The Association of Experiential Education (AEE) recently awarded full accreditation to the First-Year Outdoor Program (FOP), certifying that the pre-orientation session meets the same industry standards as well-known wilderness programs like Outward Bound.
Each year, 300 first-years in groups of 10 to 12 participate through FOP in six-day wilderness trips to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont before orientation week.
The voluntary accreditation process "gave us an opportunity to review whether our policies and procedures were really as safe as they could be," said Zoe B. McKee '01, an outgoing member of FOP's steering committee.
"We measured ourselves against other organizations...It's great to know you're accredited because many other programs are not," she said.
FOP is the 39th program in the country to receive accreditation and the eighth college program to get the AEE's stamp of approval. Initial accreditation lasts for three years.
The AEE accreditation process allows organizations to improve their programs though rigorous review. It also helps programs gain confidence, knowing they meet industry standards, according to the organization's web site.
It also affords programs access to public lands where government agencies require AEE accreditation as a criterion for obtaining special business or use permits.
Three years ago, FOP's steering committee began the self-assessment study and intensive internal review required for accreditation, and in April submitted an internal review, designed to show that its policies and procedures were compatible with those of AEE.
An AEE review team also conducted a site visit, examining the FOP offices and filing systems, and presented a written report to FOP detailing its strengths and weaknesses.
"Our greatest strength was our leadership pool. There was a lot of enthusiasm for the program," McKee said.
Outgoing Steering Committee member Kristin A. Bevington '01 added that support and commitment from the administration, namely Dean of Freshmen Elizabeth Studley Nathans, made the program particularly strong.
The weaknesses AEE found were minor, Bevington said. The report recommended better systems for logging equipment use and improvements to the paperwork filing systems.
To receive final accreditation, the steering committee responded to AEE's findings, submitting plans for improving identified weaknesses, FOP officials said.