Learn the benefits of completing an AmeriCorps term and how to use your Education Award or 529 Plan to continue your outdoor education with Outward Bound.
Each year, 40,000 students enter the Outward Bound field. Led by the industry’s best outdoor professionals, Outward Bound students live and travel in the wilderness, conduct service projects, and learn to work closely with a group of individuals – all with differing skill levels and life experiences. Students return to work, schools, and communities with great strength of character, self-confidence and compassion toward others. They return ready to lead – and eager to serve.
Meanwhile, each year in AmeriCorps’ extensive network of programs, 75,000 young people engage in intensive service to help strengthen communities and improve lives. As they serve nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country, AmeriCorps members learn valuable work skills, hone essential teamwork strategies, and develop independence, compassion, and a true service ethic.
AmeriCorps and Outward Bound: A Partnership of Outdoor Education
Although Outward Bound and AmeriCorps each have distinct legacies and unique missions, at their core, both organizations are committed to developing leaders, improving lives, and fostering a spirit of service that makes our world a better place. With closely aligned goals and values, Outward Bound and AmeriCorps often work together to enhance community outcomes and provide leadership opportunities for students and members. For example, the qualities that make Outward Bound so appealing and beneficial to participants are similar to those of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). In the NCCC program, teams of young adults live and travel together, completing short-term service projects across the country in 6-8 week intervals – a structure that shares significant parallels with an Outward Bound expedition.
One of the key ways that Outward Bound and AmeriCorps collaborate is, quite simply, by training each other’s participants. Katrina Mathis, Assistant Director of Recruitment and Partnerships for AmeriCorps NCCC explains,
“The rigor of the Outward Bound experience develops self-confidence and self-awareness to go into the world and serve. Self-awareness, interdependence, independence – we need that on our teams.”
In fact, the NCCC programs can be an excellent next step for an Outward Bound grad. “NCCC members eat, sleep, live and travel together in a 15-person van,” Mathis explains. “You need a team leader who can bring diverse groups together and show how everyone can have a positive impact. An Outward Bound grad is an excellent candidate for that team leader role.”
Mathis points out that whether an Outward Bound student joins AmeriCorps NCCC, or an AmeriCorps NCCC alum embarks on an Outward Bound expedition, in either scenario, they become a valuable asset for their team. Outward Bound students have much in common with AmeriCorps NCCC members – and both have much to contribute – whether they are hiking through the wilderness or swinging hammers at a Habitat for Humanity build. Mathis describes the ideal Outward Bound student and AmeriCorps NCCC member as such:
“This is a person who is flexible and mature; someone who wants to give back; someone who has fully embraced the service ethic. Although they don’t sign up because they are expecting to get something back, these people involve themselves so completely in the experience that they will inevitably get something back in return.”
Outward Bound: Preparing Students for AmeriCorps and the World
Outward Bound grad and AmeriCorps member Courtney Gugliuzza is one of the mature and flexible “excellent candidates” that Mathis refers to. After completing an Outward Bound semester backpacking course with Voyageur Outward Bound School, Gugliuzza went on to serve two AmeriCorps terms – one at the Alaska Denali Education Center, and another at the Moab State Youth Garden Project. Gugliuzza says that her Outward Bound experience instilled in her an ethic of service and compassion for other students that proved invaluable during her AmeriCorps service terms.
“In Alaska, I was working with local youth, adults with disabilities and at-risk youth. The compassion I learned on my Outward Bound course helped get me through some challenging situations. And all of the challenges I experienced as an Outward Bound student helped me know ‘I can do this’” Gugliuzza reflects.
Gugliuzza, who is presently pursuing her Masters in Social Work and also instructing at Colorado Outward Bound School, feels that AmeriCorps and Outward Bound have a synergistic effect on one another.
“While AmeriCorps is more directly about service, service is a part of everyday life at Outward Bound. The teamwork element is huge in both programs. Whether you are a student or staff member, you must work within the larger family of your crew and the wilderness. And with AmeriCorps, you have to work across multiple departments to make it all work. These skills translate to a variety of life situations,” says Gugliuzza.
AmeriCorps: Leading the Way to Outward Bound
Besides workforce training, travel and team experience (not to mention making a significant community impact), AmeriCorps members have another good reason to complete their service term. Upon completion, members receive a substantial education award, which may be used to pay educational costs at eligible post-secondary educational institutions – and may also be used to pay for an Outward Bound expedition.
Emily Gosselin, AmeriCorps member and Outward Bound alumna, has used two AmeriCorps education awards to attend two separate Outward Bound expeditions. As an AmeriCorps member in the NCCC program, Gosselin had the opportunity to get involved and to travel. “Every six weeks we would change our project, so I found out what I liked and what I didn’t like,” Gosselin recounts.
“Our projects varied from helping place individuals affected by Hurricane Ike, working with Sacramento area after-school programs, building Habitat for Humanity homes in Baton Rouge, painting a New Orleans school, helping build playgrounds with Kaboom, and maintaining over 400 island acres in Washington state.”
