Loyola University Chicago

Outdoor Experiential Education

Campus Recreation | Student Complex

Staff: Rachel Murray

Position: Program Coordinator
Office: Campus Recreation; Outdoor Experiential Education (Ramble Outdoors)
Years with Loyola: Since July 2014
Alma Mater: Wartburg College and Western Illinois

Geographically, I hail from the great state of Iowa.  I have also lived in Massachusetts, Alabama, and now Illinois.  Non-geographically, I received my bachelors in Music Education (always thought I would teach high school choir because that’s what my mom did) from Wartburg College, but realized that the time I spent working at a summer camp facilitating challenge course experiences and leading canoeing and rock climbing trips for youth was much more enjoyable and beneficial.  Since then, I’ve worked at numerous different challenge courses throughout the country, received my masters in Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration from Western Illinois, and have now ventured into the world of higher education.

Students who participate in Ramble Outdoors programs through the challenge course, outdoor experiences, and rock wall all have the opportunity to learn great things about themselves: perseverance, group membership and responsibility, effective collaboration, etc….  I get the great opportunity and great responsibility of training stellar student facilitators to design and lead those experiences.  My helping hand comes in the form of customized group development programs for numerous student groups throughout campus wanting to learn and grow together as a team and then hopefully bring those qualities into all other groups they’re involved with on campus.

My helping hand for students also comes in the form of my empathy strength.  Sometimes (many times) my empathy strength can be too overwhelming for me, so I may keep people at a distance, but once I’ve developed a relationship with colleagues and students, I’m always there as a support system.  My empathy allows me to authentically share in my students’ joys, sorrows, achievements, and fears.  I believe this is one of the strengths that helps me be a successful supervisor and mentor.

Outdoor Experiential Education strives to connect urban students with each other and with the outdoors in meaningful ways (okay, so maybe those aren’t my own words, but they portray what we do so well).

For many, the perception of Ramble Outdoors is that we have fun and play games outside, but what we actually do has much more depth – we constantly fight the stereotype that “team building” consists of trust falls and zip lines.  Instead, we work with intentionality and customize every experience for every group we work with; my goal is to meet with each of our partners to get an accurate snapshot of the group, then allow those conversations to inform the program design and facilitation for that specific group.  In fact, I haven’t seen another organization do intentional program design better than at Loyola. 

The students, plain and simple.  I love spending time with and mentoring OEE student facilitators.  They make my job easy (most of the time) and watching them learn more about themselves, surprise themselves, and experience things they never thought they’d be able to achieve brings me great joy.

One of my favorite opportunities with students is the Outdoor Leadership Workshop (OLW).  Students participating in the OLW meet every Tuesday night during the spring semester as an opportunity to learn about what it means to be an outdoor leader – each week has a different subject matter ranging from LUC/OEE mission and values, group formation, identity, interfaith identity, risk management, to how to tie knots and the concepts behind Leave No Trace.  The greatest part about the OLW is that it is taught by current student facilitators.  It is such a great opportunity for our students to develop their skills on a deeper level and I am continually impressed by the professionalism, poise, knowledge, and understanding that our students exude.

My hope and my goal is that every Loyola student who participates in a program at the LUREC challenge course or an on-campus group development program through Ramble Outdoors achieves something new.  The experiences we provide allow Loyola students to learn how they deal with challenging situations, overcome something they thought was impossible, and learn how to support one another in a positive and encouraging way.

Social justice to me means recognizing every individual as a human and treating them as a human with undeniable rights – this requires me to always be cognizant of my privileges, to be open to continually learning cultural competencies, and to engage in dialogue and action with people that may identify themselves differently from me.

One of the things I never gave a second thought to before coming to Loyola were micro-aggressions.  Growing up in Iowa, it was common practice to refer to a group or handful of people as “you guys” – I never even thought how that phrase could be considered a micro-aggression toward women.  My third week on the job, I spent the week at LUREC with new student facilitators participating in the high ropes practical interview.  As student facilitators, being aware of the environment and culture they create for their participants is incredibly important, so avoiding phrases like “you guys” is something that they are very in tune with.  They would *buzz* me anytime I (or anyone else in the group) said “you guys” in order to call attention to what we were saying; eventually, they started taking my caffeine privileges away at meals if I was buzzed too many times in one day.  Needless to say, I learned very quickly to instead talk to groups saying “y’all” or “friends”.  I’m so grateful for how respectful and competent our students strive to be and how they continually try to educate others to do the same.

Honestly, I didn’t know what a “Jesuit” was until I applied for this position at LUC and I was fairly nervous about coming to work for a Catholic institution.  Since then, I’ve grown to love and embrace Ignatian values.  I’ve heard it said that Ignatius of Loyola could be considered the very first experiential educator.  One of the most important parts of experiential education is reflection – taking a look at our concrete experiences and then reflecting on what we experienced, what we can learn from those experiences, and how we can apply that learning to our life moving forward.  This theory is called the Experiential Learning Cycle developed by educational theorist David Kolb; but in Jesuit education, it’s a key part of Ignatian methodology (and much older concept compared to Kolb): the four processes of knowing.  In this sense, Jesuit education has had a great impact on my life.  Reflecting on my experiences can be difficult, but spending that time and truly assessing my experiences allows me to grow as a partner, a professional, and all-around human being.

Walking the trails on the challenge course at LUREC when the leaves have changed color in the fall.  It’s simply a beautiful place to be and enjoy creation.

I’m not entirely sure if I currently have a “favorite” Loyola story – “favorite” is a strong word.  I do, however, truly enjoy the informal working meetings that Pat Croke, Paul Miller, and I create in the hallway outside of our offices (behind the lobby in Halas).  Some of our most productive conversations have happened in that hallway – it’s also where we sometimes all drink coffee together.

Be yourself and try new things.

People often put on a different face (either consciously or subconsciously) for different facets of their life.  I was incredibly guilty of this while I was growing up and am sometimes still guilty of this now; but know that one of the most important things you can do in your life is to discover and own your authentic self.  Throughout my professional career as a supervisor, mentor, educator, and learner, what I value most out of my time with others I work with is simply getting to know you as a person.

One of the easiest ways to get to know your true self is to try new things.  For me, as an introvert, trying new things can be one of the most intimidating and scariest things I do.  If I hadn’t have taken a few leaps of faith in my past, however, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, I wouldn’t be in the profession I’m in today, and I wouldn’t be living the life I live today.