Current status of OEL and the recent hiring of interim OEL coordinator

Katherine Kromer, Staff Writer

Due to an unexpected vacancy of a position in late September, a majority of the University’s Outdoor Education and Leadership (OEL) programs, including the Rental Center, Bike Shop, Climbing Wall, ClimBucknell, and OEL marketing team, have been closed indefinitely while the University has been in the process of hiring an interim coordinator.

According to Dean of Students Amy Badal, the University has “hired an interim coordinator of OEL who will begin work on Nov. 1. The climbing wall, rental center, challenge course, etc. will be back up and running. However, she did not specify a date for when exactly these programs will resume.

According to OEL’s Facebook page, which was last updated on Oct. 4, the climbing wall held its last open hours on Oct. 4 from 6-9 p.m. There have been no posts to OEL’s Facebook page since then, as the marketing team has not been operating.

Individuals in OEL learned about the closing of these programs within a week of closing. On Sept. 30 I received a letter from our Buckwild manager formally addressing the program cuts and voicing support in this surprising situation. We had a staff meeting and meeting with the dean on Oct. 1 and 2,” Abbie Winter ’19, a biology and environmental studies major who is involved in OEL as a BuckWild logistics leader, said.

Layla Gordon ’20, an English-creative writing and animal behavior major who worked at the OEL climbing wall until its temporary closing, also remembers learning about the temporary closing at her weekly Sunday Climbing Wall staff meeting on Sept. 30.

“Employees were given a week’s notice [regarding the closing of the climbing wall], so any students who rely on OEL for income are now without this on-campus job,” Gordon said.

Additionally, Gordon emphasized the impact of temporarily eliminating access to this free campus resource. “What this temporary shut-down is doing is essentially making outdoor activities a privileged community again by making it so that those who can participate are those with money; before it was inclusive,” she said.

Kaitlyn Kurdziel ’19, an anthropology and sociology major who is involved in OEL through her roles as the student manager of the bike shop, a Buckwild leader, a ClimBucknell facilitator, an employee at the rental center, and a resident of the OEL sponsored affinity house “The Outhouse” her sophomore and junior year, details her account of the University’s response after having participated both in a staff-wide meeting with Associate Dean of Students Kari Conrad on Oct. 1 as well as in a University Strategic Planning open house on Oct. 3.

“There did appear to be willingness [from the administration] to move towards re-launching some programs dependent on getting more staff support. It did also appear that people within the administration did not truly understand how important this program is to students. There seems to be some forward momentum, but the exact extent is unclear especially as the university has just recently decided to cancel the OEL spring break trip. There are a lot of decisions that are being made above our heads without clear explanations,” Kurdziel said.

“The OEL program as a whole has played a major impact on my time at Bucknell. Honestly, during my first year at Bucknell I did consider transferring and it was the OEL program and the community it has given which has kept me at Bucknell. I know I am not the only person in this program who has had similar feelings,” Kurdziel said. “It has been extremely difficult and painful to watch as the University severely limits a program which has been vital to my college experience. One of OEL’s biggest strengths has been its empowerment of students and providing them with the ability to lead and grow either as a trip leader, student manger, or facilitator, and these changes feel as if the University is stating they don’t trust us in these positions. OEL is a program that empowers students, and decisions made by University administrators are now tearing students down.”

In regards to the recent hiring of an interim coordinator, who is scheduled to begin working on Nov. 1,  Kurdziel said, “the hiring of a new staff member would push the program in a positive direction and hopefully encourage re-opening of some of the department areas that were closed by the administration.” However, Kurdziel is not convinced that a temporary role is an adequate solution. “While a new staff member would help in the short-term for OEL, it would be only temporary as the new position is scheduled to terminate this summer. OEL needs an assistant director,” she said.

Gordon echoes similar sentiments of concerns regarding the temporary nature of the position. “An interim coordinator is a step, but not what we need. We need a permanent full time staff member who knows OEL inside and out,” she said.

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