Max Denning

For the third year in a row, first-year students at Eastern Oregon University will have the opportunity to venture into the wilderness for a six-day adventure and college orientation Sept. 16 to 21.

EOU’s “East Tracks” is an orientation program for 18 to 24 incoming students from across the campus that introduces them to the Eastern Oregon wilderness, specifically Hells Canyon, a river gorge near Western Idaho, and their fellow students. Michael Hatch, director of the EOU outdoor adventure program, said the program helps participants build new, long-lasting friendships.

“A big part of it is the relationships, the social integration and social support that students get out of these trips,” he said. “They’re put into a new environment where they’re out of their normal social status and they’re kind of on equal footing with everybody and engaged in these challenging and novel experiences.”

Hatch said he got the idea to introduce East Tracks when he heard about similar programs at colleges around the country.

“A number of universities throughout the country offer some kind of student orientation. They’ve found that students’ first-year experiences are a large predictor of how they’re going to do with their overall college experience and whether they’re going to graduate or not,” Hatch said. “One particular genre of these first-year orientation experiences is the outdoor orientation program.”

The group of students are led by Hatch, approximately a half dozen faculty members and three student leaders. One student leader this year is Josh Ford, a sophomore who is dual enrolled at EOU and Oregon State University.

See more in Monday's edition of The Observer.