Creative Virtual Program Highlights: Taking Outdoor Programs Virtual


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Universities are getting creative with virtual offerings. And we want to highlight them! Check out these “Virtual Program Highlights” from Sam Houston State University (SHSU).

Outdoor programming can initially seem difficult to take virtual, but the Outdoor Recreation team at SHSU found a way to virtually offer five different programs aimed at continuing benefits in an interactive, online way during the facility closure.

“Our biggest question to ourselves the entire time was, ‘How can we find the balance between producing a certain quantity of content, and also trying to engage students with a quality experience, benefits and engagement?’” said Lara Patterson, the assistant director of Outdoors at SHSU. “My mission within our outdoor program is to create programs that help our participants on the journey to their best self through experiences that help them grow physically, mentally and spiritually.”

When creating these programs, Patterson’s team asked:

  • What do we already do that we can easily switch to virtual?
  • What do our students want?
  • How do we engage participants?
  • How can we keep teaching skills?
  • How can we engage our current student staff into the experience?
  • What would be super fun?

From these questions came several programs:

The Virtual Adventure Challenge

The daily Virtual Adventure Challenge encourages students to engage in a new challenge every day, and to share their thoughts and participation on social media with themes of: Motivation Monday, Tone It Tuesday, What Knot Wednesday, Think About it Thursday and Fun Friday.


A student employee shares a DIY hangboard for Think About it Thursday.

Adventure Highlights

For this program, SHSU staff share favorite adventures and places with information for future planning purposes. “The idea behind this is giving our participants ideas on places they can go and explore,” explained Patterson. “It’s also marketing an adventure travel planning service where I can help our community plan their next trip, and make it a more adventurous or natural experience.”

This program also offers an Adventure Planning Form where participants can submit travel goals, locations and favorite activities. Then Patterson will offer suggestions for creating their next adventure. This form can be accessed here.

Adventure Education

Adventure Education is a weekly, live Zoom program that discusses a variety of outdoor adventure topics. Most of the material Patterson uses is what she would teach during trip lead training.

Outdoor Film Fest

Simply put, a favorite outdoor video is shared every Friday. “Outdoor people love to watch outdoor movies,” said Patterson. “This is an opportunity to share our favorites.”

SHSU Outdoors Daily Reflections

This program is to encourage daily reflection and growth through sharing in the SHSU Outdoors Facebook group and via Instagram Stories. “I believe the only reason our adventures trips are an incredible benefit to our participants is because we reflect on them each day and draw meaning,” said Patterson. “I believe we grow through challenging times, and I wanted to provide an avenue to pose reflective questions to our community to grow through this new wilderness exploration that is our life.”

All in all, Patterson’s advice for taking outdoor programs virtual is to consider this just another mountain to climb. “Outdoor professionals understand how to navigate hard things because adventure is hard and it’s what we do,” she said. “We help participants navigate the unknown and the wilderness outside their comfort zone all the time. We help participants discover they are way more capable than they think they are. Ask, ‘What strategies do you use for that?’ and then use it on yourself and student staff.”

Brittany is an editor at Peake Media. Reach her at

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