Sandra Parra ’19 is a first-generation college student from Tucson who had never visited Vermont until she landed at Burlington airport a few days before classes began at Green Mountain College last fall. Now in her second year at GMC, she’s using the lessons she’s learned in adjusting to college life to help others make the transition.
“I was in the Upward Bound program in Arizona, which helps high school students prepare for college—everything from financial planning to filling out applications,” she said.
Initially, Sandra planned on attending the University of Arizona in Tucson, but one of her friends and fellow volleyball player who had committed to GMC, and urged her to come with her to Poultney. Sandra’s Upward Bound counselors were supportive. “They encouraged me to take a risk and get out of my comfort zone, so to speak.”
She’s happy she made the decision—she says GMC is like a second home to her now.
Last summer she returned to her Upward Bound program in Tucson, tutoring students in math and organic chemistry and counseling them about their own college aspirations.
Now she’s picking up some valuable research experience this fall with three professors (Jennifer Sellers (psychology), Heather Keith (philosophy), and Drew Bentley (adventure education)). Their project involves administering a series of surveys of first year students about programs designed to aid students in the transition to college life.
“For example, students in our first-year seminars participate in a half-day experience at our challenge course aimed at helping them to set and achieve personal and community goals with their classmates as they progress through their first semester. Our study is designed to help us gauge the effectiveness of this and other programming.”
One of the first lessons Sandra imparts to new students is the importance of getting involved. She plays as a setter on the College’s volleyball team and plans on participating in the InterCultural (ICC) club and UNICEF this year. She has big ambitions for a career in medical research, studying the biological basis of mental disorders.
“Jen Sellers helped me apply for an NIH (National Institute of Health) scholarship last year and I was a finalist,” she said.
Not one to give up easily Sandra is planning on applying again this year.
“Hopefully the research experience I get will make a difference this time.”
Mark first discovered Green Mountain College through The Outdoor Leadership Program at Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, Mass. “You could compare it to a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course, so it’s a condensed version of that, but more certification driven.”
The program lacked the classroom-based theory he was looking for, so his teachers encouraged him to finish his associate’s degree and continue his education by earning a bachelor’s degree at GMC.
An adventure education major who finished his graduation requirements in the fall of 2015, Mark has taken his expertise and turned it into an entrepreneurial venture with an old friend from Spain. Mark spent the last two summers in Norway, providing kayaking tours to tourists.
“I originally went out there and applied to a kayaking business out there. I was told all the spots were filled, but they offered an internship program and I thought I could learn a lot through it.”
Mark’s business began with another intern named Rubio from Spain.
“We had talked to a local landowner who had a couple of kayaks and he was renting them to his guests at a campground.” Mark eventually “inherited” the kayaking business—he and Rubio partnered with the landowner to form Global Outdoor Adventure Services partnering with Active Geiranger in Geirangerfjord, Norway.
Mark loved the adventure education curriculum courses here at GMC; he participated in the fall block course in the fall semester. At GMC he connected with a close group of friends in the adventure education program who liked to go kayaking on the weekends. He’s attended kayaking festivals in Vermont and Deerfield, Mass.
After graduation, Mark has plans to return to Norway and run the kayaking business, and potentially launch a new venture. His long-term interest is spreading his business to different locations so he can “hop” seasonally to get into a warmer climate.
“It’s a business model in commercial tourism, especially in sea-kayaking, that I truly believe can be applied anywhere.”
When asked about the sophomore block for the adventure education program, the first words that come to Nick’s mind are “wicked awesome.”
For Nick, the second semester of freshman year held plenty of adventure, most of which involved white water kayaking. Nick was running class three and four rapids on the Poultney River. The experience helped him gain a certification with the American Canoe Association.
Nick first heard about Green Mountain College in his hometown of Hampstead, N.H. After participating in Green MAP’s Wilderness Challenge (GMC’s popular orientation program), Nick sought more in-depth involvement through training as a Green Mountain Adventure Programming leader. The Green MAP program at GMC offers students of all majors opportunities to participate in outdoor adventure activities such as hiking, skiing, and rock climbing. Since his start with Green MAP Nick has developed better teaching skills that have manifested into exciting opportunities. It also helped land him a teaching assistant gig in an outdoor living skills class.
When asked about the sophomore block for the adventure education program, the first words that come to Nick’s mind are “wicked awesome.” The sophomore block is requirement for Adventure Education students that takes place during the fall semester. Throughout the experience, students are continuously exposed to new environments and activities, ranging from rock climbing to white-water paddling. “I learned so much, it took a while to absorb it all,” he said.
But in the midst of extreme adventure and activity, Nick’s favorite part of the trip was the backpacking section; an eight-day-long backpacking adventure where students demonstrate their skills on how to safely camp, cook, and navigate the wilderness.