After two years of planning and anticipating, three Texas Tech educators recently received funding to turn a dream program into reality. Nathan Gill, Ph.D., assistant professor of fire ecology, Lindsay Kennedy, Ph.D., assistant professor of agricultural communications, and Scott Burris, Ph.D., department chair for agricultural communications, received the Hispanic Serving Institute Grant in the spring of 2020. It allowed the Bridge Adventure program to come to life.
Bridge Adventure is a unique, multidisciplinary, two-year program that provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to participate in adventure-based outdoor excursions while promoting leadership and life skills such as perseverance and self-awareness.
The idea is centered around selecting students from a campus-wide application process to partake in hiking trips ranging from Palo Duro Canyon in Canyon, Texas, to the Grand Canyon, while participating in mentored research projects covering topics from wildfires to the “leave no trace” behavioral campaign.
Above all else, students can combine a high-impact learning experience with environmental learning, while fostering an understanding of diversity and inclusion. As a program director, Gill elaborated on the program’s goals, values, and the impact it has on its members.
“Bridge Adventure creates a sense of community and improves the education experience,” he said. “It does so by allowing students to develop a passion for agricultural sciences and natural resources while taking their career to the next level through the idea of adventure, service-learning, and mentored research.”
Although the program is still in its infancy, seven eager students are already fully embracing what it means to be a Bridge Adventure member in terms of inclusion, self-awareness, and professional growth.
Gill said regardless of discipline or major, each member of the program will benefit from gaining a better understanding of what it means to be an inclusive and welcoming individual.
“We have a fantastic group of students that are finding common interests and relating to each other in great ways and are always up for an adventure,” Gill said.
Sophomore Daniel Ozlowski, studying natural resources management, values the relationships he has developed and cultivated in just over a semester.
“We are a group who started out as strangers, and now we are meeting up at Torchy’s [Tacos] for chips and queso,” Ozlowski said.
The challenges students face during their time in the program will equip them to be more proactive about helping to increase diversity and inclusion throughout the workplace.
Kennedy, Gill’s fellow program director, expressed the importance of students maintaining an open mind and embracing new adventures.
“When you put students in a position to seek out new opportunities and explore new things, man, the world just gets bigger for them,” Kennedy said.
She explains how the program provides students with an opportunity to step outside their comfort zones and test their limits on an adventure of self-discovery in the outdoors.
Bridge Adventure member Ashlyn Sneed, a junior studying ecology and environmental biology from Corpus Christi, Texas, has already begun to implement her self-discoveries into her everyday routine.
“When you know you’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, you know you don’t need to take the bus on campus,” said Sneed.
Whether you are hiking in and out of a 4,000 feet canyon, or walking across campus, seeking achievement is human nature. This program teaches students that it’s not the size of the obstacle that measures success, but the follow-through and self-discoveries you make along the way.
Not only are students able to refine a specific skill and cultivate their previous knowledge, but by stepping outside their comfort zone they open their minds to potentially develop an interest in a new career opportunity. Gill elaborated on the program’s self-guided structure and how each student’s experience will be unique.
“Part of this can be self-driven, there are a lot of different goals the students can achieve, and we want them to choose the ways they want to grow the most,” Gill said. “We’ve tried to build in opportunities for them to have to choose to peruse certain things more deeply.”
Through curiosity and passion, the Bridge Adventure program creates a memorable experience for members to grow both personally and professionally. The diverse curriculum– such as hiking excursions, hands-on research projects, and in-depth seminars–allows students to apply the skills and knowledge gained to any future endeavor.
Sneed explained how the skills and knowledge she has developed throughout her time in the program will be used in her future.
“I love being a part of a program that allows me to participate in research that will set me up for grad school,” said Sneed.
The experiences and life lessons students experience throughout the course of this program are mentally and physically constructive. “There are a lot of things that can be evolved about the Bridge Adventure program,” said Kennedy. “One thing we hope to do is use the current cohort to have more of a planning and mentoring role with the second group. Once you’ve learned some leadership skills you can put them into play. It will be exciting to see where we go next.”