COOT Changes: Connecting to Nature in Different Ways


By Ruth Jacobs

Admission to Colby requires meeting high standards, but proficiency as an outdoor adventurer is not one of them. So when organizers looked at COOT (Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips) for the Class of 2014, they made some changes. “[Some students] want to scale the high peaks and they want to go on the raging white water—and that, for them, is how they relate to the place. But not everybody relates to place in that way,” said Director of Outdoor Education Nicole Magnan Caruso.

The common theme—connecting first-years with classmates and the outdoors—remains. But this year’s COOT offerings included organic farm stays, yoga, meditation, and cooking with local foods. “I think in the outdoor arena there can be a misperception—I have to be this really sporty, really hardcore person who has to do this thing in order to really be in the outdoors. And it’s not true,” Caruso said. “Some of the people who have the strongest connection to the outdoors don’t have those types of experiences. They’re growing their gardens, they’re meditating outside every day, they’re doing their yoga practice out there. They’ve never set foot on white water before, but their connection is really strong just the same.”

Given the changes in the student body—the Class of ’14 is Colby’s most diverse ever—the evolution of COOT became necessary. “You have students coming from all over the globe,” said Caruso. “They have a different set of life experiences, and so you have to have something that meets everybody’s needs.”

Of course Colby does attract many students who long for outdoor adventure, and the traditional COOT offerings—backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, and rock climbing, for example. And those remain. The new approach simply aims to ensure that there’s something for everyone. “It’s sort of like different learning styles in the classroom,” Caruso said. “It’s the same with the outdoors.”

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