Wilderness Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) invites first-year University of Oregon students into the Oregon wilderness before classes begin in the fall. Our experiential learning laboratory is surrounded by tall trees, snow-capped peaks and volcanic rocks that make for a breathtaking backdrop as we cultivate your leadership skills, build our inclusive community, and practice resilience. WILD will introduce you to the basics of a backpacking trip while focusing on creating a positive learning environment. Emphasis is placed on taking care of yourself, our environment, and your team throughout the multi-day adventure. Through the Holden Center's partnership with the Outdoor Program, WILD introduces you to different leadership resources on campus—giving you access to broad communities from the moment fall term begins. You'll return to campus in time to enjoy Week of Welcome activities with newly formed friendships, stories to tell, and skills that are not only applicable in the wilderness but on campus as well.

The Week in Review

WILD takes place two weeks before fall term classes start. The seven-day trip begins with an evening orientation the night before departure. The next morning you will embark on an adventure into the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. You carry everything you need in a backpack, hike five to ten miles a day, and learn what you'll need to know to lead like a Duck.

Day 1) Cram all your gear in your backpack and head to the Holden Center for an evening orientation. You'll have dinner, meet other participants, start building community, and learn how to load your backpack.

Day 2) Get stoked! We will be driving away from campus early to hit the trailhead and start to hike! Along the way, we will adjust packs, peek at maps, and practice good self-care habits such as hydration and sunscreen and blister checks. Once at camp, we will set up a campsite that minimizes our impact on the environment, learn how to operate our camp stoves, and cook our first meal. We will log the day's events with our headlamps on and a view of the stars.

Day 3) Oatmeal has never looked so good! Enjoy stellar views of the Oregon back country as we pack up camp and hike to a new one. Most likely five to ten miles of hiking, lots of snacking, and possibly some trail sing-a-longs. We will practice route finding, map reading, and try to find a good pace as we hike together in small groups. We will find our new camp in the afternoon and hopefully take a dip in an awesome mountain lake. Make dinner, write notes about the day, reflect, and repeat.

Day 4) Wake up with sore muscles to the sound of your tentmate firing up the stove. Another day exploring new terrain with new people! By the middle of the trip we're getting real with each other and giving much needed feedback to keep our community functioning at a high level. You'll start making decisions, big decisions like left or right at the trailhead, when to break, and where camp will be. As student leadership teams take over positional leadership roles, the whole group will need to step it up to contribute.

Day 5) Same woods different day. The challenges will be dynamic, changing with the situation, but the system will be the same. We pack up camp, hike, learn along the way, and debrief at the end of the day. We will focus on decision making styles, communication techniques through mini lessons, and real life practice.

Day 6) Our community is strong and we feel it. Sore muscles and dusty clothes. We've been connecting with a community of leaders but also with the biological community of the wilderness. We will hike toward our pickup location as we get less "wild." Although you're leaving the wilderness, you will take the experience with you. You never knew you were so strong, so reflective, so wise, so adventurous. 

Day 7) Donuts? Music? Showers? These perks help you navigate your melancholy as you return to campus. The van ride will spark excitement as you debrief with your trail family and exchange lots of smelly goodbye-for-now hugs. Eat all the things you were craving while hiking and take a glorious, well-deserved shower. 

After trekking through the Cascades wilderness, you will walk away with:

  • a deeper knowledge of what it means to work in a team
  • skills for being successful in college
  • unforgettable memories

Application Process and Cost

Any incoming undergraduate student is eligible to apply for WILD.

Participants who have been accepted will need to fill out an official registration form and sign paperwork. Through our partnership with the Outdoor Programs we will be able to provide all group gear. Personal gear such as backpacks, sleeping bags, and raincoats will be available for use. 

Some scholarships are available and you will be able to indicate your needs on the official registration form.