New Students to Orient at Raquette Lake

New Students to Orient at Raquette Lake


Starting their first semester at college has always been exciting for SUNY Cortland freshmen.

ropes course
A pair of SUNY Cortland students learn about trust and the power of teamwork on the ropes course at Huntington Camp.

But this fall, several dozen incoming students will begin their college careers with a real adventure.

Up to 40 students will have an opportunity to experience a weeklong orientation in the pristine Adirondack wilderness surrounding SUNY Cortland’s Center for Outdoor and Environmental Education at Raquette Lake. 

The new Adirondack Trail Blazers program is part of the College’s ongoing effort to open the unique wilderness experience offered through Huntington Memorial Camp and Antlers to greater numbers of SUNY Cortland students, alumni and other members of the College community.

Traditionally, students with majors in the departments of art and art history, biological sciences, childhood/early childhood education, geology, history, physical education and recreation, parks and leisure studies have had an opportunity to learn-by-living at the rustic Adirondack complex.

With support from the College’s endowment fund, greater numbers of students from those fields ¾ and many others ¾ will have an opportunity to participate.

The inaugural Trail Blazers program kicks off near the end of this summer, when as many as 40 accepted newcomers who have completed orientation on the main campus will add a week-long visit to Huntington Camp.

“The overall goal is to help them make that transition from a relatively structured, home-based high school experience to a more independent lifestyle and the challenges of attending college,” said Robert Rubendall, who directs the College’s Environmental and Outdoor Education Center, which has facilities near Albany and at Hoxie Gorge in addition to Raquette Lake.

During the program, the participants will drink in the sights and sounds of nature. They’ll swim or paddle in the brisk lake waters, pitch tents for three nights on unspoiled shores and climb a high ropes course at Camp Huntington, the only nationally designated Historic Landmark in the SUNY system.

“They are learning self-discipline, making choices on their own, learning to stick to a schedule and basically connecting with other students coming in as well as faculty and upper class-members,” Rubendall said.

Afterward, the group will return to the main campus to share weekend activities with their new classmates before the start of fall semester classes. The initiative is modeled on a wilderness immersion program started by Dartmouth College in the 1960s and adopted by many colleges.

“They have become more and more popular over the years as children become more and more dependent upon their parents,” Rubendall said. “There is a better success rate for the students, a better student retention rate by the colleges. They immediately have a peer group. They have friends, they know more of what’s expected of them on a college campus. We hope to involve them more quickly in the resources and networks that are available to them on campus.”

The program is open to all new students, regardless of major or economic background. It involves a fee, but the College will find resources to send young scholars on the trip, even if they cannot afford the cost, Rubendall said.

Widening student access to this experience, which generations of alumni recall as having a transformational impact on their personal, academic or professional lives, is the driving motivation behind the College’s Campaign for Raquette Lake, an effort to raise $1.5 million for the Raquette Lake Endowment Fund.

“The endowment will provide all interested SUNY Cortland students with the opportunity to experience Raquette Lake,” said Kimberly Pietro, the College’s vice president for institutional advancement. “This fund will help us expand our utilization of the facility and provide students with a unique experience to explore, discover and transform their lives through outdoor education in a way that would not otherwise be possible.”

As of mid-February, the Raquette Lake campaign had raised nearly $600,000 dollars for the Raquette Lake endowment fund. 

The fundraising initiative is part of Educating Champions: The Campaign for Cortland. The campaign to support the College’s major priorities was launched in Fall 2011 and has made steady and significant progress in raising over $24.5 million towards a total of $25 million goal.

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canoe flotilla
Far from home and all things familiar, a class learns to navigate around each other in a flotilla of canoes on the breezy waters of Raquette Lake.