After completing her service term, Gosselin used her education award to attend a Northwest Outward Bound course, where, in between sea kayaking, rock climbing and backpacking in the magnificent Pacific Northwest, she became hooked on Outward Bound.
After completing a second service term working with Habitat for Humanity in the heart of Arkansas, Gosselin earned a second education award, and enrolled on yet another Outward Bound expedition. But this time, she went big. Gosselin chose the 50-day Northwest Instructor course – an expedition that involved rock climbing, white water rafting, mountaineering and the Wilderness First Responder certification.
“I did the 50-day course because I wanted to learn as much as I could, and I knew that the Instructor course would the very best way to get hired on in the outdoor industry,” Gosselin explains.
Gosselin went on to become the lead instructor at a sailing school in North Carolina, and then moved into a logistics role with Samaritan’s Purse, where her Outward Bound skills became more valuable than ever, as she worked with a team to rebuild houses destroyed by natural disaster. Today, Gosselin’s life is centered on service, as she continues to work and volunteer with non-profit organizations.
Looking back on her AmeriCorps and Outward Bound experiences, Gosselin says that each experience enhanced the other.
“They are both focused on service,” Gosselin says. “And they both have a real team aspect – conflict resolution, team building, team activities. I can’t tell you how often I use ‘I statements’ – and I learned those in both places – Outward Bound and AmeriCorps. Both programs gave me important life skills that I use on a daily basis.”
Gosselin also comments on the culture of simplicity encouraged by both Outward Bound and AmeriCorps. “People get so caught up with all the things you need to have – but you really don’t need all these things. On an Outward Bound expedition, you’d be amazed how far a peanut butter and jelly sandwich goes.”
Putting Your Education Dollars to Work
When it comes time to cash in education funds for Outward Bound expeditions – whether the dollars come from AmeriCorps education awards or a 529 Plan – Dana Miller and her team at Western State Colorado University are here to help. As the Assistant Director of Extended Studies, Dana works closely with the university’s Academic Affairs department to create credit opportunities – so that students can access funds earmarked for their education.
“For students to use the AmeriCorps award for an Outward Bound expedition, they must be registered for college credits,” Dana explains. “The credit partnership activates their award. They write a paper (worth 40% of their grade), have their Instructor submit an evaluation (worth 60% of their grade), and fulfill an academic responsibility. In return, they have the opportunity to apply their education award to a meaningful outdoor education experience.”
For a 50-day course, students can expect to earn between 3 and 10 credits and earn a grade that goes on their permanent transcript. Depending on the institution, upper division elective credits may transfer to other places. However, this process is not just for degree-seeking students, Dana explains.
“Some AmeriCorps students don’t necessarily want the credit – they just want the award and the Outward Bound experience – which is fine. By paying for the credits and fulfilling their academic obligation, they gain access to their education award.”
Worried about cutting through lots of red tape? According to Dana, the process is easy. “We register you – and that bypasses the admissions process. With Extended Studies, students simply register for credit, follow a chart that helps them figure out how much credit they want, and then they can get their award and be on their way.”
Born to be outdoors? Then Western State might be the ideal place to earn credit, after all. “Western has a particular interest in outdoor programs because we offer some of the country’s best outdoor education and environmental programs. So if an individual is seeking a career in the outdoors, it might benefit them to earn credit for an Outward Bound course, and then begin a degree program at Western. It can be quite the natural progression,” Dana explains.
Steps to Applying Your Education Award Towards an Outward Bound Course
So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. How does one apply an AmeriCorps education award to an Outward Bound course? There are two basic rules. First, the AmeriCorps award must be active and available before the first day of the Outward Bound course. Second, the award cannot expire before course begins. Beyond those two guidelines, Dana suggests you follow the below steps:
- Register for an Outward Bound course. Get an invoice from the school – you’ll need to send this to Dana and AmeriCorps for verification.
- Fill out an Outward Bound course credit registration packet (available from Western State) no later than 30 days before course start date. This will help you register as a non-degree seeking student, which bypasses the admissions process.
- Complete budget worksheets, which will confirm exactly how much money you’ll need from AmeriCorps. Calculate your cost of credit with Western ($125 per credit) plus your total due to Outward Bound.
- Log in to your account at my.americorps.gov and submit a voucher with your total amount to Western State Colorado University. AmeriCorps vouchers go to Western, who then passes along the tuition amount to Outward Bound.
- Go on course! Once you arrive, confirm with your Instructor that you are a credit student and request that they send a Field Instructor Evaluation to Western within 3 weeks of course end.
- Write your paper. Worth 40% of your grade, and required to receive credit for the course, the reflective essay is due 3 weeks after you return from an Outward Bound course.
For students who wish to use a 529 College Fund, Dana says the first step is to contact her directly. She’ll help you find out what sort of documentation the 529 fund requires. Once the 529 funds are released to Western State, then Western will process payments to Outward Bound.
Ready to get started? Below, you’ll find a few excellent resources to help you get enrolled on an Outward Bound course, learn more about AmeriCorps, and start earning credit for your Outward Bound expedition.