Sense of Place and First-Year Student Transition: Fostering Capacity Through Outdoor Orientation Experiences


  • Timothy S. O'Connell Brock University
  • Anna H. Lathrop Brock University
  • Ryan A. Howard ALIVE Outdoors



outdoor orientation program, place attachment, transitional capacity


To address feelings of “placelessness” and “not belonging,” many colleges and universities have implemented outdoor orientation programs developed to assist students with the transition from home. Outdoor orientation programs, in which students participate in some form of adventure activity away from campus (usually in a wilderness or naturalized setting), have been utilized by a growing number of colleges and universities (Bell, Gass, Nafziger, & Starbuck, 2014). This study investigated how an outdoor orientation experience impacted students’ connection to the natural world, and if these experiences built transitional skills and relational capacity that assisted their shift to university life. The study entailed a quantitative analysis of sense of place and a qualitative analysis of students’ self-reported trip experiences with regard to the influence of place, transition to university, and developing connections with others. Results suggest that participants developed a sense of place that positively influenced their connections to others and assisted in building transitional capacity.

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Author Biographies

Timothy S. O'Connell, Brock University

Professor - Department of Recreation & Leisure Studies

Anna H. Lathrop, Brock University

Vice-Provost, Teaching, Learning & Student Success

Ryan A. Howard, ALIVE Outdoors

Director - Research, Risk & Innovation






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