Discovering ODEL: It's more than just a name

 Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Have you ever been whitewater rafting? Or gone on a tour of a national park? Maybe you’ve been to a wilderness camp or retreat with your church. Chances are, your leaders and guides for these activities might be Outdoor Leadership, or ODEL majors.

There is more to ODEL than its name suggests however; it is not just about leading outdoors. The philosophy behind ODEL is deeper than that. ODEL majors learn through experiential learning rather than learning through traditional methods in a classroom setting. Instead of sitting and listening to someone teach or lecture on a subject, the idea is to go out into the outdoors and learn by observation with hands-on experience. 

Students majoring in ODEL participate in many off campus, practical learning opportunities, explained senior ODEL major Matt Laurens.

They do things such as rock climbing and whitewater rafting, and generally spend a good deal of time in nature.

"Every student spends a semester called an 'immersion semester,'" said Laurens. "I'm actually doing mine right now."

For ODEL students, the immersion semester is a semester in which they don’t take any classroom type classes in a traditional class setting. Instead they go on multi-week excursions and learn practical skills firsthand. By spending time in the actual field that they will be working in, they learn from experience. Learning by doing is key to ODEL.

As far as careers with an ODEL major go, there is a wide variety. After graduation, graduates can find work with national state parks as park rangers, they can find work as a tour guide for various outdoor activities, or they can work in fields such as outdoor therapy or adventure therapy.

Adventure therapy is used to help people, often recovering addicts, to get away from the stress of life and immerse themselves in the natural beauty of creation.