There have been many important faces and changes over the decades as Georgia College (GC) has taken its place as a leader in the field of outdoor education. This Policy and Procedures Manual (PPM), together with the Challenge Course Facilitator Handbook (FH), and all their revised editions, contains benchmarks that have been, in part, necessitated by standards set forth by The Association for Experiential Education Accreditation Council. Accreditation is both a privilege and a responsibility. It carries with it a commitment to excellence that demands quality and accountability. It offers the distinction of being a member of a group of organizations committed to excellence and the willingness to stand up to the test of peer review. This brief historical account reflects the people and events that have contributed to where we are today.
During the 1960s and 70s, Floyd Anderson, the former Chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education & Recreation, conducted summer outdoor education workshops at Lake Laurel Lodge. These workshops provided the professional and academic foundation for the outdoor education programs and services at GC today.
In 1985, Dr. Ed Spears, then President of Georgia College, participated with twelve faculty and staff, representing academic affairs, student services, and business services areas, in a five day course at North Carolina Outward Bound. One of the outcomes of this adventure was the commitment to deliver more wellness and outdoor education opportunities to Georgia College students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community. A Task Group on Wellness and Environmental Education Projects and Programs was established and, under the direction of Dr. Jim Wolfgang (then Chair of the Department of Health & Physical Education and Recreation) outdoor education wellness courses became a reality. A Wellness Committee became campus wide in 1985 and in 1987 an Adventure Subcommittee was formed, including Floyd Anderson, John Lawler, Mary Jane Phillips, Ken Sexton and Lee Gillis (chair), to oversee these courses.
During this period a Ropes Course Sub-committee was formed and a group, including Mary Jane Phillips, Janet Buckworth, Ed Spears, Arnie Wade, Eve Puckett, Ken Sexton and Lee Gillis (chair), built several low course elements. They investigated the potential for using ropes courses in the university setting and as a result Karl Rohnke of Project Adventure Inc. came to Georgia College to complete a site evaluation in preparation for building a high ropes course. In 1988 the first high ropes course was built in Nesbitt Woods behind Centennial Center.
Exciting changes were taking place on the academic side as well. Harriett Whipple and Kathryn Powell, in the late 1980’s, envisioned an academic degree with a major in outdoor education. In the early 1990’s, Dr. Mike Wisnyai was hired to teach outdoor education wellness courses and to establish a relationship with the local school system to nurture outdoor education community programming. When, in 1992, Dr. Wisnyai left Georgia College, Jim Wall was hired to teach outdoor skill courses, develop an outdoor club, and to cooperate with Drs. Whipple and Powell to design and implement a Bachelor of General Studies major in Outdoor Education. This undergraduate degree became a reality in 1995. Two important developments are evident today as a result of this period of growth in outdoor education at Georgia College.
First, the outdoor club grew to become the Outdoor Education Center at Georgia College (OEC). In 1997, the Outdoor Education Center, along with Lake Laurel and the Power Point Recreation Area, became part of the Division of Continuing Education & Public Services. Dana Turner was hired in 1998 as the first Director of Campus Recreation and Outdoor Education. When Dana left to take a job in New Zealand, Todd Weatherly, a graduate student in the Outdoor Education Administration program became Acting Director of the OEC for most of the 1998-99 academic year. Beth Hohnadel was hired in March 1999 as the Director of the Outdoor Education Center and, through the dedication of Dr. Harriett Whipple and others, Lake Laurel has continued to develop as an Outdoor Education Center of excellence.
Secondly, two internationally recognized graduate programs were developed at Georgia College. In the spring of 1992, Jim Wall, Dr. Ed Spears, and Dr. Lee Gillis attended the Southeast Regional Conference of the Association for Experiential Education. A pivotal conversation with Dr. Mike Gass from the University of New Hampshire spurred interest in graduate programs. The three returned to lay the foundations for the M.S. in Psychology, with emphasis in Adventure Therapy and the M.Ed. in Health and Physical Education, with emphasis in Outdoor Education Administration. Due to changes in licensure and the public health system, the Masters in Psychology, Adventure Therapy Track ended its short life in 1997. Jim Wall remained as the Coordinator of Outdoor Education Academic Programs from 1994 to 1997.
