Andrew Bobilya, associate professor of parks and recreation management, visited Ireland to greet Western Carolina exchange students there and deliver a keynote address at the International Conference on Outdoor Education on Friday, April 22.
Bobilya spoke on the topic “Let Our Students Go: Autonomous Student Experiences in Outdoor Education” at the conference, held at Galway Mayo Institute for Technology’s Castelebar campus. Exchange students from WCU take outdoor education courses for a year in a program similar to the one in Cullowhee.
“The program at GMIT is focused on outdoor education whereas the Parks and Recreation Management Program at WCU is broader and includes a focus area in outdoor leadership,” Bobilya said. “It is the students who are interested in the outdoor leadership focus area whom we encourage to consider the exchange program at GMIT.”
Bobilya said the exchange program was established by Maurice Phipps, professor of parks and recreation management, about 12 years ago. “We have hosted Irish students at WCU every year since, and have had WCU students at GMIT almost every year,” he added.
His address to the conference encouraged a more self-directed, though supervised, approach to learning. “The crux of the talk was focused on worldwide concern about the over-structured lives of young people and the unique opportunities that outdoor education programs have to encourage students to engage in autonomous learning experiences where, under the direction of a teacher or leader, they are afforded freedoms not often realized in their everyday lives,” Bobilya said.
“These freedoms to make choices, take on leadership roles and struggle with interpersonal relationships allow students a chance to fail and succeed in a safe environment, thus developing the kind of decision-making skills and judgment that they so desperately need to be contributing members of society. Much of my research interests over the past 15 years have centered on this aspect of education and outdoor/adventure programming.”
Bobilya said the conference was the highlight of his trip. “The most exciting outcome of the conference is that it has spurred a small group of committed folks to form a professional organization and to try to offer future conferences and support for outdoor educators in Ireland,” he said. “This is really groundbreaking for the Irish outdoor educators who, I gather, work very independently and are now seeing such growth in the industry that there is even more reason to collaborate and support each other.”
He took the opportunity to enjoy some of the sights and take advantage of adventure opportunities in Ireland during the nine-day stay. “I was fortunate to be able to have my wife, Kirsten DeWitt-Bobilya, join me for the trip,” Bobilya said. “We spent one night in Dublin, two days in Doolin near the Cliffs of Moher; two days in Clifden exploring the Connemara National Park and the coast, and then two days in Castlebar at the GMIT campus and sea kayaking near Achill Island before returning to Dublin to fly home. We were fortunate to meet up with Josh McGloin, who studied at WCU last year. He showed us his hometown and many of the wonderful cultural and natural gems in Ireland – Kylemore Abbey, the Diamond Peak in Connemara National Park, surf spots on the ocean and more.”
To learn more about the conference, his address, or WCU’s Parks and Recreation Program, contact Bobilya at 227-3326 or firstname.lastname@example.org. An article in the Irish Times on Monday, May 23, quotes him about the value of outdoor education programs.