Flourishing through Resilience: The Impact of a College Outdoor Education Program


  • Amy Shellman SUNY Cortland Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Studies Dept.
  • Eddie Hill Old Dominion University




psychological flourishing, resilience, outdoor education, outdoor recreation


A growing number of industries and organizations are developing initiatives that focus on and prioritize well-being. Among them are institutions of higher education. As Rogers and Lucas (2016) pointed out, “we are increasingly seeing universities around the world take on the challenge of moving beyond only measuring outcomes related to academic and career success and expanding the scope of their responsibility to include students’ well-being and their capacity to build lives of vitality, resilience, purpose, and engagement.” Documented benefits of recreation, and in particular outdoor recreation, are numerous and include physiological benefits as well as an array of mental health benefits, such as reduction in stress and incidence of depressive symptoms, enhanced well-being, and increased peer support (e.g., Maller et al., 2015; Orsega-Smith, Mowen, Payne, & Godbey, 2004; Townsend, Pryor, Brown & St Leger, 2005). Many outdoor education programs are intentionally designed to utilize the myriad inherent physical, emotional, and mental challenges in order to achieve certain desired outcomes such as well-being (e.g., Sibthorp, Paisley, & Gookin, 2007). Participants from this study enrolled in a 13-day college outdoor education program completed a survey to measure resilience and mental health at the start and conclusion of the program. Resilience was measured using Wagnild and Young’s (1993) Resilience Scale (RS), and the Mental Health Continuum Short Form was used to measure the three domains of well-being (Keyes, 2009). A total of 132 participants completed the surveys over the three-year period (N = 42 in 2011, N = 44 in 2012, and N = 46 in 2013). A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted to determine if participation in the outdoor education program impacted participants’ perceived level of psychological resilience and perceived mental health. Results revealed statistically significant gains from pre-course to post-course on psychological resilience, and the overall mental health well-being measure significantly increased.There is an increased felt need on many college campuses to address student flourishing, resilience, commitment to the university and overall success. In recent years, colleges and universities have sought innovative programming ideas to address these student needs. As budgets tighten and programs undergo greater scrutiny recreation professionals (e.g., outdoor programs, recreation and wellness departments) working on college campus are finding an increasing need to demonstrate the outcomes of their program success and impact. Likewise, as a profession, we are in need of more evidence-based practice. College programs are in a prime position to use the momentum of the “outdoor interest” to elevate their impact through research and partnerships.

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Author Biographies

Amy Shellman, SUNY Cortland Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Studies Dept.

Associate Professor

Eddie Hill, Old Dominion University

Park, Recreation and Tourism Studies





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