by Corrine Previte ’17
The Wilderness Immersion and Leadership Development (W.I.L.D) program, led by Scott Barnett, was eliminated Apr. 3 for the following fall semester. According to the college website, the program uses “outdoor adventures and intentional Christian community to equip leaders to impact the world for Christ.”
W.I.L.D allows students to obtain an Outdoor Education minor through opportunities to develop outdoor leadership and skills for a career outdoors. This practicum can also be used to complete a concentration in outdoor education for Christian Ministries or Recreations, Sport, and Wellness.
The W.I.L.D experience includes a multi-week expedition in the Montana wilderness; a swiftwater rescue training and whitewater rafting in Maine; a backpacking venture in the New York Adirondacks; weekend excursions to learn rock climbing, mountain biking, paddle boarding, and other outdoor pursuits; challenge course certification, and Wilderness Advanced First Aid training through Wilderness Medical Associates. The program also prioritizes the experience of living in an intentional community.
People come from various locations to Gordon in order to attend this program. It has had a great impact on the students who have participated in the program.
Linnea Hultberg ’18 said, “I’m devastated. Besides the fact that it signals that last intentional community through Gordon being cancelled, the W.I.L.D semester was transformational in my life, and now that students were stoked about having that experience—some who came to Gordon specifically to do the WILD semester—don’t get to have it.”
A Gordon alumna Emily Caren ‘15 also expressed her opinion on the decision of the W.I.L.D.
Program being eliminated; she said, “To be quite frank, I am disheartened and frustrated by the college/administration’s decision to terminate the program. I think that leadership is not limited to the business world or to entrepreneurs. I do value good leaders and instruction in biblical leadership in the business world because being a good and grounded leader is important.
“But I think we need to be developing leadership throughout life and throughout contexts, because the business context/market is not the only piece of success in the country or world. We need good educators, we need good doctors, we need good lawyers. We need people in this national and global economy that are focused on people and meeting their needs while looking ahead to what the world can offer as well as looking back at what we have learned.”
Another alumna voiced her appreciation for the program. Kristen Sawyer ’15 said, “The W.I.L.D. semester changed my life and was the only reason I decided to continue my education at Gordon College. The W.I.L.D. semester strengthened my faith, taught me what it truly means to live in Christian community, and developed my potential as a leader.
“Through the W.I.L.D. semester, I was able to invest myself in new ways in the Gordon Community and take the steps to overcome my depression when I returned to campus in the spring.
As a result, my academic performance as a social work student skyrocketed and I became a leader and integral part of the missions department and the OCE (two other extracurricular programs at Gordon that were reasons for me to “stick it out” through the struggles of finishing my time at Gordon under the Lindsay Administration).”
According to Jewerl Maxwell, the Dean of Academic Initiatives and Global Education, each semester, the W.I.L.D. program sets up to allow 12 students to participate. In the past there have been more than 12 students enrolled, which encourages the possibility of expanding the program. Restrictions provided in the laws of the national parks have withheld the program from expanding the number of students.
Maxwell said, “Unfortunately, in recent years, the question has shift from, ‘Can we expand the program to beyond 12 students,’ to a question of, ‘How can we make the budget work due to low enrollment?’”
In 2015, the program accepted eleven students and eight participated. Only nine participated in 2016, and for this upcoming fall, only eight to nine students applied to the program. The program needed to register 12 qualified students by Apr. 3, but this goal was not met.
The decision to eliminate this upcoming fall’s W.I.L.D semester was announced early in order to assist students for fall planning. “This upcoming fall only needed 4 more students to reach the new 12 student requirement which is completely realistic as I know several WILD alumni who decided very last minute to join” Alumni Hannah Fisher stated, who participated in W.I.L.D in the Fall of 2014.
Blake Denman ’18 said, “According to the handbook, they can’t just cast aside a program like this without the approval of the academic affairs committee, the faculty senate, and the president’s cabinet. So maybe there is some hope, but who knows.”
The loss of W.I.L.D for this upcoming fall is a loss to many students. Richelle Joseph ’18 said, “To graduate Gordon without experiencing the WILD semester is to have lost out on the opportunity of a lifetime. This program is applicable to students of all majors, all career paths, all passions, because it teaches people how to love and care for people, and plants, and for yourself as an individual–your relationship with God.”