Inside the Great Outdoors


Jim Olech of the Outdoor Adventure Program, just hanging around.

Your student ID can get you access to a harness, some rope and helmets that have to be worn at all times.

The Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP) is housed within the Physical Education (PE) Complex building on the outskirt of Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).

This program has been an on and off extension of Campus Recreation for years and has three primary areas: a rock climbing wall, challenge courses varying in levels of intensity and planned, off-campus trips that concentrate on outdoor activities.

“We have an interesting connection between the PE side and the campus rec side,” said Stephen Backus, Graduate Assistant for the OAP at NEIU. “This is actually a subset of the department’s PE training. They have an adventure education program for anybody who’s trying to become a PE teacher.”

According to Backus, the PE department initiated the program and has worked at it for about 20 to 25 years. Campus recreation also picked up on the program slowly expanded on it.

“We’re providing more challenge course programs and more climbing-wall hours,” Backus said. “We work on leadership, communication, problem solving, self esteem, decision making, cooperation, all these things that we need to be reasonable human beings.

“This cooperative adventure education works on those soft skills that are applicable to everybody.”

Whether it’s PE classes taken or the equipment used within the gyms, Backus said that the PE department and campus recreation work together to ensure that students get not only education they need but also the services offered.

“Our team building programs have these bags full of random objects … and other toys and games. Once you’re able to take those intuitive actions and put names to them, (students) are able to recall the experience and actually, purposefully apply it to new situations.

“Being able to have fun and watch these individuals grow through these activities and initiatives has been awe-inspiring,” he said.

Within the OAP, safety is followed by fun and fun by learning. “They are very close in priority number one is always safety,” he said. “Every four to six weeks, my hands or hands of one of my student staff is inspecting every bolt, piece of metal on the high course, the climbing wall, all of our equipment.”

If a group wants to compete against one another in a challenge course, as a group there would be a fee, as the challenge course would be opened just for that group. A fee would also apply to groups who would want to participate in overnight camping trips.

Vanessa Crisostomo, an NEIU Secondary English major and rising senior said, “I’m the least outdoorsy person you can think of but now I love going camping. I love the rock wall, I love everything about the Outdoor Adventure Program. It really is for everyone.” Crisostomo is a supervisor at the climbing wall and Backus’s assistant.

“We’ve had as many as 20 (people) and upward,” Crisostomo said describing the number of climbers they’ve received at any one given moment.

In spite of what is occurring with the budget stalemate that is felt all the way from Springfield, IL, Backus said that he “does not see a foreseeable end to the program.”

Students who are looking to participate in the OAP can visit the NEIU Campus Recreation website or Facebook page.