An adventure with NAU Outdoors

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Imagine hurling down a river filled with raging rapids surrounded by extraordinary rock formations, or dangling off a mountain while rock climbing in some of the most remote areas in America. Some people might prefer a calmer route, such as a hiking or camping trip, but if any of the above sounds appealing, NAU Outdoors is the place to go.

Brett Velez, a junior phsycology major from Phoenix, does his stretches before starting his kayaking class at the Wall Aquatic center. The kayak class is taught through Outdoor Recreation on campus.  (Photo by Sean Ryan)

Brett Velez, a junior phsycology major from Phoenix, does his stretches before starting his kayaking class at the Wall Aquatic center. The kayak class is taught through Outdoor Recreation on campus.
(Photo by Sean Ryan)

NAU Outdoors encompasses several aspects of activity at Northern Arizona University (NAU). They are responsible for the indoor rock wall in the Health and Learning Center, the challenge course on campus, the Wilderness Welcome program for freshmen and various adventure programs and workshops. They also rent equipment for up to a week for those who wish to take their own outdoor trips.

The NAU Outdoors Program Coordinator Matt Hartman said the organization’s mission is for students to “develop connections.” They hope students gain connections to the natural environment, their fellow adventure-seeking peers and themselves on these trips.

Students gain knowledge about safety while receiving credit hours to further their overall progress toward graduating.

“Some courses have a written test, some have a practical exam and some have a reflection paper, but all of the trips require some sort of participation while in the field,” Hartman said.

Different trips have different difficulty levels, so a grading scale is assigned to each adventure to judge one’s physical shape for certain trips.

Sarah Pawlowski, a junior biology and chemistry major, said her first trip with NAU Outdoors was to the Grand Gulch in Utah. Palowski loved the trip and thus began her career working for NAU Outdoors as a trip leader.

“After my roommate became a trip leader she kind of recommended me to Matt Hartman,” Pawlowski said. She then decided to take the required nine-day Wilderness First Responder Course to gain the necessary medical certification in order to become a trip leader.

“I just kept coming back, and didn’t really take no for an answer, and I got an interview,” Pawlowski said.

Out of the ten trips she has been on, Havasupai is her favorite to lead, to show students the beautiful waterfalls cascading down the canyon.

“The stuff that I do here that I get paid for I would do for free usually,” Pawlowski said.

NAU Outdoors program has opened up several opportunities for her and taught her skills she might not have learned in a typical classroom.

“For the skills trips there is usually a day in the class or a portion that’s in a classroom and then you go out and practice skills,” Pawlowski said.

Elliot Spaulding, a graduate student studying clinical and mental health counseling, leads various river trips for NAU Outdoors. His first experience was about 10 years ago when he signed up for the Wilderness Welcome program, a four to five-day trip for freshman and happens a week or two before their first day of college.

No experience is necessary on the Wilderness Welcome trips, and after the trips, the staff helps the freshmen move into their dorms.

“They’re really excited to start their year knowing some people already,” Spaulding said.

The Wilderness First Responder course offered through NAU Outdoors covers medical emergencies and what to do if any injury or illness occurs while in the back country. This year’s course consisted of rafting on the San Juan river from March 16 to 24.

“The course looks super good on a resume, especially for people that want to work in the outdoors,” Spaulding said.

NAU Outdoors attracts students who enjoy going on adventures, being outdoors and having a good time with peers.

“We work hard to make the trips as affordable as possible,” Hartman said. “Trip fees cover transportation, all food, group gear, permits and trained staff.”

The prices usually reflect what the actual cost would be of a recreational trip, but students can earn credit.  The main goal is to create an outlet for students to connect with nature while practicing proper safety and environmentally friendly techniques. Over the past few decades this program has grown to reach a larger percentage of students, which makes room for a larger variety of trips to take.

For more information visit:



Coconino Community College
Student Housing at NAU