STEP OAC High Sierras Leadership

By: Alissa Finke

STEP LeadershipExperience: OAC High Sierras Backpackig


Wow. Where to start. Before this experience began I had to start exercising and getting use to being on my feet for 8+ hours a day. I started to prepare myself and my body to endure the long days of hiking that were soon coming. I also had to attend pre-trip meetings, gather my equipment, and work out travel arrangements.

We flew out of Columbus and into LAX and headed straight to Sequoia National Park. We picked up supplies and began to organize everything in preparation for our expedition. We were all given leadership methods and outdoor survival tasks to know and be able to teach the group throughout the program. We prepared our lessons with one another, learned about safety, and what to expect while we explored the front country of Sequoia National Park and adjusted our bodies to the high elevation. We also started journaling every night about our thoughts, what we learned, and general feelings so that we could reflect latter on.

We set off on the trail. We carried 5 days worth of food on us. My pack was bout 35 pounds (very heavy for me). Each day we hiked 7-13 miles (averaged ~9 miles). There were 6 other students with two OAC leaders, and I making our total 9. We had to learn to work together right from the start. It is hard to explain backpacking to someone. It something you have to experience for your own, but everyday we pushed our selves to our physical and mental limits. We witnessed unimaginable beauty and created meaningful bonds to both our group members and to nature. We were each responsible for the whole group. We became one cohesive force, but not without facing a few challenges along the way. We had to deal with group dynamics, conflicts, personal injuries or fears. We had to problem-solve on the spot everyday in a new situation and new location.

Each participant had the chance to be leader of the day. This title meant that you were in charge completely. The OAC leaders became participants and you, as leader of the day, decided where and how far we were hiking, when to take food and water breaks, what we were going to eat, who was in charge of what responsibilities. The group had to adjust to different leaders and leadership styles each day and learn to make it work. We followed the leader no matter what, even if they lead us astray, we would have to just figure it out. This might not sound as bad considering we were just walking from point A to B, but there was so much more to it. You had to be the one to motivate your team, make sure the group was healthy and each individual was in good shape. You had to make the big desertions about rout changes and what to do when water sources are dry. When you are leader of the day, you also have to give your lesson on a particular leadership style and outdoor skill. Everyone takes notes and we have a detailed discussion about it. Generally, this happened during mealtime. At the very end of the night, when we have set up camp and have made dinner, we all sit around the fire and have reflection. This covered the entire day and anyone could speak, but specifically we evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of the leader of the day. This included constructive criticism and discussion.

We totaled about 129 miles on our trip and reached a max elevation of 12,000 feet. The pictures speak for themselves. We each had individual goals and group goals, which I am happy to say most if not all were met, there were tears of pain and much laughter. But most importantly we had an experience that made all the difference in each participant. We each walked away with something different, but this program gave us all the confidence to go back to the “real world” and step up as leaders of our generation in our own ways.

So What?

My persona belief is that our education system is inherently wrong in it’s ideals, goals, and basic structure. Yes education is one of the most valuable things in the world and I know I am lucky to have access to such prestigious higher education when others have nothing. I am thankful for all the educators who have helped me along the way. My point being, we are told there is only one way to succeed, one way to be happy and if you jump through the hoops and red tape of the US educational system everything will work out just fine. This means that our students conform; they think mistakes are bad, and to be wrong is to be unintelligent. Therefore we do not create beyond what our system approves of, we design our life to fit into this “perfect” box. Our higher educational system is supposed to be sending out the best and brightest young leaders into the world, but instead we have leaders who just know how to follow directions, and do what has always been done. This leads to lower qualities fulfillment, grid lock in congress, and country that isn’t moving forward as quickly as it has the potential to.

In order to have leaders that can shape the word into a better place, we need individuals with passion and creativity, who are not afraid to break the rules. Going out into the wilderness, away from everything our society distracts us from, is one of the best ways to develop our youth into freethinking and amiable leaders. When you are quite and still you can take off any mask you may be wearing, shed off any barriers you may have up and just think. This allows you to look deep inside yourself to answer questions you may not know you had or inspire ideas that would not have otherwise appeared. The nature of backpacking into the remote and beautiful areas provides this opportunity and more. Not only do you get away from technology and a busy life style, you are reminded of the power and importance of the natural world. It puts your life in perspective. Now, this trip was a trip of a lifetime, but in order to have the balance and self-understanding I am speaking of, one must venture out into nature and be still and quite as much as possible. This STEP leadership experience has given each of us that exactly and introduced a new way of thinking about life.

On a more personal note. Have learned that I am enough. It sounds simple, but it has made a significant difference in how I view myself. As a leader I have grown. I no longer wait to be asked to step-up, instead I am not afraid to give my opinions and be a leader in situations big and small. I went into this program with an open mind and no tangible expectations aside from being able to have an adventure. After the trip I am confident that I chose the program that was best for me. The OAC High Sierras has given me the strong foundation I needed to continue growing in all aspects of my life, from leadership, relationships, and personal ambitions.

Now What?

Before the program I had been a student manager for the OSU dinning services and was interning at an arboretum that summer. I had already had some experience being a leader, but after the trip my employers said that I seemed to me more confident and less doubtful. Although I still struggle with confidence from time to time, I have certainly improved In my ability to speak up and stand up in my daily life. I successfully completed my internship after my trip, leaving with good recommendations and was given a raise at my job at OSU.

STEP gave me an opportunity for self-edification with results that will follow me into my future. I know that happiness one of the most important thinks in my life, and now I have balance between academics and my personal life, which has lead to better grades and better relationships. Moving forward I know my experiences and what I have learned will help in all aspects of my life. I know how to have confidence in interviews, which will help me land a job. I am also more confident in my outdoor skills, which is a critical part of the life style I am trying to lead.

Now, I have memories and experiences that I can look back on to inspire me to keep moving forward.

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