Monday, September 22, 2014

Leadership course gets students into the wild

SNRE’s wilderness leadership class takes students from the classroom to the trails and beyond.

Taught by Sam Braband, coordinator of outdoor recreation, Natural Resources Management 161 provides students with the fundamental skills needed to guide people in backcountry environments.

Not only do participants receive technical knowledge, learning about appropriate clothing and gear, meal planning, safety and navigation, they ideally come away with valuable team building and leadership abilities.
Sam Braband, right, on a field trip with UAF students in the Golden Canyon, Yukon Territory. Photo by Adam McComb

Throughout fall semester, the group takes three field experiences to Far Mountain, Granite Tors and Angel Creek. Braband described the outings as strenuous but not eliminators. “It’s a fun, experiential way to learn about leadership,” he said. “Not only do you get credit but you get to go backpacking and skiing.”

Students learn new ways of looking at leadership and skills to lead people in the outdoors and be prepared for experiences in life, Braband said. “What they learn is easily transferred to everyday life. It helps solve problems and with decision making.”

 “The Backpackers Field Manual” and “AMC Guide to Outdoor Leadership” are the textbooks, with supplemental readings provided by Braband. Students also write two papers, one on risk management and the other on an expedition of Ernest Shackelton, Lewis and Clark or Fritz Wiessner.

 The three-credit class attracted 14 students this semester, several of them international exchange students. Majors range from engineering to resource economics to health. “Almost everybody has an outdoor industry focus for their career goals,” Braband said.

 “One of my favorite things about this job is teaching different skills and showing people wild Alaska,” Braband said. “But one of the most rewarding things is seeing how the group develops from the first trip to the last and seeing how close people become. We have great discussions in the camp at night, play fun games and talk about what wilderness means.”

 Braband earned a degree at the University of Northern Iowa, and took a year-long outdoor studies certification at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. “I know what it’s like to see Alaska wilderness for the first time,” he said. “You are awed. You know this is unique and something just clicks .”

 He has worked as a wilderness river ranger in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and taught climbing at Sacramento State University.

Braband has applied to study for a master’s degree in natural resources management, and wants to research whether people continue an outdoor activity once they are introduced to it. “I want to look at what motivates them to continue with the activity.”

 In the wilderness leadership class, Braband said everyone has the opportunity to lead. “We take turns and mix it up so everybody gets a chance to try the leadership role.”

While some people are naturally gifted at leadership, others have to come by it the hard way, Braband said. “A leader is nothing without someone to lead,” he said. “You are dealing with people from different cultures, with different personalities. Your goal is to get them to work together.

 “Leadership can be taught but it’s harder than teaching rock climbing. Leadership is a dynamic process. The secret is you have to care about who you’re leading.”

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