.”

Greg Corio, assistant vice president for Outdoor Youth Advocacy and Initiatives with the WVU Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, started the First-Year Trips program during the 2003-2004 academic year as his graduate project, a program housed in the WVU Division of Student Life that has blossomed into one of the largest student-centric outdoor programs in the country.

“The First-Year Trips come at a transition point when students are not high school students and they are not college students, where they’re hungry to learn in school but they’re also a little nervous,” Corio said. “This is their first college experience — their first college experience with a lot of support in an environment they’re usually not super comfortable in with classmates they’ve never met being led by upperclassmen.”

Corio, a WVU alumnus, formed the idea of a freshmen outdoor orientation after seeing other universities do outdoor trips like those available in West Virginia. As a graduate student, he approached then President David C. Hardesty Jr. with a proposal for an outdoor orientation program with the potential to improve retention and graduation rates.

“President Hardesty said, ‘I've been waiting on a program like this for a long time,’” Corio recalled.

Student retention has increased by 7.3% and six-year graduation rates by 9.5% because of the program, according to institutional research.

After an initial launch, Corio connected First-Year Trips with the Freshmen Seminar in 2004 and the program began to expand quickly. Students participated in five Explore trips, showcasing some of West Virginia’s scenic landscapes, and one Habitat for Humanity trip.

“We had no idea if that first Habitat trip was going to work, but in the end, it did and those students became a family, and we knew we were on to something special,” Corio said.

Included in that 2004 trip was Carie Behe, a two-time University graduate who is now the senior global brand manager at Cotopaxi, a company that creates sustainably made outdoor gear.

Her First-Year Trip, one she came into with no outdoor experience, set her on the path to not only a professional career in the outdoors industry, but also toward building a love for the outdoors and traveling in her personal life.

“It utterly changed the course of my life. The person I am today is because I was a participant of Adventure WV and it has such invaluable meaning,” Behe said. “It’s hard to put into words what it means to me because it changed my life so significantly. Every facet of who I am as a person and where I’ve ended up 20 years later is because of this one program.”

Behe’s trip included stops at Coopers Rock, Blackwater Falls, Seneca Rocks and Spruce Knob, and concluded with whitewater rafting on the New River near Fayetteville.

A few years later, Behe returned to the program as a student leader, and has since been all over the world, exploring natural wonders. “I never could have accomplished any of these things if I wouldn’t have gone through Adventure,” she said.

Most participants are incoming freshmen, but transfer students can also sign up along with nontraditional students, such as Veterans.

“We want everyone to come on our trips because we believe it is a transformational experience,” Haas said. “We want these students to persist through their time here at WVU and we genuinely believe finding a sense of community, mentorship and overcoming obstacles together can support that.”

Branching out from the First-Year Trips concept are other programs within Adventure WV with a similar format, but for different demographics. The Sophomore Outdoor Adventure Reorientation Program allows upcoming sophomores to reflect on their first year at WVU, prepare for a future at the University and explore other parts of the country, such as the desert Southwest.

The Adventure WV model also led to creation of both the WVU Science Adventure School and the Ascend WV program.

“You bring a new group of people together who have a shared experience in the outdoors, and you help create a sense of community and belonging as well as help them fall in love with the beauty of West Virginia. It works with sixth graders as well as remote workers,” Corio said.

“All of these tell a story about the impact Adventure WV has had during the past two decades.”

Find more information about Adventure WV.



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