Plato called the first step in the long journey of liberal education the poetic mode of education. This manner of educating is ordered primarily to cultivating the powers of sensation—the external senses as well as the internal ones (imagination, memory, emotions, etc). Through this direct experience of reality and most especially through experience with nature, students at WCC gain the foundation of liberal education.
In the modern world, such direct experience of nature is in danger of eclipse. Men in even the largest cities of antiquity were more in contact with nature than the typical suburban dweller of today. In order to preserve or even recover this aspect of true liberal education, Wyoming Catholic College seeks to immerse students in the beauty and grandeur of “God’s first book,” the natural world. Direct contact with God’s creation inspires wonder, the root of true learning, and strengthens the imagination and the senses in a way that purely man-made environments cannot. At the same time, the dangers and discomforts imposed by the wilderness require students to develop all of the cardinal virtues: prudence, for the sake of organization, preparedness, and safety; temperance, to work with limited supplies and unexpected situations; fortitude, to overcome adversity; and justice, to treat group members with consideration and fairness.
All of this formation is needed for the sake of “leadership,” a term that gathers under one name all the practical virtues of the liberally educated man. The wilderness expedition in particular serves to teach leadership, because the small group far from civilization offers a microcosm of society like to that imagined by Plato at the beginning of his Republic. The need to balance individual and common goods, often masked in cities, emerges clearly; the value of true leadership and of thoughtful following becomes transparent; lastly, the supreme importance of human virtue for the good of society stands forth in bold relief.
The Experiential Leadership Curriculum is therefore necessary both to students’ academic pursuits and to their success after graduation. It grounds reasoning in wonder and strengthens the imagination for reading the great poets, while at the same time it cultivates the virtues necessary to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
The summer portion of the Freshman Leadership Program is conducted prior to the commencement of academic classes, and is required for all Wyoming Catholic College freshmen. It consists of a two and a half day Wilderness First Aid Course provided by SOLO (Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities), and a 21-day backpacking expedition. The classroom for our wilderness course is the rugged, glacier-carved Rocky Mountains here in Wyoming, renowned for its remote wilderness setting, glistening lakes, stunning vistas, and abundance of flora and fauna. In this awe-inspiring environment, students learn how to read maps, navigate routes on and off trail, live for three weeks with nothing but what is carried on their back, safely cross rivers, fly fish, cook meals on a portable stove, and most importantly, how to practice virtues and develop leadership skills that will last a lifetime. Students will bond with their classmates as they team up to meet and surmount the real challenges presented by wilderness travel. This trip sets up the freshmen well for their first semester at WCC by providing various challenges as well as creating a strong community with the people they will be living with and learning with once they return back to campus life.
The winter portion, which takes place one week prior to the Spring semester, lasts seven days and focuses on winter camping and traveling skills. Students have the opportunity to build upon the skills they learned in August and continue to develop additional skills for traveling and surviving in the winter wilderness setting, a beautiful and demanding environment. Similar to the August trip, students will not only learn a variety of technical skills but will continue to practice leadership skills and develop character through this challenging experience. With proper training and equipment, students will learn to thrive in such stark conditions.
Wyoming Catholic College considers the Horsemanship Program an important part of its curriculum, one that provides occasion for the students to get to know themselves better. Socrates reminds us that part of wisdom is to “know thyself.” Paradoxically, this advice is best kept not by looking within for some elusive “self,” but by interacting in lively ways with God’s creation. The horse, one of God’s noblest creatures, is a living, conscious being operating at a high level of animal intelligence; it has a character, and emotions, “a mind of its own”; it is not a mere machine, with “push button” results. The rider needs to establish and maintain a gentle balance with his equine partner. Together, horse and rider can achieve outstanding results with time, patience, guidance, communication, humility, and respect. Moreover, horses have been inextricably bound up with Western civilization for thousands of years and, closer to home, have played a prominent role in Wyoming’s history: they brought people here, served their evolving agricultural needs, and became a force in forming the heritage of the American West. Horsemanship is the ability of a person to establish a working relationship with horses, predict their behavior and even to understand how a horse “thinks.” It is a partnership based on tasks, fitness, and an understanding of each other’s needs. Horses are large and powerful animals, but they can also be timid and easily frightened. With the right approach, horses can be kind and obedient creatures who desire human interaction. This semester teaches the fundamentals of horsemanship, providing fundamental knowledge in horse anatomy and function, conformation, horsemanship practices, stabling, training, and health care, along with much practice in riding and Western tack. Cues, aids, gaits, and maneuvers are thoroughly explained, demonstrated, and practiced. Individual help is given in areas needed. Texts for the course are chosen by the instructor.
During the Fall and Spring semesters during the sophomore, junior and senior years each student takes a 1 credit course. This course has two elements that involve the practical and theoretical components. Seven classes are devoted to the Outdoor Weeks and six classes each semester are devoted to in-class leadership curriculum. While the outdoors provides hands-on experience in leadership, the classroom provides leadership theory, models and more. Outdoor Weeks Component Description Every year each student (sophomore, junior and senior) is required to plan, prepare, participate, and debrief in a minimum of 2 Outdoor Week Trips. The 2 Outdoor Week trips fulfill the requirement of 1 weeklong trip per semester in conjunction with the 1 credit course each semester. The time spent preparing for and participating on the weeklong trip replaces classroom time for the overall 1 credit course. In order to accommodate students’ varying schedules, students can choose any 2 of the 5 offered trip times throughout the year which include: : in August prior to matriculation, during Fall Break, in January prior to the Spring semester, during Spring Break and in May immediately following commencement. Each trip will fulfill the weeklong trip required for each semester and the grade received for the work put into the trip will contribute to the overall grade for the semester long ELP course. Classroom Component Description The classroom component will further develop leadership by analyzing various leadership theories and models. These leadership fundamentals are then utilized and practiced during the various leadership opportunities each student has at WCC throughout their daily life, work-study positions, the weeklong trips, and any other leadership opportunity in and out of school. The classroom component is designed to enhance the hands-on experience each student receives during the Outdoor Weeks and more. While hands-on experience is imperative to learn and practice leadership skills, understanding leadership fundamentals and theories will further improve every student’s leadership. While the Outdoor Weeks value has a lot to do with each student’s personal willingness to improve and learn from successes and mistakes, ”the more you put into it the more you will get out of it”, the classroom component does provide a baseline of information that is taught to every student. Knowing these theories and models will provide a huge advantage in the future when applying for jobs and stepping up in leadership roles down the road. In addition, the classroom component of the ELP also focuses on career development. For example, students will have the opportunity to investigate what career path they may want to pursue, develop a resume, explore internship opportunities, graduate school, job searching, practice interviewing face to face, and more.