Simpson University Outdoor Leadership Students Embrace Challenges of Immersion Semester

For Immediate Release


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From left to right: Simpson University Outdoor Leadership alumna Aixa Correa ‘16, professor Rob Simpson, and students Deanna Sloger, Keleigh Jusczak, Colton Hardisty, Caleb Fowler, and Chris Shughrue backpacked in Lake Tahoe’s Desolation Wilderness as part of Immersion semester.

REDDING, Calif.—At the group’s farthest point out on a trail in the Tahoe area, the storm hit, sudden and fierce. For most of that night, five Simpson University Outdoor Leadership students huddled inside professor Rob Simpson’s tent, bracing themselves each time wind gusts shook the frame.

When morning came, they were wet and tired and still had 11 miles to hike – in a blizzard – to get out.

But junior Keleigh Jusczak remembered the moment climbing out of the tent during a break in the weather and catching a breathtaking sunrise over mountains covered in fresh snow.

“It was beautiful, especially after such a hard night,” she said during a recent gathering where Immersion students shared their experiences and answered questions.

Such are the extremes—the memorable highs and lows—of the Outdoor Leadership program’s Immersion semester, an intensive, field-based part of the major that offers training in expedition planning, risk management, teaching methods, outdoor ethics, Wilderness First Responder, and land- and water-based skills.

“There are a lot of very challenging elements to the Immersion semester,” professor Simpson said. “The students have a difficult academic load; the trips are physically and emotionally challenging; and they are disconnected from technology for much of the semester.”

During a series of 10 trips, the students hiked, kayaked, climbed, and snowshoed many miles in such locations as Joshua Tree National Park, Smith Rock State Park (Oregon), Lassen Volcanic National Park, Desolation Wilderness (Lake Tahoe), Russian Wilderness, and Mount San Jacinto State Park. They swam in alpine lakes, witnessed stunning mountain vistas, and experienced the beauty of the desert.

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Outdoor Leadership students practice rescue skills in Smith Rock State Park (Ore.) during Immersion semester. / Photo by Chris Shughrue

During their almost 50 days in the backcountry, they learned and practiced risk management techniques, teaching skills, and many activity-specific skills, but they learned far more than that.

“The most valuable lessons were learned from being part of a team,” Caleb Fowler, a junior said. “I learned a lot about communication—how my words and actions have an effect on others.”

Several students spoke about how the group dynamics – under sometimes stressful conditions – taught them about themselves and others.

“You get to know people really well and you learn you can’t put them in a box,” said Colton Hardisty, a junior. “Everybody has their own stories and struggles that make them who they are.”

Chris Shughrue, who joined the Immersion semester as a married older student, said he was reminded of the importance of play and having fun, as well as his tendency to compartmentalize experiences.

“The semester gave me a chance to learn to take an experience in its wholeness and let the entirety of the experience be the way it is,” he said.

Jusczak talked about what she gained in leadership training. Students played a vital role in leading trips as the semester progressed. “I learned to lead from confidence and joy instead of from timidness and worry,” she said. “I came out of a difficult summer, and my confidence was low. I saw a model of what a good leader is and how to function out of that.”

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Outdoor Leadership students Caleb Fowler and Keleigh Jusczak check information during an expedition in Smith Rock State Park. / Photo by Chris Shughrue

Professor Simpson traveled with the group, and other instructors joined for specific skill training. Aixa Correa, a ’16 Outdoor Leadership alumna, co-led with Simpson on one of the long expeditions in Lake Tahoe’s Desolation Wilderness; and outside instructor Mike Zeppegno taught the students sea kayaking skills along the Northern California coastline.

“It was fantastic having the opportunity to co-lead with an alum,” Simpson said. “Aixa experienced the Immersion semester in fall 2014 so she had a lot to offer the students and was a tremendous co-leader.”

As part of the Immersion semester the students also completed a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Certification taught by professor Amy Smallwood. The 80-hour WFR Certification is considered the industry standard for outdoor professionals.

Professor Simpson said a highlight of the semester was seeing the students completely plan and execute a 10-day trip in Southern California, which included backpacking in Joshua Tree National Park and a mountaineering trip to Mount San Jacinto State Park.

“One of my primary outcome goals for the students was that they would develop a greater sense of confidence in who they are and their leadership abilities as a result of their Immersion experience,” he said. “I was very proud of the work they did, and I believe what they learned this semester will help them succeed in and out of the classroom.”

Simpson University is the only college on the West Coast to offer an Outdoor Leadership major and minor. In its ninth year, the program has graduated men and women who are working as leaders at adventure companies, universities, camps, recreation centers, and more.

Learn more about the Outdoor Leadership program, which also offers a stand-alone Certificate in Wilderness Leadership.




Simpson University, established in 1921, is a Christian university offering undergraduate, graduate, and teaching credential programs. The university celebrated its 25th year in Redding and the completion of a Science and Nursing Center in 2014. Academic programs include ASPIRE, a degree-completion program geared toward working adults with both on-campus and online course offerings, including degrees in psychology and organizational leadership. For information about the university, or to arrange a campus visit, call 1-888-9-SIMPSON or visit


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