Building Leaders: One Step, Gallop, and Cast at a Time

One of BVU's many co-curricular clubs and organizations, ALPS gives students a boost in confidence and skill as they meet weekly to plan year-round adventures.

To students like Gage Cook, “Adventure Leadership Program Scholars (ALPS) is an organization where you learn about yourself, your character, and what you're made of.” By working together outdoors, students are taught leadership skills, how to depend on one another, to be held accountable, and to explore the world by trying new things.

ALPS, one of BVU's many co-curricular clubs and organizations, gives students a boost in confidence and skill as they meet weekly to plan year-round adventures. Most of the outings are anywhere from half an hour to four hours away from campus, each with their own distinct theme and goals. Whether it be horseback riding or dogsledding, students are in charge of setting up every part of the trip including choosing the destination, reserving transportation, securing lodging, creating campus promotional materials, planning the menu, and debriefing afterwards. Most of the weekly meetings are also run by students, with Trevor Berneking, director of recreational services, overseeing plans, organizing team building activities, and teaching new skills such as how to clean fish, set up for turkey hunting, or how to identify poisonous plants.

“Co-curriculars at BVU are an outlet to try new things and experiment, and with ALPS, you're going to learn teamwork and dedication, just like you would in class and in athletics, but it's a different type of learning activity,” says Berneking. No matter their major or academic interests, ALPS is comprised of upperclassmen who apply for membership each year. To keep trips manageable financially and allow student leaders to work with a practical group size, Berneking and his students limit the number of members each year, ensuring quality outcomes in the group.

As a precursor to ALPS, many freshmen become involved in Outdoor Adventure Club (OAC) which plans Winterfest, pumpkin carving, cardboard boat races, and other campus activities. Cook, a senior philosophy and religion and environmental policy double major says, “We want students to have more skill and time on campus before becoming an official ALPS student leader. We conduct an interview to find out how they'd lead a trip, deal with potentially dangerous situations, and handle pressure.

Most of the action for the club members is experienced during their trips. ALPS learned the art of fly fishing for trout in Decorah recently and takes part in the bi-annual lessons hosted on campus. The fly fishing trip taught ALPS members about the differences between fishing in lakes and streams, as well as conservation efforts. ALPS has also gone paintballing; horseback riding at Cedar Valley Stables; climbing at Climb Iowa in Grimes; camping; competed in archery; gone skiing and snowboarding; and much more.

One of the most memorable trips for Cook and his friends was the trek to Northern Minnesota for a dogsledding adventure. On a cold day in February, students lived the life of a dogsledder by taking care of the sled dogs from sun-up to sun-down. This meant feeding, harnessing, hooking them up to a run line, and cleaning kennels. The group also made time to ice fish on the quick weekend trip. Cook says that he's met many friends at BVU thanks to ALPS, most of whom he has been responsible for in planning trips. “You have to think about the safety of others, which is why we host training lessons and do research before each trip. It's helped me become a better leader, and we make sure to invite more than just our friends. I really get to know new people each and every time.” Cook says that preparing the group for trips that he has led reduced the chance of accidents occurring and helped them navigate potentially dangerous circumstances. For example, caving requires the adventure-seekers to squeeze through narrow spaces and fly fishing has entailed hiking more than three miles upstream and through steep banks.

Depending on the cost of each trip, a portion of the adventures are paid for through the use of Recreation Services funding and occasionally other campus funding. Thanks to this assistance, the individual student costs are kept at a minimum. Student leaders also work with Berneking to develop a budget for each excursion. Larger expeditions, such as long-term spring break trips, are held every other year. In 2015, ALPS volunteered at a YMCA camp in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. While there, the group camped, picked weeds, cleaned up riverbanks, and planted flowers and plants at a nearby veterans center. In 2017, ALPS ventured to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, a long cave system of chambers and subterranean passageways, where they went spelunking, hiking, and even toured a historical moonshine distillery.

Berneking says, “I hope that what they take away from being in ALPS is to always approach a challenge head-on, even if it isn't something you want to do right away. Classes are so important, but we're providing invaluable learning opportunities outside of the classroom, too.”