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What is WilSkills?

Posted by on Sunday, November 20, 2011 in Academics, College Life, Extracurriculars, Freshman Life, General Information, Music, Nature, Student Life.

There is a somewhat hidden course (!) offered at Vanderbilt called Wilderness Skills. You can’t register it; you can’t even find it on YES…it exists in the wild outdoor backcountry of the southeast, only to show up on your transcript at the end of each semester as a reminder of the amazing adventures you’ve been on.

Recently featured in The Hustler, Vanderbilt’s newspaper, WilSkills is my home away from home at Vanderbilt. I joined the group during the spring semester my freshman year and was immediately hooked! This organization goes out of town every weekend of campus (excluding the ones surrounding breaks and during Rites of Spring). Traveling to Georgia, East Tennessee, Kentucky, Southern Illinois, and North Carolina…WilSkills battles whitewater rivers, treks up and down mountains and trails, and rock climbs limestone and sandstone crags.

Paddling down the Nantahala River's final rapid, Lesser Wesser
Setting up a climb at Sunset Bluff near Chattanooga, TN
Backpacking in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest!

WilSkills is a pass-fail, 0 credit hour course at Vanderbilt, but you cannot fail it! If you do not meet the criteria to pass, then it simply does not show up on your transcript. But! If you pass, it shows up with a pretty little “P.” The course is simple enough to pass, but it does require dedication and a commitment to doing other homework and studying ahead of time so you can go backpacking, rock climbing, or whitewater canoeing on weekends.

The requirements:

  1. Attendance at 75% (about 9-10 of 13-14) lectures held each semester, one a week on Wednesday nights from 7-8pm. (Lecture topics range from introductions to our activities to lectures on conservation, hypothermia, as well as appearances by guest lecturers on subjects such as their mountaineering experiences and White Nose Syndrome, which is a fungus currently upsetting bat populations in the United States)
  2. Going on at least 4 of the 11 weekend trips offered each semester. Trips last from Friday afternoons until Sunday afternoons or evenings. There are 3-4 backpacking, 4 climbing, and 3-4 paddling trips each semester. In the future, caving may be re-introduced into the course curricula.
  3. Helping recycle twice a semester. This requirement is based off of WilSkills’s dedication to environmental stewardship and awareness. We help Plant Operations collect recycling from several on-campus locations. Recycling takes about 2-4 hours and is actually really fun!
  4. Passing the final exam. (Which happens to be open book, open internet, open instructor, open anything…we just want to make sure you’ve learned something!)
  5. Attendance at our end-of-semester par-tay! We have a nice catered or homecooked dinner for all students followed by a celebration of the past semester.

WilSkills is definitely one of the best parts of my Vanderbilt experience! I have made some of my best friends from the course, challenged myself beyond what I ever thought I was capable of doing, and have discovered a passion for the outdoors and environmental sustainability.

While the course is not for everyone (and by that I simply mean that I don’t expect every student to fall in love with it like I did, though many do!), it is definitely a unique experience that I would recommend each Vanderbilt student try out!

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