Resident Undergraduate Orientation

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Building Community and Connection

Each fall and spring, all new resident undergraduate Prescott College students enroll in our unique Orientation program to begin the distinctive journey of developing relationships with their new home, community and academic career.  For over 50 years, new students at Prescott College have built transformative connections to the college, their environment, and each other while on Orientation. Orientation, the first class resident undergraduate students take, gives students the opportunity to build foundational communities that help to sustain them throughout their academic journey at Prescott College.

Orientation is a 4 credit block course aimed to orient you to the unique culture and education offered at Prescott College. Regardless of area of study or credits completed, all incoming Prescott College students are introduced to the natural and cultural environments of the Southwest, learn about themselves and the greater community, and experience the educational philosophies of Prescott College during Orientation. The first few days of Orientation are spent on campus registering for classes, meeting staff, students and faculty, and preparing for the course. Students then split into small groups for their individual Orientation courses. 

Download the Orientation Overview PDF!

View the Schedule

Orientation Course Choices

New students to Prescott College choose to participate in Wilderness or Community-Based Orientation.

Wilderness Orientation

Wilderness Orientation is at its heart a three-week backpacking expedition in the remote desert mountains and canyons of Arizona. 

You don’t need to be an experienced backpacker or extrovert to have a successful Orientation experience; you just need a sense of adventure and a readiness to build an inclusive learning community.

Students on Wilderness Orientation develop a sense of place and make connections to the Southwest through backcountry travel, map and wilderness navigation, and by studying the natural and cultural history of their route.  Much of the course is focused on building a foundational community by honing interpersonal communication skills and practicing compassion and respect for each other and the landscapes we travel through. Students will also engage in individual research projects, a solo experience, leadership training, and service projects as part of this truly interdisciplinary Liberal Arts course.  Additionally, Wilderness Orientation satisfies the foundational field prerequisite that students will need for field-based courses. Enrollment is dependent on Orientation Director approval. 

Community-Based Orientation

Students can also choose to enroll in Community-Based Orientation in a non-expeditionary in-town format.  

On Community-Based Orientation, students will explore the concept of Community via interdisciplinary lenses.  Through connecting with the greater Prescott Community, students will develop cultural awareness and critical thinking tools to decolonize their education.  Students will complete individual research projects, service learning opportunities, day hikes, field trips, and a possible solo experience, to develop a sense of place and explore the ecological, political, and cultural histories of their new home. 

This course is based in Prescott with frequent field trips and possible extended field-based overnights. Please note however, that this course does not satisfy the requirements for a field prerequisite required for many field courses at Prescott College. Enrollment is dependent on Orientation Director approval. 

FAQs - Find Out More About Wilderness Orientation at Prescott College

Wilderness Orientation is a 3-week backpacking expedition that is also your first college class.  Orientation is required at Prescott College. On Wilderness Orientation you put into practice leadership and backcountry skills, implement community-building skills, and gain an introduction to Prescott College philosophies and practices.  Assignments include: Building an academic portfolio in the field, keeping a natural history and cultural history log, group discussions, delivering research-based presentations to your peers, filling group leadership and expedition roles, and a solo experience.

All incoming resident undergraduate students are required to successfully complete Orientation - this includes transfer students and first year college students.  Students may choose to complete Wilderness Orientation or Community-Based Orientation. Additionally, Wilderness Orientation is a prerequisite for all field-based courses. This means that your Orientation course will be made up of a diverse group of students - first year students,  transfer students, students with different academic and extracurricular interests. This is the point! We want to build community across the college and we start with Orientation.

Most Wilderness Orientation instructors are alumni of Prescott College who come back to work as Wilderness Orientation instructors and introduce a new generation to the college community. Instructors of Wilderness Orientation must be Wilderness First Responder certified and have professional experience in outdoor education and/or outdoor guiding.  Most groups will also have a student instructor. This is a current student, usually a senior or junior Adventure Education competence, who is taking an upper division practicum course as part of their academic work.  These students must go through an application process and meet the upper division course prerequisites. All staff, unless otherwise exempt, attend staff training which includes an in-field portion in the fall.

