The Wharton course LGST 299: "Climate and Environmental Leadership in Action" is the first-ever undergraduate course offered through the Wharton School to include a week of camping as part of the curriculum.
The course consists of five mandatory 90-minute class sessions and a Leadership Venture over spring break that involved hiking, biking, and canoeing in Harpers Ferry, W. Va. There are no costs for students participating in the Leadership Venture. The course was open to students at all schools regardless of prior camping experience, and students were not permitted to drop the course once they enrolled.
Wharton professor Sarah Light, who is currently teaching LGST 229, wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that the purpose of the Leadership Venture component is to teach soft skills such as negotiation, leadership, and persuasion. These skills are necessary for advocating climate-saving action, Light explained.
The Leadership Venture Director Erica Montemayor explained in an email to the DP that previously, Leadership Ventures were co-curricular, meaning that while they supported student learning outside of the classroom, students did not receive academic credit for participating.
"Our partnership with Professor Light was a great opportunity to explore and test whether we could incorporate a Venture component into a credit-bearing course," she wrote to the DP.
Before going on the Leadership Venture, students spent two days in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia at the Discovery Center, learning necessary skills such as how to paddle a canoe, set up tents, and use their stoves, Light added.
Wharton first year Gabriella Gibson, who is currently enrolled in LGST 299, said she was grateful to have gone on the trip.
"I'm personally not very outdoorsy, and this was a great opportunity for me because I feel like I do appreciate nature more [now]," she said.
While canoeing, Gibson said she had an engaging conversation with the professor about property rights.
"My canoe happened to flow over towards Professor Light's canoe. We just started having this conversation about who owns waterways, and how different states and territories divide up their waterways," she said. "Just being able to think about [materials from class] while you're out in the field was really impactful."
Wharton first year Richa Kumar, who is also enrolled in the course, said she enjoyed the smaller activities such as "cooking, making s'mores, and chatting with her peers in the tents at night."
Another large component of the Leadership Venture was helping students build leadership skills.
"They practiced leadership through action and responding to the environmental circumstances and team dynamics," Montemayor wrote to the DP. "Learning how to lead within a team, operate on team values, and take into account the needs of others — these are crucial skills that can be applied to a multitude of settings in life."
Kumar agreed that the expedition was an "experiential leadership journey." Students filled out "after-action reviews (AARs)" after each activity to give feedback on how the day's leader performed and assess the team dynamics, she said.
"It's really cool to just learn about all the different leadership styles and figure out where we fit in," Kumar said.
Gibson likewise found that the expedition helped her grow her leadership skills.
"[The AARs] definitely helped me to grow a lot as a leader and to realize some of the shortcomings of my leadership style," Gibson said. "I have a very high energy leadership style, and so remembering that it's okay to not be like this all the time [and] to kind of take a step back [sometimes]."
Both Gibson and Kumar said they were "very grateful" to Light and Montemayor for their efforts to make the trip possible.
"I'd recommend [this opportunity] to anyone. I had a lot of growth, and I'm planning to continue that and build on the relationships we formed out on the field," Gibson said.