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New students get a hands-on introduction to sustainability

Three unique Penn State programs offer first-year students from campuses across Pennsylvania adventurous entrances into college life. Image: Will Batchelor
Three unique Penn State programs offer first-year students from campuses across Pennsylvania adventurous entrances into college life. Image: Penn State
September 4, 2013

Penn State orientation programs give first-year students a chance to connect with nature and participate in community service projects while making friendships that will ease the transition from home to college.

The word aurora refers to the dawn, as well as to the natural electrical phenomena of colorful streams of light in the night sky—usually near the magnetic poles. Similarly, AURORA Penn State Outdoor Orientation Programs—ORION, URSA, and VEGA —offer a powerful start to a student’s Penn State experience.

"AURORA is more than an orientation experience," says one program leader, "it is a journey that will reward you with great friends, amazing memories, and the confidence that you can do more than you ever imagined."

Team work in the wild

Alanna Kaiser, one of 240 Penn State students from campuses across the state taking part in the ORION Wilderness Experience, had never been backpacking before she joined the program. She said that none of the students in the group knew each other before the trip. “The first day nobody talks to each other. At the end, we were all best friends.”“We try to get students to expand their horizons and make new friends,” program director Jen Bean said of ORION. “It makes this campus of 40,000-plus seem so much smaller.” Image: Will Batchelor

The students spent five days hiking and camping in Pennsylvania state forests, one day either canoeing or doing a high-ropes adventure, and then finished up with a cookout at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center, Penn State’s nature center and field lab and the host of all three programs.

The VEGA West Coast Wilderness program is the newest addition to the AURORA series, and offers students an incredible journey in the Olympic Wilderness.

Participants set up camp on the beach before embarking on a hike, where they learned Leave No Trace backpacking and camping ethics. In the following days, they explored waterfalls, creeks, coastal features, and felt the sand beneath their feet, all while talking about student life at Penn State. 

"VEGA took me outside of my comfort zone, allowing me to meet new people and experience things that I never could have dreamed of!" Jenny Eberhardt, VEGA Participant 2013

Rolling up their sleeves in Philly

In the URSA Urban Experience program, incoming first-year Penn State students work side-by-side on community service projects in Philadelphia. The URSA program, held in Philadelphia, provides incoming first-year students with an opportunity to participate in community service projects while making friendships that will ease the transition from home to college. Image: Penn State

This year, the group cooked a meal for the families staying with the American Cancer Society, repackaged food at Manna for individuals with life-threatening illnesses, and helped paint and weed at a local school, just to name a few activities.

"The URSA program combines the best of community service, social, and leadership qualities that Penn State has to offer." 

Ramya Gurunathan, an URSA student, was amazed at the insight gained by her time in the program. "It will surprise you to see how much you can learn about yourself when you spend the entire week thinking about others." 

Students earn 2 college credits for taking part in the programs. Each requires participants to keep detailed journals about their experience, set specific goals for their first year of college, and write a final paper summarizing what they've learned.

 

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