With its director’s visa expiring, the Georgetown Outdoor Education program, which organizes backpacking, rock climbing, and kayaking excursions for Georgetown students, is now in the hands of its students as the Center for Student Programs searches for a new director.
Former director Sam Bonfield took over last spring for Russ Watts. “It was just an interim position. It was sort of thrust upon [Bonfield],” said rock climbing coordinator Zack Sawyer (COL ‘15). “He took over the reins for a couple months … but it would have been his if he had wanted it.” Bonfield declined a request for an interview.
Members of the program liked Bonfield, and thought highly of him. “Sam was a great director who helped us students create an organizational structure we could manage ourselves with the departure of Russ,” wrote Georgetown Rock Instructor Program coordinator Phil Rogers (MSB ‘14) in an email to the Voice.
“[Bonfield] brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the program,” wrote current student director Alexandra Moran (SFS ‘13) in an email. “Thanks to Sam’s leadership, Outdoor Ed. had a very successful fall season. We led pumpkin picking trips, whitewater rafting trips, backpacking trips, and weekly indoor and outdoor rock climbing trips.”
Bonfield’s departure did not come as surprise to the program. “We had known from the beginning that Sam would have to leave because of visa expiration, so his departure had been factored in for a while,” Rogers wrote.
Under both Watts and Bonfield, the program developed a strong student leadership team, including the creation of a new position, student director, to serve as a liaison between the director and the student managing team.
The student management team consists of a Base Camp Manager, Publicity Coordinator, and Rock Climbing Coordinator. “Together we manage trip-related finances, plan events, and are in charge of trip-staffing coordination,” Moran wrote.
The student leadership is confident the program will remain strong. “Sam’s departure will not greatly affect the program,” Moran wrote. “Students can still look forward to Wednesday night ski trips starting in January.”
“We can do much of what we did before, we’re still in really close contact with the CSP,” Sawyer said. “We can lead all the same trips.”
But some things are up in the air, including the incoming Georgetown Outdoor Adventure Training class, which trains future guides for the program. “It will happen,” Sawyer said. “But when it happens, who knows?”
The search is on for a new director. “Applications have already gone out and are being sorted through,” Sawyer said.
“The position is listed on the HR website, which lists the required qualifications. Interviews will be conducted in late November, December and, if necessary, January,” wrote CSP director Erika Cohen-Derr in an email to the Voice. “I hope to have someone full time in the role in the first half of the spring semester.”
Throughout the search period, CSP has sought student involvement. “CSP really wants students’ opinions, because we’re the ones who have to work with this guy,” Sawyer said.
But beyond determining the new director, Bonfield’s departure has brought the entire direction of the Outdoor Ed program into question. “What the vision of what Outdoor Ed is going to be, that’s the even bigger question,” Sawyer said. “Sam had this very distinct vision, and you know we have our own vision.” One idea Bonfield had was to create “Outdoor Rec,” which, according to Moran, “will consist of more guide-only trips and additional training opportunities for guides.”
Sawyer said many guides quickly feel burned out from the workload. “Also when you’re guiding a trip, you can’t really expand on your own because you have to stay so far within your comfort zone—you can’t take a risk,” he said.
“So far, Outdoor Ed has only been a service outlet, to provide Georgetown students with climbing trips. There is a lot of desire to make this a club as well,” Sawyer said, due to the current workload required of guides. “It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s all on you.”
On whether or not Outdoor Ed. will continue on the path toward being an officially recognized club, Sawyer said it was too early to tell. “That trajectory has already been set, but that could change, the director can do whatever he wants with it.”