There are detailed gear lists you can find here.  There are different gear lists for Fall Orientation and Winter Orientation. Please make sure that you bring the required gear on the first day of Orientation.  During the prep week in-town, instructors will go over each student’s gear to ensure that they are prepared for the expedition.

Backpacking gear can be expensive!  If you can’t afford all or any of the gear on the list, don’t worry!  We have loaner gear for you to use for free. We work on an honor system.  We ask that you go through the list and bring all of the gear that you have to the first day of Orientation and we will figure out the rest together.  And, we also ask that if you can afford the gear, or if you can borrow gear from friends or family, you do that before using the gear we have to ensure that those who need to borrow the gear can do so easily. 

Wilderness Orientation routes take you all over Arizona.  Depending on the time of year, you might be exploring a series of breathtaking canyons on the Mogollon Rim in Central Arizona, the desert mountains of the Superstitions in the Sonoran Desert, or the rugged beauty of the Grand Canyon.  All of our routes are designed to accommodate those new to backpacking.

Although Wilderness Orientation requires physical ability, you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy the experience.  It is smart to prepare for Wilderness Orientation to aide in your successful completion of the course. Some ideas to get ready for Orientation include: Hiking on trails, biking on trails or on the road, running, working out in the gym, and swimming.  Groups usually hike 3-6 miles/day, but some days may be very short and others may be very long. Additionally, terrain varies! You might be on a trail, in a creek, or off-trail in rugged desert terrain.

No problem! You don’t need to be an outdoorsy person or have experience in the Outdoors to be successful on Orientation.  We just ask that you come with a sense of adventure. Our experienced instructors will help you learn to live and travel safely and comfortably in the backcountry.

No problem! Though the container of Wilderness Orientation is a backpacking trip, the point is not to be an expert backpacker.  If you are a guide, really outdoorsy, and have tons of experience in the field, we ask that you come prepared to meet the challenges of being in a diverse group with a wide range of abilities and experiences. 

You can expect to carry a pack that is around a ⅓ of your body weight. We distribute group gear and group food dependent on physical stature and ability level.

Depending on your route, solo may be period of up to 3-nights and 3-days long that you spend camping by yourself in a designated spot with a personal tarp within hearing distance of your group. For some it can be challenging to spend this time alone; for others, they welcome the space to be away from their group.  Solo can be a time for introspection and for contemplation. Solo is also a time for rest and rejuvenation after many days of hiking and carrying a backpack. There are detailed risk management policies in place for Prescott College Solo - for more information you can contact the Orientation Director at cgoodman@prescott.edu.

On Orientation, students sleep in mixed gender tent (for winter) and tarp (on fall) groups with 3-4 other peers. You will need a sleeping bag (see the gear list for details), sleeping pad to sleep on, and a ground tarp that go underneath both. Depending on weather and terrain, many students sleep out under the stars.

Students on Wilderness Orientation eat as a big group for breakfast and dinner.  This food is mostly gluten-free and can be adapted to be vegan and/or vegetarian. This food is pre-packed by our logistical staff and includes traditional backpacking meals such as Oatmeal, Rice & Beans, and Pesto Pasta.  As a group, students will buy the fresh food additions in-town during the prep week before students leave for the field. With the instructors’ help, students will also plan and buy their individual lunches and snacks for the field.  Students receive $200 back from their course fee to cover their lunch and snacks needs. If you believe you will need more money than that, you will need to bring money with you to the food buy.   

Orientation is a required, 4 credit academic course, but you do not receive a letter grade.  Instead, students receive credit or no credit based on their engagement with all aspects of the class.  In order to graduate from the Resident Undergraduate degree program at Prescott College, you must receive credit for Orientation.

If a student has to leave the field for a physical or emotional reason, in most cases, students will join an in-town mentored study to complete their Orientation course.

Many students have jobs or work study positions during their time at Prescott College.  Orientation is a Block course. Block courses cover the equivalent of a semester length curriculum in a 3-week intensive.  Block courses usually meet 5 days a week, 8 hours a day and if you choose to go on Wilderness Orientation you will need to take that time off from your job.  If you choose Community-Based Orientation you will need to make sure that your work schedule accommodates your Community-Based Orientation schedule, which will be 5 days a week. Please check-in with the program director if you have questions about the schedule. Regardless of the type of Orientation you are engaged in, successful completion of this intensive experience requires a high degree of commitment.

