Rose Gochenaur is most in her element outdoors.
Rose Gochenaur has made it her life's mission to help students run away from school, if even for a short while. As GGC's Recreation and Outdoor Adventures (ROA) Coordinator, Gochenaur helps GGC students take a break from their schoolwork. She believes whether hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, skiing or sailing, time spent outdoors is invaluable to the health and well-being of all students.
Gochenaur's epiphany about the great outdoors came while backpacking with a women's group.
"I learned more on that trip about myself and who I was as a leader and as a person developing my character than I had in a lot of other areas of my life," she says. "I just strongly believe that education exists outside the classroom. A lot of what we do with developing students has so much to do with taking them to a place that they are uncomfortable and forcing them to deal with challenges that may be preventing them from being successful in class."
The challenges Gochenaur bestows on her students include the cornerstone of the program - interpersonal and personal development, leadership skills and environmental stewardship. Other goals, such as nutritional and physical education and the social dimensions of wellness, may also be explored depending on the excursion.
Some of those trips involve camping, which Gochenaur exclaims is in her blood.
"When I was three my parents took me camping in one of those baby carriers. I grew up going camping with my extended family every year to upstate New York, but it wasn't until after graduation that I realized that I could turn my love of camping into a career," she says.
Gochenaur originally received a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from Messiah College in Pennsylvania. But she followed her passion in the great outdoors and received a Master's of Arts degree in Wilderness Instruction from Western Illinois University. She continued her studies with the Wilderness Education Association, which certified her to be part of an international organization that promotes, "the professionalism of outdoor leadership through establishment of national standards, curriculum design, implementation, advocacy and research driven initiatives."
"Outdoor programs target a unique student," she says. "Doing outdoor activities offer opportunities for students who may never have been able to participate in events like camping before; especially for students who come from urban settings."
Students that have participated with ROA have come away with a new sense of purpose. "Sometimes we keep ourselves busy just to keep ourselves busy. We're not always working at our peak potential," says Seijin Tranberg, student government association president and ROA participant. "Getting out into nature and away from the hustle and bustle of school does wonders for me - I always feel more in touch with myself and refreshed whenever I come back from these outings. What I learn from these excursions is a greater sense of self."
One of the longest trips the group embarked upon was last spring break, 2011, when they spent eight days backpacking and camping out on the Appalachian Trail.
"I learned so much about myself as an individual," GGC student Maurice Koffi says. "The things I learned about myself go so beyond anything physical… I'm stronger, tougher and I have no fear now. I don't know what happened out in those woods but it's almost like all the negativity and fears I once had, were pulled right out of my soul."
Since one of the goals includes leadership and development skills, students have to work together and give feedback on each other's skills and abilities in the art of hiking and camping.
"If you've been on a program and had a great experience, you can't just come next time. You're going to have a leadership role on the next trip. You are going to teach the fire building lesson or tent building lesson. It places the responsibility back on the students to share their knowledge and encourage their friends to join in," Gochenaur explains. "It takes a lot of practice to be able to handle the criticism you receive from your peers and mentors. But it is that same process that helps us all acknowledge what our strengths and weaknesses are as leaders and ultimately defines who we become."
Wellness and Recreation Center student assistant, Kaveh Vakili, says, "I really enjoy getting to know so many different students. Coming on these trips opens the doors to friendships I would not have been able to make otherwise."
One of the last camping trips Gochenaur and her students set out on was to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where an unseasonable snow storm chilled their bones with below freezing temperatures and whitened their hiking trails with powdery snow. Luckily, for the group, Gochenaur is always prepared.
"While camping at below freezing temperatures," she explains, "students have the educational opportunity to overcome a variety of challenges that this kind of weather poses. GGC students were more than up to the challenge; and they came together as a group to set up camp in the rain, build a wet wood fire and help keep each other warm. It was truly a team building experience."
The next day, the group hiked up Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park at 6,643 feet. The backdrop of snow provided a picturesque beauty that enabled students to feel the manifestation of nature that takes your breath away and sometimes leads to other surprises.
"We were able to view three bears—a mama and her two cubs feeding," she says. "We were hiking up to the trailhead at Clingmans Dome when we saw a group of people standing around. Then we realized - they were all looking at these bears. It was really a truly, beautiful sight to see such wild animals docilely feeding so near large groups of people."
While camping is one adventure Gochenaur takes her students on, the changes in season bring about other outdoor activities. Water sports such as canoeing, sailing, tubing and Dragon Boat racing to Adrenaline Climbing and golfing also encompass the objectives of the ROA program.
"I believe that if you allow yourself to be truly known by others and challenged in an environment that is not your comfort zone, it is in that space where you will see the greatest depth of growth, it is in that space when you can discover who you are. My favorite moments are at the top of a peak with a group of students I am leading, the looks on their faces are priceless. And without students, none of it is possible."
Funded by student fees, the Recreation and Outdoor Adventures program is available to current GGC students. Many trips are subsidized, free or at deeply discounted rates.