Ask an Expert on Outdoor Programming

The expert advice to answer your most pressing questions. This month, Chris Ertman, the recreation coordinator and club sports advisor at The Evergreen State College, shares advice on outdoor programming. 

What makes The Outdoor Program at The Evergreen State College special? 

CE: Outdoor adventure is unique at The Evergreen State College because of its deep history within the roots of the college’s creation. Willi Unsoeld, the famous mountaineer and philosopher who is often considered “The Father of Experiential Education,” is one of Evergreen’s founding faculty members and is famously known for the first ascent on Everest’s west ridge, among other historical climbs.

Evergreen has one stand-alone factor that enables its outdoor program to go above and beyond what most universities have to offer: location. Evergreen is nestled away in a towering, old-growth forest where you are surrounded by nature. Couple this with being a stone’s throw away from the Pacific Ocean, the Cascade Mountain Range, daunting volcanic peaks such as Mt. Rainier, the Olympic National Forest and rock climbing statewide, it truly gives us all aspects of outdoor adventure to explore and educate.

webWhat are some of the challenges of running an outdoor adventure program at a college?      

CE: Like all outdoor adventure programs, managing the risk versus the reward is always a constant challenge in a college setting. It is critical to realize it is never possible to eliminate all risk involved with an outdoor adventure program. Freak weather, unexpected illness; the list goes on and on. The key is to make sure all program staff are prepared and have been given the tools they need to adapt and excel in an unforeseen crisis.

How have you overcome these challenges?   

CE: We rely heavily on our TOP (The Outdoor Program) staff comprised of students to provide leadership, guidance and expertise to the participants. All staff must go through a one-year SIT (Staff in Training) program where they build their skills and are mentored by senior TOP staff.  The training program is very extensive and takes a great deal of time, but has resulted in our graduating staff obtaining jobs immediately in the outdoor industry as guides, rangers and expedition leaders.

How has The Outdoor Program at The Evergreen State College evolved over the years? 

CE: The Outdoor Program at Evergreen continues to evolve as outdoor pursuits continue to grow nationwide. Originally, our program focused almost exclusively on mountaineering and climbing, but over the years we have begun focusing on having a well-rounded program to meet the needs of our diverse student population. Our program now offers a wide range of activities such as paddling, climbing, mountaineering and hiking, along with simple in-house “how to” clinics, such as “how to create a perfect s’more.”

Do you think having an outdoor  program gives Evergreen an advantage?

CE: Offering outdoor recreation provides students a needed outlet to revamp and re-energize as the school year drags on, often providing a much needed change of scenery when a student may need it most.  

Rachel is the Editor and Chief of Peake Media. She can be reached at

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