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NOVA Outdoors Project: Home

Image of 8 tents and 2 people and a field with low grass, with a copse of trees in the background

What is the Outdoors Project?

The purpose of the Outdoors Project is to increase students' sense of belonging, which is shown to improve student success in college, and educate students about ways to increase the access of community college students and women, trans, and nonbinary people to nature and wild spaces.

What is Backpacking?

Backpacking is the combination of hiking and camping. Backpackers carry everything they need to survive in nature on their backs -- food, filters to clean water for drinking, tent, sleeping bag, clothes, first aid kit, toilet paper, and more. The wonderful thing about backpacking is that it's not a race! You go step by step, at your own pace.

Why Backpacking?

A study of students thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail found participants "discovered how to integrate individual and broader group goals while also developing self-efficacy, self-confidence, and resilience when dealing with unforeseen circumstances" (Rohn & Conway, 2022).


"It was my first time backpacking and I was very excited to join a group of wonderful people who were as passionate about the outdoors as me. I remember laughing over dinner when we reached the campsite and slipping on slippery algae when crossing the rivers.  From this trip, I learnt many things such as filtering my own water and putting up a tent. I enjoyed cooking our food on the tiny stove, where and how to hang a bear bag and being able to enjoy all of it without cellular service. From the guidance and advice of Prof. Eriksen, she helped us learn tips and tricks on the trails. Through this experience, I also learned a lot from my fellow backpackers who were comfortable enough to share with each other. I am so grateful for the opportunity to explore the outdoors. I have always wanted to do backpacking but acquiring new equipment is out my budget range  as a college student with a part time job. This trip had a positive impact on my life, I felt recharged, happy and enlightened. I went home with a new perspective. This opportunity not only made memories but also helped me notice the kindness and generosity to give a person like me a chance to connect with others and with nature."

"On the trail, there was an atmosphere of empathy, trust, and support among our group. Professor Indigo, our trip leaders, and other women alike made me feel like I had a sense of belonging that I thought I had lost for some time. Being in nature allowed me to find peace within myself, realizing how important it is to enjoy the simple things in life. This project is important because it taught me self-discipline. I needed to rely on myself and prove that I could keep moving (even if the hill became steeper). It teaches planning and self-reliance. It also teaches goal setting because I would have never imagined completing a 22-mile hike over a weekend! It gave me an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I hope this program reaches more students at NOVA who want to feel the same. As an Alumna at NOVA, I can confidently say that I can see the trailhead I started from, and realize that even though it’s a great big world, I can get just about anywhere if I keep going forward, and don’t give up."

"These trips were significant for me as a woman who had never been backpacking before and as a person who had been going through some tough times personally and academically. Being out in the wild, carrying everything I needed on my back, was an experience like no other. The stress and worries of my everyday life seemed to vanish as soon as we set foot on the trail. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders, and I found a level of peace and stress relief that I didn't know was possible. Nature has an incredible way of grounding you and making you feel like you're exactly where you're supposed to be, which was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a while. The real magic, however, happened because of the other women+ students who came on the trip with me. We were initially strangers coming from all walks of life, with different stories and backgrounds, yet the bonds we created in the wilderness happened in an instant and will last a lifetime. "

"Professor Eriksen created an environment of trust and support that allowed us to rely on each other, communicate openly, and lift each other up when the going got tough. There were instances when I took a misstep, needed a break, or thought I couldn’t make it up a hill and felt as though I would drag everyone else down. I, however, was only met with overwhelming reassurance, motivation, and patience. The moments that stood out to me on these backpacking trips were when we had our morning circles. Professor Indigo, the other amazing trip leaders, and we students would form a circle in the mornings, warm up for the trail, check in with each other, and express our thoughts and feelings. I remember tearing up listening to the others talk and also while I talked myself. The stress relief, the friends I made, the inspiring conversations I had, the beautiful nature I walked through, the sense of belonging I found within myself, and the peace I felt after are just the tip of the iceberg of the impact these backpacking trips have had on me. "