Story and photos by Dan Landau
During their final precious days of summer break, a group of 35 incoming freshmen and 12 student leaders at the College at Florham had an unforgettable experience, canoeing and camping for three days and two nights down the Delaware River. This year, I got to tag along.
Now in its fourth year, the annual August canoe trip covers 28 miles of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and is a learning experience like no other. Along those 28 miles, the students’ comfort zones are stretched, leadership is learned, and friendships are forged.
Associate provost Brian Mauro has been leading the pre-college adventure trip for the past four years. Designed to help freshmen acclimate to college, participants “develop relationships with other students in their class and get mentoring from good student leaders,” says Mauro. “Some of the guys on trip now are already asking how they can change roommates so they can stay together.”
The excursion began on August 23, when we loaded our canoes and kayaks and started off down the river. For many of the freshmen, this was their first time canoeing and, so while they knew the big end of the paddle goes in the water, they knew little else about canoeing.
Nonetheless, these nautical novices quickly learned the basic techniques and teamwork necessary to enjoy their time on the river. Smiles soon replaced frustrated frowns and playful water fights broke out up and down the river.
Paddling down the river all day “was tiring, but good exercise,” says Leanne Pittelkow, a freshman math and QUEST major. “Socially, it is a good way to get to know people before starting college.” Theater major Roger Kalmbach agreed, saying, “being on the water for several hours give you an opportunity to have a good conversation with your canoe partner.”
Evening brought another first for many of the freshmen: camping out in tents. Dykota Hillman, a freshman majoring in communication, had never been camping before. “It was quite a task setting up the tent for the first time, but with help from other we got it up,” she says. “I thought I was going to be scared by bears, but I slept fine and didn’t see any bears.”
The next day held more firsts for the students: seeing Tom Corbett, Governor of Pennsylvania. As a serendipitous surprise, Corbett happened to be doing his own trip on the Delaware at the same time and some students even got to paddle with him and meet him.
The whole trip is “a grout outdoor activity for the kids to start their higher education career,” says Darshan Shah, director of disability services and a staff leader on the trip. “They make so many friends. In fact, the group we had last year is still intact and many of them came back as leaders this year.”
Alyssa Collicut, a junior studying radiology, is one of those student leaders. After completing the trip as a freshman, she has come back two years in a row to help the trip. She says,“as a leader, you get to watch the freshmen come into their own.”
The trip went over so well with the freshmen that many hope to continue that trend, and return next year as leaders too. “People should definitely go on this trip,” says Nick DeSalvo, a freshman accounting major. “I’m definitely planning to come back as a student leader next year.”