ALUMNI IN ACTION | TAKING THE CLASSROOM OUTDOORS By Brooke Ortel Writer
ndrew Bobilya didn’t aspire to be a professor. He didn’t plan on going into academia. But, like many expeditions, his career didn’t follow exactly the path he expected. In fall 1994, Andrew hopped on a plane headed for Baja California, Mexico. An education major at Montreat College, he was looking forward to a month of sea kayaking on the Sea of Cortez. He’d grown up on the water, tracing his passion for the outdoors to childhood canoeing trips in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. For him, leaving the classroom behind to paddle Baja’s sparkling blue bays was a dream come true. It was also an opportunity to build lasting leadership skills. Looking back on the experience, Andrew recalled, “I was a fairly quiet and reserved person, and still am, but my NOLS course helped stretch me. You couldn’t slip away and fly under the radar.”
Instead, he rose to the occasion, developing leadership skills he uses every day as an associate professor and Program Director of Parks and Recreation Management at Western Carolina University. In 2018, he received the Wilderness Education Association’s annual Outdoor Educator Award for his outstanding contributions to the field. Andrew credited his NOLS course with “providing a foundation for how to create positive group culture and provide students with appropriate levels of challenge,” as well as how to support them along the way. From classroom instructor and academic advisor to expedition leader and mentor, Andrew wears many hats at Western Carolina University. He’s taught everything from backpacking, rock climbing, and winter camping to classroom courses like research methods and expedition management.
Andrew believes that “freedom to struggle, fail, and receive feedback in a supportive community” is key to learning. It’s the kind of culture he found on his NOLS expedition and strives to replicate with his own students—both in the field and in traditional classroom settings. Recently Andrew helped found the Outdoor Adventure Learning Community at Western Carolina, a program designed to help first-year students adjust to university life. He enjoys working with new, less experienced students, joining in the excitement when they complete their first hike or paddle their first rapid. Getting outside and encountering new challenges together allows students to build community—and confidence. As Andrew knows from experience, lessons learned in the outdoors are often just as applicable to frontcountry life. “As simple as it sounds,” he said, “when the going gets tough, in whatever the context, we know that there’s so much more in us than we might think in the moment.” It’s something Andrew realized on his NOLS course and took to heart. And it’s something he strives to pass on to his own students.
Brooke Ortel Brooke is a runner and writer who enjoys finding adventure in the everyday. True to her island roots, she loves sunshine and that salty ocean smell.
Andrew Bobilya talks with a student during a climbing class. Courtesy of Andrew Bobilya
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