Oct. 24, 2016Vol. 47, Issue 2

Chico State Accepts Outdoor Nation University Challenge

Chico State students, faculty, staff, and community members log their outdoor activities in a race to be crowned "Most Outdoorsy School" in the nation. (Kyle Gunther)

Nate Millard urges his students to get outside and explore their world—if for no other reason than the health benefits.

“I want students to be healthy, get outside, and share that with other students,” said Millard, mentor supervisor for First-Year Experience at Chico State. “A lot of students don’t have the healthiest ways for dealing with stress. So going outside, running, hiking, and paddling, among other things, are healthy ways to deal with it. I know it benefits students personally, and also our community.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Millard (who also teaches courses in Recreational Facility Management and in the Sustainability Pathway) was an advocate for Outdoor Nation, a six-week challenge put on by the Outdoor Foundation (based in Washington, DC) encouraging college campuses nationwide and their students to get outside and get active. Chico State was one of 89 schools to participate this year.

Students, University faculty and staff, and community members log their outdoor activities onto the free mobile app (iOS and Google Play) or the desktop site on behalf of their schools. These activities can be as cardio-intensive as running, hiking, biking, kayaking or rock climbing, or as laid-back as hanging out in the creek or hammocking. Outside is outside, and each activity receives a point total. After six weeks, the school with the most points wins—and is crowned the “Most Outdoorsy School” in the nation.

Outdoor Nation recently wrapped up its third year, the second time Chico State has participated. Last year, Chico State placed seventh. This year, Chico State eyed the No. 3 spot as a goal, and finished comfortably in fifth.

“I’m really happy to see how many members of the University and community joined together to show their pride in what this town has to offer,” said Kyle Gunther, a Chico State student and also Chico Gets Out Program Coordinator for the Institute for Sustainable Development.

Outdoor Nation is a natural fit for Chico State, as the North State is an outdoor recreation lover’s paradise. And collaborating (another Chico State strength) was a tremendous part of the recipe for Chico State’s involvement in the challenge. ISD Sustainability Programs Manager Fletcher Alexander credits Gunther for running the entire challenge on campus, starting in the spring. Gunther applied on the University’s behalf in April, and learned it was selected in May.

Gunther teamed up with Adventure Outings, and tapped into the campus adventure organization’s many resources. Gunther, also a trip leader for AO, promoted Outdoor Nation with the hashtag #ChicoGetsOut through their social media accounts and hosted on-campus hammocking sessions. He and the AO staff promoted rock climbing at the University’s indoor climbing wall.

AO, a powerful collaborator for Outdoor Nation, offers weekend trips that typically fill around 500-600 seats throughout the school year, according to Assistant Coordinator Keith Crawford. These trips are open to students, faculty and staff, and the community, and include caving, camping, backpacking, kayaking, rock climbing, surfing, and rafting—and they generally sell out quickly. And AO rents outdoor gear to those at the University and the public for, as Crawford says, “screaming deals.”

Low-intensity activities, like walking on the beach, are an easy and relaxing way to score points in the outdoor challange. (Keith Crawford)

Low-intensity activities, like walking on the beach, are an easy and relaxing way to score points in the outdoor challange. (Keith Crawford)

Millard took the collaboration one step further, incentivizing students in his Sustainability Pathway and Recreation classes to get outside and awarding them extra points on assignments if they brought a friend. Additionally, both classes set point goals for the challenge, and if they met it, Millard wouldn’t give them a mid-term exam.

Millard also suggested that Gunther work with President Gayle Hutchinson’s Office for a promotional video.

“After a lot of correspondence with President Hutchinson’s staff, we were able to come up with a date and a plan,” Gunther said. President Hutchinson loved the idea, and appeared in the fun 97-second video produced by the CMT, where she climbed on a ropes course alongside students.

Not surprisingly, Crawford was very active during Outdoor Nation, logging nearly 150 activities over the six weeks, including dozens of bike rides, an enviable amount of days hiking and running with his dog, and plenty of relaxing moments spent in his hammock. In spite of all of the time he naturally spends outside, Crawford found it more difficult than expected to log activities for Outdoor Nation.

“It’s a challenge logging four, five activities every day,” said Crawford, who also logged swims, climbs, and time spent cleaning up trash near waterways, finishing with 1,364 points, fourth-most for Chico State. “It’s a commitment.”

And maybe that’s the point. Getting outside is one thing. But intentionally creating time for fresh air turns into habit—and that’s a step toward reducing obesity, increasing overall health and wellness, and helping to live longer lives. And, as Crawford suggests, once healthy choices become habit, people become stewards.

“Outdoor Foundation sees a huge benefit of getting people outside, because then they’ll want to protect the outdoors and wilderness and keep it as pristine as possible,” he said.

Those who participated in the challenge made a challenging commitment to log every outdoor activity, but they had fun at the same time. (Keith Crawford)

Those who participated in the challenge made a challenging commitment to log every outdoor activity, but they had fun at the same time. (Keith Crawford)

Millard recognizes the importance of establishing a sense of place for first-year students—especially if it’s outdoors. If his first-year students are from cities other than Chico, they quickly discover there are few ways better (if any) to get familiar than getting outside to see what the town and the surrounding areas offer.

“I want first-year students to get out and explore the local area,” said Millard. “More and more of our students come from outside the area and I know that if you feel connected to the place, if you feel a sense of place, then you feel that you belong here. You begin to care about Chico.”

crowd of dancers

‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’

Watch the flash mob dance from President Gayle E. Hutchinson’s fall reception for faculty and staff. View video

Faculty member stands in front of a chalk board with "It's my calling" written on it.

We Don't Say

Student-athletes take a stand for inclusive language in a new poster and video campaign. Read More