Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science in Education



First Advisor

Ward, Whitney


The Life Effectiveness of Wilderness Adventure Leaders Cory Maria Dack Southern Illinois University Carbondale Introduction The call of the wild has long been accepted as a true phenomenon by mankind. Throughout history countless scores of women and men have written novels, poems, and symphonies in-spired by the ubiquitous reach of nature. As Sigurd Olson once wrote, "Wilderness to the people... is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium" (Olson & Backes, 2001, p. 61). Eventually, musings on the powerful effects of nature branched out from the realm of artistic expression and began to take root in the domain of science and research as well. As the academic world has begun to quantify the positive benefits nature has on those who immerse themselves in the wilderness, the populace has simulta-neously looked to nature for an antidote to the ever increasing stressors of life. Wilderness adventure programs are one medium that exposes participants to the numerous benefits associated with nature, including an increase in overall life effectiveness and an increase in holistic well being. Wilderness adventure programs can be recreational, educational, developmental, or therapeutic in purpose (Hans, 2000). Programming can range from an afternoon of recreation in a city park, to a week-long stay at a summer camp, to a 45 day backpacking trip through the arctic. Whatever the level or duration of the program, participants are often attracted to wilderness adventure programming by the inherent benefits of adventure and personal growth. A vast array of nature based benefits research exists (see Brown, 1999; Ewert, 1985, 1989; Klint, 1999; Rog-genbuck & Driver, 2000; Stein & Lee, 1995). Literature concerning these benefits often focuses on researching, testing, and measuring the benefits participants receive after completing a wilderness adventure program. While most of the research has shown that participating in a wilderness adventure program increases the self-confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and overall life effectiveness of participants (see Caulkins, White, & Russell, 2006; Goldenberg, McAvoy, & Klenosky, 2005; and Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997), there is a deficit of research on the benefits and outcomes that occur to those who guide or lead wilderness adventure programs. To truly understand how wilderness adventure program-ming affects the human mind, body, and spirit, there needs to be more research that focuses specifically on the outcomes experi-enced by those who lead wilderness adventure programs. Methods Research was conducted at two camps located in northern Minnesota over the course of the summer during the 2009 camp season. The two camps, Camp Vermilion and Camp Hiawatha, are church affiliated and offer week long canoe adventures, houseboat trips, and residential in-camp experiences. The proposed research was based off of the following research questions: a) Do in-camp counselors experience an increase in life effectiveness after working at a summer camp over the course of one summer? b) Is there a difference between the life effectiveness reported by first-year in-camp counselors compared to the life effectiveness reported by returning in-camp counselors? b) Is there a difference between the life effectiveness reported by female in-camp counselors compared to the life effectiveness reported by male in-camp counselors? Quantitative data was collected through the use of the Life Effectiveness Questionnaire (LEQ). The LEQ was given to the in-camp counselors at the start of the summer during staff training. At the end of the summer the LEQ was then re-administered to the same research participants. Qualitative data was assessed via a short answer questionnaire that asked open-ended questions about the experiences the research participants had while working at their respective camps. This short answer questionnaire was administered at the end of the summer with the second LEQ. Results After the research data were collected, the data were run through a series of dependent t-tests and independent t-tests. The t-tests were used to compare the scores of the pre-summer LEQs to the scores of the post-summer LEQs, the scores of first-year in-camp counselors and returning in-camp counselors, and the scores of female and male in-camp counselors. The results were as follows: The changes in the results of the pre and post-test LEQ scores were t (11) = .102, p = .102. The results of the changes in post-test LEQ scores between new wilderness adventure leaders and returning wilderness adventure leaders was t (18) = .713, p = .485. Female post-test LEQ scores and male post-test LEQ scores resulted in changes of t (18) = 1.256, p = .225. The difference between post-test and pre-test mean LEQ scores was .58 standard deviations, or, a .58 effect size. The qualitative data yielded by the short-answer questionnaires were assessed using the techniques of enumeration and constant comparison. The following themes were pulled from the self-reported answers of the research participants: Increased Self-Confidence, Spiritual Connections, Personal Changes/Growth, Awareness of Strengths/ Weaknesses, Positive Community, and a 100% Job Recommendation. Participants reported that after the summer they felt that they had experienced Increased Self-Confidence. One participant wrote, "My leadership has grown incredibly - I was encouraged to own my authority and truly lead this summer. I have watched my confidence and competence grow." Another participant reported, "On my application I wrote that I wanted to gain confidence in myself and the things I do. I believe I have gained tons more than I started with." Spiritual Connections were identified from research participants who reported, "I feel like I've discovered a deeper sense of peace," "I have grown spiritually and more confident in myself," and "I don't think I would be ready, physically, emotionally, or spiritually, for my next year of school if I wasn't here this summer." Awareness of Strengths/Weaknesses were supported by self-reported responses such as, "I am stronger! I learned this summer that in order to make myself stronger I had to be vulnerable and expose my fears and anxieties." Personal Changes/Growth were evident in a participant who reported, "This summer I pushed myself farther than before in my leadership has been tough at times, but at that time is when I have experienced the most growth." Many research participants reported that they felt like they were a member of a Positive Community. One participant reported, "I have never laughed so hard, had so much fun, yet felt so proud of [what]... we were doing at camp." Another stated, "It has been an amazing experience... seeing how a community of such random personalities can become so close and grow so much in... 9 short weeks." Lastly, one participant wrote, "I am more steady. I feel loved. I feel like there is a place I belong." After reviewing all of the short answer surveys, it was found that 100% of the research participants stated that they would recommend a job as a wilderness adventure leader to others. Participants stated that "The chance to serve in this capacity is incredible," and "I hope that others are able to have the same opportunity to work with youth and learn, teach, and experience [this] leadership position." Another participant reported, "This is the best job I could ever ask for and is an amazing experience you can't find anywhere else." And finally, while reflecting on the experience of being a wilderness adventure leader, one participant reported, "It is a life changing experience!" Discussion and Implications Although the t-tests did not yield statistically significant results, the research still yielded a moderate change in effect size (.58). The self-reported qualitative data from the post-summer surveys support the idea that there are many positive benefits to be gained from being a wilderness adventure leader. This qualitative data is important, as it shows that the research participants themselves feel very strongly that being a wilderness adventure leader leads to a variety of experienced positive benefits. The moderate effect size and the self-reported qualitative data both support a call for more research in this area. Further research of greater depth could lead to a higher effect size, as well as to greater statistical significance. Previous research also reveals a need for further research in this area. Although there is a copious amount of research on the outcomes that occur after participating in a wilderness adventure program, there is a lack of studies that focus specifically on how being part of a wilderness adventure program can benefit a wilder-ness adventure guide or leader. Hattie et al. (1997) stress an overall need for more wilderness adventure research in their meta-analysis of over 96 different studies on wilderness adventure programs. After noting the diverse multitude of results found in the different studies in their meta-analysis, the authors concluded that more re-search in all of the areas of wilderness adventure programming must be done in order to validate the necessity of the existence of outdoor programming (Hattie et al.). Only through the continuation of research in this field will wilderness educators and leaders be able to conclusively offer evidence that wilderness adventure pro-grams are a vital and important part of human development.




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