Empowering Journeys: A Transformative Experience With Venture Outdoor Leadership – Kaitlyn Gosline ’24

Categories: Blog

As I left finalist weekend, I told my dad one reason I wanted to get the Levine scholarship so badly was just so I could go on NOLS. My NOLS experience and the path it set me on has been a highlight of my time at UNC Charlotte. I have always been an outdoorsy person, and while I didn’t do much camping growing up, I loved hiking and biking. NOLS introduced me to the world of experiential and outdoor education, which is the practice of learning by reflecting on your outdoor experiences and then applying it to other aspects of life. 

After arriving on campus, I continued to learn about outdoor education. In my first year, I took the Venture program’s Introduction to Outdoor Adventure class and would later become a student leader pursuing the Outdoor Adventure Leadership minor. Working for Venture for the past three years has afforded me some amazing opportunities. I’ve led team building programs both in the classroom setting and on our low and high team challenge courses. I’ve attended two of the Association of Experiential Education’s international conferences, providing me insight into the field. I’ve even led UNC Charlotte students on trips, including a week-long summer trip for new students with similar goals to the Levine NOLS course. In my final year, I’ve had the opportunity to co-teach the Introduction to Outdoor Adventure class and help onboard our new student leaders. Given that Venture has been a transformative part of my college experience, I’d like to share the three major things I’ve taken away from the experience: building confidence requires trust, the power of reflection, and the impact of community and mentorship.

Building Confidence Requires Trust

On the first trip I ever led my co-lead with more experience told me the participants don’t know you are still in training and learning the Venture policies and practices, so carry yourself with confidence because you in fact do know these skills. I think back to this moment often. My work with Venture has made me both confident in my technical skills as a trip lead as well as in my soft skills such as conflict resolution, decision-making, and flexibility. I was able to build this confidence because the people I worked with placed their trust in me. They trusted that I could do these things myself, that doing so would help me build confidence, that I would ask questions if I was unsure, and that I would take feedback to grow. If these people I looked up to and relied on trusted me, I knew I could trust myself. I have carried this belief with me and aspire to trust both my fellow Levines and Venture student leaders in a way that builds their confidence. 

The Power of Reflection

A primary part of experiential education is reflection. Within Venture, I lead groups to reflect on the activities we do, the group dynamics, how we met or didn’t meet the outcomes, and how these aspects apply to our lives. We do this both with students and staff via discussion, journaling, silent reflection, drawing and more. As staff, a big part of this reflection is providing and receiving feedback for both ourselves and our coworkers. This means I’ve had multiple opportunities to practice the life skill that is how to respectfully give and receive feedback, especially when power dynamics are at play. The significance of reflection and meaningful feedback has also seeped into my personal life. I often journal so I can make note of the things I want to take forward or leave behind as I navigate through the craziness that is life. This practice has given me perspective on more than one occasion. It’s through reflection that my civic engagement team and I can improve our on-campus produce markets so that they’re more sustainable and can therefore reach a wider community. 

The Impact of Community and Mentorship 

An integral part of Venture is the way they work to build and maintain community among their student leaders. Staff training, social get-togethers, and working in a job that requires us to lead vulnerable conversations make us a tight-knit community. We know we can call on each other for a fun time or to talk about the hard stuff even after our time at UNC Charlotte ends. This culture is created via the mentorship program. During my first semester as a student leader, I was paired with an amazing mentor. He not only pushed me to take on more responsibility but got to know me as a person, and we became good friends. His trust in me gave me the confidence to take over running the Venture mentorship program when he graduated. As a senior, I have additionally applied what I learned to the Levine Mentoring Program, striving to serve my Levine and Venture mentees in the same way he served me.

A Look Towards The Future

As graduation approaches, it is clear to me that reflection has become a fundamental part of my life, helping me achieve my goals and improve my relationships. I am also confident that I’ll be able to lean on the support of the community I’ve built through intentional time and mentorship and continue to support them in turn. As I look to continue my career in outdoor education, I can’t help but imagine what it would be like to be the NOLS instructor for a new class of Levine Scholars. I would have never guessed where NOLS would have led me when I got on the plane to Wyoming.