Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Woman Behind the Unity Nova Experience -- and much more!

My guest for lunch today was Jessica Steele, director of the Unity College Outdoor Adventure Center. What started as a casual lunch turned into an energetic brainstorming session. Jes is responsible for (among other things) developing sites and programs, and training student leaders for the Nova Wilderness Experience. This flagship program sets Unity apart from other colleges as a place that promotes hands-on learning and sustainable human connections, as the students in this video discuss:

The Nova program is also Jes's favorite part of her job. I was struck by how many students in the video mentioned the value of the Nova experience in terms of meeting fellow students and forming connections before the start of classes. In previous blog entries, I've talked a bit about that last idea: creating sustainable human connections.  Today, I realized this blog is helping me get to the goal I set in the first blog entry: acclimating to this place by listening to stories from people with diverse connections to Unity.

But enough about me. What about the apple-pear-spice cake I made today, the one with a maple glaze?  What about the fact that I forgot to put the coconut in it? Jess and I ate it anyway. Seriously, though -- what about that brainstorming?

Jes shared so many fresh ideas today -- too many to discuss in depth in a single blog entry -- so I'll focus on her thoughts about employing existing Nova staff and equipment to run a summer camp for teens age 14 - 18. The idea of a summer camp has been tossed around for a while, but it hasn't been developed. Jes identified these potential benefits to Unity College:
  • Connecting with college-curious teens by giving them a sample of the Unity experience;
  • Providing more long-term summer employment for student leaders;
  • Providing course credit for student leaders;
  • Providing internships for student leaders;
  • Promoting Unity's identity as America's Environmental College. 
And, of course, more young people on campus in the summer would mean more people to pet Heather and Keeper. They are both in favor of the idea, and they both loved Jes!

Then we started thinking about funding -- what about camp scholarships?  Would any outside funding be available? What if the college developed a summer camp program for a specific, underserved population, like at-risk youth, or teens with Asperger's syndrome or other neurological challenges, or teens with particular wellness issues, or teen girls who aspire to leadership? Programs serving any of these teen groups might qualify for foundation grant funding.

All of these ideas are rich in possibility. And Jess has more: creating a staff version of Nova including weekend trips and day trips, generating alumni help with student recruitment at college fairs and in their local communities through a mentoring program, creating an alumni Nova trip to run each year. My enthusiasm for the potential in all of these ideas was eclipsed only by Keeper's enthusiasm for the potential of table scraps after lunch.  We're all fortunate to be living in a generous community, among the social, intellectual, and creative richness in Unity.

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