When senior Grant Stauffer had to retake Spanish 2 his junior year, taking a semester off before starting college began to seem more and more like a good idea. High school had become boring and he found little excitement throughout the school day. The thought of spending a semester in the outdoors sounded much better than the repetitive schedule of school and homework.
Grant will spend a semester traveling and learning in the wilderness with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), headquartered in Lander, Wyoming. The program allows students of all ages to learn about the wilderness and experience the outdoors firsthand. The Rocky Mountain course, which Grant is taking, is specifically for students in their ‘gap year’ before starting college.
Grant’s parents, Sara and Ward, had originally discussed the NOLS program with Grant’s older brother Quinn, currently a junior at Colorado State University. Although Quinn decided not to go, it had always been in the family’s mind as an option for Grant.
During the first semester of his junior year, when many classmates were going around the country visiting schools and filling out college applications, Grant began to consider taking his first semester of college off.
“I have a whole lifetime to go to school, and you don’t get opportunities like this very much,” Grant said. “So when my parents threw out the idea, of course I jumped on it.”
Not being thrilled to pay out-of-state tuition for a child who didn’t enjoy going to class, Sara and Ward were supportive of Grant’s decision to take a semester off.
“I think for a lot of kids, the year before you start conventional college is a good year [for NOLS]”, Sara said. “I like that ‘gap year’ idea, it’s a time to grow up.”
The students’ dorms are located in Lander, although they will only be there for a maximum of two weeks during the semester. Excursions will take students to Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, South Dakota and Nevada.
Grant has always had an affinity for the outdoors. He has visited his grandparents’ house in Colorado for years, skiing for his first time as a 3-year-old. Since he was 12 years old Grant has dreamed of back-country skiing, which involves hiking up a mountain with skis strapped to one’s back and then skiing down. NOLS will finally give him that chance, along with many other opportunities to perfect his other outdoor skills.
All the students in the program have to depend on each other when they take their trips. This will force them to get to know each other and make friends quickly. Groups of 10 to 15 students will go with one instructor while hiking, canyoneering, skiing, climbing and swimming through beautiful landscapes in the mountains. Because this is a leadership school, a student is assigned to lead the group through each day. Through these exercises, Grant will gain leadership traits and learn to cooperate with others while striving for various goals.
“[NOLS] determines what kind of leader you are,” Pearson Smith, a marketing representative for NOLS, said. “We go through a debriefing session each day so that students know their strengths and weaknesses.”
A day at NOLS will consist of waking up with the sun and everyone making their own breakfast. Then they will take down the campsite and begin their activity. A day of backpacking would normally be a 13-mile hike with just two stops for lunch and dinner. According to Grant, hiking will last throughout the day “until you can’t see where you’re going.” Then they will set up camp for the night and do it all over again.
“It’s going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life”, Grant said. “And I imagine it will be potentially the hardest thing I will ever do because it’s a semester straight of hard work.”
With hopes of becoming more patient and seeing the beauty in everything, Grant thinks he will improve his diligence in his work by going to NOLS. Grant wants to be able to finish all the tasks while at NOLS and thinks he will if he sets mind to completing them.
Once the semester abroad is over, Grant plans to attend college. Whether he takes classes through a community college or goes straight to Colorado State is undecided. Grant has always been interested in the field of medicine. After learning outdoor skills, he thinks being an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in the wilderness or being a guide for rafting and backpacking trips would be enjoyable. These jobs would involve using his acquired NOLS skills to help others in the wilderness.
“No matter what I’m doing I feel like I will be tested a lot when I’m at NOLS, being able to do things that I dont think I can do.” Grant said. “So a lot of it will be maturity or diligence in my work and just having patience with my work with whatever I’m doing in life.