Getting people to engage with the environment around them is the main goal of Jacksonville University’s Outing Club, and now it’s joining 87 universities and colleges across the country to compete in the six-week Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge (#outdoornation), which seeks to fight the growing inactivity crisis in America among youths by helping connect them to the outdoors in fun and personal ways.
The three-year-old Outing Club, at more than 140 members strong, is one of the largest organizations on campus, and promotes self-reliance, leadership skills, respect for self and others, and a sense of responsibility for one’s actions. President Jenna Padgett, a JU senior from Live Oak majoring in marine science, says it has given her the chance to connect with others through the Great Outdoors, as the club organizes backpacking, canoeing, biking, sailing and other nature excursions.
“Most college students want to protect the environment, but when you actually get outside, you really see how the outdoors provide our sustenance,” she said. “When you see a mountain, it adds a kind of face value to your desire to protect it. It becomes a lifestyle. It’s great that JU is offering this type of experience to its students.”
The Outing Club seeks to draw those from campus and the community into outside activity, and the national Campus Challenge, an initiative of the Outdoor Foundation through its Outdoor Nation program, turns that into a fun competition as students and community members use their ideas, ingenuity and healthy rivalry to combat the inactivity trend among young people. The JU Outing Club is the only college group participating from Northeast Florida, and registration for the Sept. 4-Oct. 15 event starts Monday, Aug. 22.
Individuals will compete to see who can spend the most time outside and active in what’s being billed as a “Mother-Nature-Meets-March-Madness”-like program. The individual who does wins the title of Outsider of the Year. The school that has the most individuals logging outside hours on the Challenge website will win the title of National Outdoor Champion. With funding from Outdoor Foundation sponsors – JU’s club received more than $2,000 in cash and gear — universities will provide incentives to their student bodies and larger communities to get outside and active, such as stickers, gear, head-to-toe outfitting and even a trip and an internship opportunity.
“The campaign is basically to get as many people involved in outdoor activities as we can,” said Outing Club founder Dr. Mike Nancarrow, a professor of Mathematics. “There’s an emphasis on introducing people who have not been in outdoor activities to get out there. There’s really a community outreach aspect to this, to show how together we in our region can boost our activity outside. It can help you appreciate the environment more, and it can be good for you physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
Chris Fanning, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation, said the Campus Challenge is about using technology for good – specifically, for the health and wellness of an entire generation of young people.
“We are rewarding and incentivizing college students who spend time outside because we believe they will have memorable experiences, develop a love for the outdoors and ultimately spend more time protecting and enjoying our beautiful parks and wild places. This is what the Challenge is about – creating a cultural shift that leads all young Americans to the great outdoors.”
The Challenge was developed to combat some of today’s bleak statistics around young people and outdoor participation. Current research has found that young people spend 50 percent less time outdoors in natural settings than the generation that preceded them. The average young adult today spends eight hours in front of a screen and only a few minutes outside.
JU’s Outing Club has now gone a step further than offering outdoor activities. It is helping sponsor a Wilderness Medicine first responder course with the Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences. Students who pass a test can be certified by the American Safety and Health Institute as Wilderness First Responders or Wilderness EMTs. The club is also collaborating with the School of Education to sponsor a Leave No Trace course on outdoor ethics.