If you have kids and need to be at home with your family at night, you will need to choose Community-Based Orientation. This course is based in-town and while it meets 5-days a week, it can accommodate parental needs.

If you are concerned about an injury or physical disability and your ability to complete Wilderness Orientation, please contact the Orientation Director, Cecil Goodman at cgoodman@prescott.edu.  Community-Based Orientation is designed to accommodate all physical abilities. Additionally, to set up accommodations please contact the ADA Coordinator, Christina Fabrey at christina.fabrey@prescott.edu.

Resupply is the half-way point for Wilderness Orientation.  Orientation staff bring food and gear to resupply groups. This allows for groups to only carry half of their food and gear needs at a time. Resupply is also a time for students to receive letters and packages and to experience a hot meal cooked by Orientation staff.

Friends and family can send a student on Orientation a letter or package that will get to your student at Resupply.  Please make sure to check the Student Orientation Calendar to ensure that your letter will arrive on time.

Please address all letters or packages to:

Student’s Name
℅ Wilderness Orientation
220 Grove Ave.
Prescott AZ 86301

Please contact Cecil Goodman, the Orientation Program Director.  You can email her at cgoodman@prescott.edu or try her on her office phone 928-350-2305.

FAQs - Find Out More About Community Based Orientation

Community Based Orientation (CBO) is another Orientation choice.  Unlike Wilderness Orientation, CBO is based in-town and meets 5 days a week.  Although there are field trips, there are no required overnight field trips and this is not an expeditionary course. The specific curriculum of CBO changes based on the faculty or instructor facilitating CBO.  However, all CBO’s focus on building a tight-knit community, developing fluency with Prescott College education philosophy, and creating a critical sense of place. Additionally, CBO adopts a decolonizing lens that aids students in developing tools to decolonize their education. CBO students do not receive a field-course prerequisite. Please contact the program director if you have questions about specific CBO choices.

All incoming resident undergraduate students are required to successfully complete Orientation - this includes transfer students and first year college students.  Students may choose to complete Wilderness Orientation or Community-Based Orientation. This means that your Orientation course will be made up of a diverse group of students - first year students,  transfer students, students with different academic and extracurricular interests. This is the point! We want to build community across the college and we start with Orientation.

Community-Based Orientation is designed to accommodate all physical abilities. Additionally, to set up accommodations please contact the ADA Coordinator, Christina Fabrey christina.fabrey@prescott.edu.

Many students have jobs or work study positions during their time at Prescott College, but Block courses require intentional scheduling. Orientation is a Block course. Block courses cover the equivalent of a semester length curriculum in a 3-week intensive.  Block courses usually meet 5 days a week, 8 hours a day and if you choose to go on Wilderness Orientation you will need to take that time off from your job completely. If you choose Community-Based Orientation you will need to make sure that your work schedule accommodates your Community-Based Orientation schedule, which will be 5 days a week. Please check-in with the program director if you have questions about the schedule specifics. Regardless of the type of Orientation you are engaged in, successful completion of this intensive experience requires a high degree of commitment.

If you have kids and need to be at home with your family at night, you will need to choose Community-Based Orientation. This course is based in-town and while it meets 5-days a week, it can accommodate parental needs.

Many courses at Prescott College, especially in adventure education and environmental studies programs are field-based expeditionary courses.  This means the class can be gone overnight or months at a time in a field setting. Wilderness Orientation is a required prerequisite for these courses. Community Based Orientation does not satisfy this prerequisite.

Orientation is a required, 4 credit academic course, but you do not receive a letter grade.  Instead, students receive credit or no credit based on their engagement with all aspects of the class.  In order to graduate from the Resident Undergraduate degree program at Prescott College, you must receive credit for Orientation.

Please contact Cecil Goodman, the Orientation Program Director for any and all of your Orientation questions.  You can email her at cgoodman@prescott.edu or try her on her office phone 928-350-2305.

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