New Students to Hike, Bond in Backcountry

DSCN1782Twenty first-year Westmont students will meet on campus Aug. 8 before heading into the California wilderness on a unique 12-day orientation program. The Inoculum trek begins in the Eastern Sierra town of Bridgeport and winds around many 10,000-foot peaks in the Toiyabe National Forest.

“The students will be backpacking, rockclimbing, and going on an overnight solo,” says Eileen McMahon McQuade, associate professor of biology and Inoculum director. “They are also scheduled to climb an 11,000-foot peak on the Sierra crest.”

Faculty accompanying the two student groups are Kaitlin Jones, biology instructor and lab coordinator, Robin Lang, outreach and public services librarian, and Eric Meyer ’03, a doctoral candidate in theology at Fordham University. 

Students, who lead discussions on two books during backpacking breaks and write a paper later in the semester, earn two units of academic and physical education credit.

The Inoculum experience was begun in 1974 by alumnus Dave Willis ’74, who is coordinator of Sierra Treks, a program that seeks to build Christian faith through wilderness experiences. Willis coordinates the mountain phase of the Inoculum program every year with a team of logistics staff and trip leaders, many of whom are also Westmont alumni or faculty/staff. Two Sierra Treks guides lead each Inoculum student group.

“Participants get to know some other students they can rely on during the toughest first few weeks of school because of what they’ve done together in the mountains,” he says. “It helps students learn to explore, enjoy and protect wilderness. We hope students will get past thinking that wilderness is merely to be survived and finish Inoculum feeling they've thrived in the wilderness,” Willis says.