Adirondack Foray Targets Early Success

Adirondack Foray Targets Early Success


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

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

Nighttime in Metcalf Hall
It's nighttime in Metcalf Hall on Raquette Lake. Inside, students gather for an evening lecture. Starting this summer, more SUNY Cortland students than ever, and others, will experience the wilderness at the College's Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education at Raquette Lake.

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

The new Adirondack Trail Blazers program — sporting a name that suggests SUNY Cortland’s mascot Blaze — 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 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.

For as many as 40 accepted newcomers, the week-long visit to Huntington Camp will follow their completion of orientation on the main campus.

“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, as director of the College’s Environmental and Outdoor Education Center, oversees the Raquette Lake campus.

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 National 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 other institutions.

“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.”

It’s no mystery why outdoor adventure programs help entering students succeed.

“They immediately have a peer group,” Rubendall said. “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 ongoing effort to raise $1.5 million for the Raquette Lake Endowment Fund.

For its part, SUNY Cortland will significantly improve the Antlers facility by pledging $1 million for future upgrades to the infrastructure and by expanding the operation there to three seasons.

“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. “The very remoteness that makes Camp Huntington and Antlers so unique makes it difficult to expand and diversify programming there. This fund will help us expand our use of the facility and make it easier for students to travel there.”

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 towards a total of $25 million goal by the end of June.

For more information about the Campaign for Raquette Lake, visit the website, where a video on the program can be viewed; or contact the Cortland College Foundation, Inc. at SUNY Cortland, 313 Brockway Hall, P.O. Box 2000, Cortland, NY 13045; or call 607-753-2518; or email

flotilla of canoes
Students test their team-building, strength, agility and navigational skills in a canoe flotilla around Raquette Lake.