The Adventure Begins

by Oliver Cunningham '08

Photos by Holger Thoss and Michael Woodruff '87

BOC whitewater

Bowdoin's Pre-Orientation trips for incoming first-year students are a tradition that originated informally in 1982 when a small group of first-year students and Professor Chuck Huntington journeyed to Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy as a way to bond and get to know one another.

Twenty-four years later, more than 75% of the incoming Class of 2010 took part in one of 38 "Pre-O" trips. The extensive Pre-O program is now orchestrated by the Bowdoin Outing Club, and the trips range geographically from western New Hampshire to Canada, and encompass a variety of activities for every skill level, including backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, day hiking, mountain biking, and community service.

Oliver Cunningham '08
Oliver Cunningham '08

Pre-Os provide first-year students an experiential introduction to Bowdoin, serving as an opportunity to meet upperclass students and some of their own new classmates. It's also a great opportunity for incoming students to see the beautiful sites of Maine-Mt. Katahdin, the St. Croix River, Isle au Haut near Acadia-places many students may not get a chance to visit again during their time in Brunswick. This year, 375 first-years, 80 upperclass students, and four Bowdoin faculty members took part in the trips.

For leaders, Pre-Os help bridge the gap between upperclassmen and first-years. Leaders become liaisons for the first-years, helping the new students learn about Bowdoin and providing a link to other campus activities and groups. Many Pre-O leaders hold "reunions" with their trip participants after the trips return and classes have started. In many ways, it is the after-effects of Pre-Orientation that make it so valuable.

Outing Club Director Mike Woodruff '87 addresses trip leaders.

"We're planning on having a movie night," says Aaron McCullough '07, who led the Aroostook Service trip. "It's a great way to reconnect with the people you first formed relationships with on campus. We have also gotten a lot of mail from the community we worked in; it's a way to stay connected with them too."

The daunting role of Pre-O Coordinator also turned out to be very rewarding. Logistically, it was a big challenge. The first part of the year entailed getting authorization and use permits for each of the areas across Maine and New Hampshire where we'd be sending groups. In the beginning of June, the first-years sent in their preference forms and each was assigned to a trip on a first come, first served basis. Although the trips continued to fill throughout the summer, some filled more quickly than others, especially the Schooner Trip. The difficulty for me lay in keeping an equal ratio of male to female, and most trips had more females than males, a trend that has continued for several years.


I spent the last few weeks of the summer developing a leader training program, a five-day certification course that includes wilderness first aid training taught by Wilderness Medical Associates, as well as basic wilderness skills such as stove lighting and repair, tents, map and compass navigation, group management, and Leave No Trace outdoor ethics. I spent the final week tying up loose ends with students and leaders, and organizing the food (almost 400 pounds of cheese for the 38 trips!) equipment, transportation (two buses, and 54 vans, minivans and trucks), permits, and other last-minutes needs for the nearly 450 people taking part, which was quite a task in itself. After a night camped all together in Farley Field House, we sent the groups on their way on August 23.


Over the nearly 25-year history of the Pre-Os, trips have continued to expand geographically and have included more and more activities. In 2006, we added several new trips, most notably the inaugural Pre-O voyage of the Schooner Trip aboard Wendameen, an 88-foot two-master out of Portland. The new Aroostook Service Trip traveled to Monticello, Maine, where students stayed at the Monticello Fish and Game Club and worked with community members on local service projects at the Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum. They were featured on the local news for their contribution to the community. And, we reinstated a rigorous backpacking trip to the Pemigewassett Wilderness in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, traversing the Bond Cliff trail over Mt. Lafayette.

Pre-Os are a great way to get to know Bowdoin, and an equally important segue between high school and college. They not only unite students, but integrate them into the local communities and landscapes, and serve as an important form of experiential learning.