Wilderness Experience

A wilderness orientation program for incoming first-year Penn State students

Orion, one of the most prominent constellations in the northeastern sky, contains some of the brightest stars in the heavens and acts as a guide for travelers and adventurers. Similarly, the ORION Wilderness Experience is designed to guide incoming Penn State students as they embark on their university adventure. The program allows participants to develop bonds with each other and the natural community.

Depending on which Penn State campus you have been admitted to, we have an ORION session for you! Look in the right sidebar for the ORION dates for your campus.

What Are the Goals of ORION?

ORION is designed to provide you with the opportunity to:

  • meet other incoming students and form solid friendships
  • engage in a fun, physically challenging outdoor experience
  • foster your personal growth, increase your confidence, and bolster your self-esteem
  • increase your appreciation for the environment
  • learn outdoor skills that focus on the “leave-no-trace” philosophy
  • gain familiarity with the natural offerings of central Pennsylvania
  • set goals for your first year at Penn State
  • have more fun than you could have ever imagined

What Activities Are Included in ORION?

  • Four days and nights of backpacking through the rugged, beautiful terrain of central Pennsylvania
  • A follow-up community service project

A group of backpackers on an ORION trip

How Do I Prepare for ORION?

  • Bring a positive attitude and be willing to try new things.
  • Physically prepare yourself — you will be hiking on variable terrain between two and ten miles each day with a loaded backpack.
  • Bring personal gear and appropriate clothing.* (See welcome packet.)

*ORION will provide all group gear, including tents/tarps, stoves, and cookware. Backpacks, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads will also be provided.

What Are the Course Requirements for ORION?

Because ORION is a 2-credit, Penn State course (KINES 089), there are specific requirements to fulfill. You must:

  • participate in a positive manner during the entire trip
  • keep a creative and insightful journal
  • write a final paper that summarizes what you have learned
  • write a detailed goal statement for your first year
  • participate in a follow-up community service project around State College/University Park
  • attend a wrap-up session in early fall
A group from the 2011 ORION trip poses for a photo

Important Notes:

  • A welcome packet will be sent via email to confirm your acceptance into the program.
  • KINES 089, Wilderness Experience will be listed on your course schedule; DO NOT drop this class or you will lose your space in ORION.
  • All students participating in a fall session of ORION must be registered as full-time students. Students in the summer session do not need to be enrolled full-time, and will be charged tuition per credit, based on current rates and Pennsylvania state residency.
  • The 2 credits from ORION meet two of the three Penn State General Health Activity requirements (GHA).

Students in this program will have the opportunity to register for RPTM 397S, a first-year seminar offered exclusively for AURORA participants. For more information and/or to register for this course, call 814-863-2000.

Students may also be interested in attending the URSA Urban Service Experience program in Philadelphia, the POLARIS North Woods Wilderness experience, or the VEGA West Coast Wilderness experience, all of which are modeled after the ORION program.

Still have questions about ORION? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page to learn more!

A group photo from the 2011 ORION class

Thanks to Appalachian Outdoors for their generous support of the ORION program.

ORION 2015 sessions:

ORION Pride reserved for LEAP:
August 3–7, 2015

ORION for Penn State campuses other than UP:
August 9–13, 2015

ORION Fall Week:
August 17–21, 2015

ORION contact information:

Jen Bean
Director of ORION
Email: jbean@psu.edu

Drew Lehnerd
Assistant Director of AURORA
Email: dlehnerd@psu.edu

Shaver's Creek Environmental Center
The Pennsylvania State University

Phone: 814-863-2000
Fax: 814-865-2706

“Now almost an entire month into college, I can say with utmost certainty that no other program, class, or experience helped me more with the transition to college life than ORION did.”
~ 2009 ORION Participant


Penn State Early Move-in for ORION participants: 
Contact your housing office after August 9:

East Halls—814-865-1791
North Halls—814-865-9521
Pollock Halls—814-865-4321
South Halls—814-865-2391
West Halls—814-865-9526.
Please read this FAQ entry for more information.

TwitterFacebookMailing List