Information, Technology & Consulting

Connecting through First-Year Trips

Elizabeth Kelsey

Earlier this month, the Dartmouth Outing Club wrapped up its First-year Trips prior to the start of the academic term.

The excursions, a tradition dating back to 1935, welcome new Dartmouth students by taking them on adventures in the wilderness that surrounds the College. “Trippees” choose from different journeys that include hiking, canoeing, and horseback riding. All trips last five days and conclude with a night at Moosilauke Ravine Lodge.

Although Trips are a Dartmouth tradition dating back to 1935, some things are bound to change over the years. According to the program’s Director Gerben Scherpbier '14, he and fellow organizers take advantage of modern technology while also restricting its use.

“In order to facilitate bonding between students, we actually take all of the trippees' cell phones on their first night and store them until they get back to campus,” Scherpbier says. “We think this helps students focus on the beautiful environment surrounding them and the other people in their group.”

Peter Skow ’18, from London, who went on a climb and hike trip says, “I didn't miss my phone at all. Being away from it was calming.  I didn't notice anyone in my group having a serious reaction to the disconnect, which was a pleasant surprise.”

Spencer Lambdin ’18, from New Canaan, Connecticut says he was glad devices were collected before he and his group set off in their canoes.

“In high school I went on a few mission trips with my church where they instituted the same policy,” he says. “Eliminating the distraction of a cell phone made it easier to get to know everyone on my trip and on the other trips in my section.”

Lambdin adds the absence of his cell phone made the social experience more focused:

“While anyone could be tempted to text their friends at home if we had our phones, having them taken away made us talk to each other and be fully present in each conversation and interaction we had. At the same time, not having our phones definitely made the outdoors experience a little more real. [Lambin says his favorite part of the journey was jumping into the river with his mates]. We were still able to have a camera if we wanted to take photos or anything like that, but being without our phones let us really enjoy the outdoors.”

One area of DOC trips that has improved significantly, according to Scherpbier, concerns safety. Trip leaders once relied solely on satellite phones to communicate with trips in the Second College Grant but now can also use Skype or Google chat to stay in touch with these groups.

Cell providers increasingly cover trip routes, and leaders record all safety information in an online database: when an incident occurs Vox Croo (a DOC group that provides medical attention to injured or sick trips participants) can view trip updates and documents from Hanover. “If a student is allergic to bee stings for example, all of our safety personnel can view that information without having to pass out paper copies,” Scherpbier says.

One of the technology’s biggest improvements has been in logistics, says Scherpbier. While trips are underway, he uses a GPS tracking system to locate buses throughout the day, which helps leaders make sure everything is running on schedule and enables them to alert others of delays. Organizers perform all registration and pre-Trips communication through email and an online database. As recently as 2012, the DOC still relied on snail mail to get some information from incoming students. Previous directors would need to scan hundreds of pages of registration information.

“I am so thankful for that change!” Scherpbier says.

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