In 1996, Dr. Jude Hirsch teamed with Jim Wall to teach outdoor education in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER). Dr. Hirsch became the Coordinator of Outdoor Education Academic Programs in 1997. During the 1996-97 academic year, HPER put forth a proposal to offer a B.S. in Outdoor Education. The Board of Regents approved the degree and several new courses at the undergraduate level were developed. In 1996, HPER moved from the School of Education to the School of Health Sciences (now College of Health Sciences) where it enjoys an association with the School of Nursing and the Department of Music Therapy.
A more recent development in outdoor education academic programs is the requirement for students in the B.S. to complete a cognate area of specialization in environmental education, management, health and physical education, or therapeutic use of adventure. Undergraduate students are required to do a minor or second major in a related subject like biology, marketing, physical education, or psychology.
The 1999-2000 academic years brought a number of changes for GC and the outdoor education programs. Jim Wall left GC to focus on his business, Cornerstone Designs and Dr. Jimmy Griffin began his tenure at GC in the fall of 2000 as an Assistant Professor of Outdoor Education. The termination of the lease that GC maintained with Georgia Power for use of Power Point Recreation Area was announced. However, an agreement was secured for the use of Rocky Creek Park (Georgia Power) during its off-season, providing excellent lake access and support facilities for classes and related programs.
The development of student housing in the Nesbitt Woods between Centennial Center and the Smith House began a series of location changes for outdoor education programs and the OEC. A portion of the West Campus Athletic Complex was developed for outdoor education offices, equipment storage facilities, a classroom, and a new challenge course adjacent to the facility was constructed. In addition, as of September 2000 the OEC was transferred back to the Department of Health, Physical Education & Recreation. In the spring of 2002, construction of dormitories at West Campus displaced the challenge course and much of the academic outdoor teaching space resulting in a new environmental education area, challenge course equipment management facilities, and challenge course (Project Adventure, Inc.) being built near the southwestern edge of West Campus. When Dr. Jimmy Griffin left GC, Dr. Jeff Turner, a graduate of the M.Ed. program, was hired to support academic programs.
In the spring of 2005, continued growth at West Campus necessitated the move of outdoor education classes to a temporary location in Lake Laurel Lodge and plans were approved to move the OEC and related facilities to the cabin at Lake Laurel Campus. In November of 2005, the OEC moved to its new home and in January, 2006 the new challenge course (Experiential Resources Inc.) and related facilities were completed. The Yurt, originally located at Lake Laurel Campus, has followed the program to its various relocations and is now permanently located back at Lake Laurel Campus adjacent to the challenge course.
Beginning in the 2007-08 academic year, significant changes in program leadership were made each year. In 2007-08, Dr. Hirsch served as the interim co-chair for the Department of Kinesiology (previously HPER) and Dr. Turner served as the interim Director of the OEC. The following year (2008-09), Dr. Hirsch became the Chair of the Department of Kinesiology, Dr. Turner became the Coordinator of Outdoor Education Academic Programs, and Dr. Will Hobbs joined the outdoor education faculty.
In spring 2009 a 5-year business plan for the Outdoor Education Center was submitted to Dr. Dorothy Leland, President of Georgia College & State University. It was approved and in the fall of 2009, Liz Speelman was hired as the first full time director of the new Outdoor Center at Georgia College (OCGC). The Venture Out student club, previously administered by Student Activities, moved to the OCGC resulting in the consolidation of outdoor academic and non-academic programs with administrative oversight by the Department of Kinesiology.
During the summer of 2010, Dean Gangstead of the College of Health Sciences provided the administrative support to allow outdoor education programs at Georgia College to leave the Department of Kinesiology and form the new Department of Outdoor Education. This new department is thought to be the only existing Department of Outdoor Education at a public university in the United States.
Outdoor education programs at Georgia College are recognized within the institution and the profession for their excellence. In 2006, the Association for Experiential Education recognized GC Outdoor Education programs as the Organizational Member of the Year for its five-year record in excellent programming, contribution to the field, and exemplary ethical standards. In 2007, outdoor education programs were awarded the GC Program of Excellence Award and in 2008 outdoor education academic programs and the Outdoor Education Center were selected to represent the College of Health Sciences as a GC Program of Distinction.
Outdoor education academic programs and the Outdoor Center at Georgia College continue to be accredited by the Association for Experiential Education; one of only two jointly accredited programs in the United States. Georgia College outdoor education programs are nationally recognized for their professional leadership and programming and creating exemplary opportunities for professional education and service learning that benefits students, faculty, and a wide range of client groups.
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Milledgeville, GA 31061