Westmont Magazine Surviving the Wilderness Helps Students Succeed at Westmont
A handful of new Westmont students experienced a unique orientation program in August backpacking through the North Yosemite wilderness. Inoculum offers academic and physical education units with students doing assigned readings, leading discussions and writing a paper.
Dave Willis ’74 created the program in 1974. “The idea was to inoculate students with an introduction to the challenge of Westmont so they would do better when they encountered it,” he says. Willis coordinates Sierra Treks, which leads Inoculum every year. The organization seeks to build Christian faith through wilderness experience. Tom Fikes,associate professor of psychology, and Eileen McMahon, assistant professor of biology led the program this year. Fikes says students discuss issues such as Christian perspectives on environmentalism, creation, and wilderness ethics. “You can sit in a classroom on campus in an environmentally beautiful part of the world and think about that,” he says. “But it’s not the same as sitting in the dirt stirring your hot chocolate and being immersed in it.”
Willis says the experience can be a difficult one. “Participants get to know some other students they can rely on during the toughest first few weeks of school because of what they’ve done together in the mountains,” he says.