Emma Lowry visits a community art garden in Asheville, NC. Photo: @emmaklowry on Instagram

Last semester, junior Emma Lowry attended the Outdoor Academy, a semester school for sophomores and juniors in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. The Outdoor Academy is a unique, semester-long program where about 30 students from all over the country come together to live as a community, attend hands-on classes in the wilderness and develop new skills. 

The Outdoor Academy is based on four main cornerstones: intellect, craft, environment and community. The students go on a variety of outings throughout the semester including backpacking, rock climbing and kayaking trips. 

Lowry was at the Outdoor Academy from January to May 2022, where she had an amazing experience and was able to meet new people and learn new things. “It was really scary going because no one there knows anyone, but that also puts everyone on a level playing field. So when you show up, you just have to give it your all and throw your whole personality out there because these are the people that you are going to be living with for four months, so you really can’t hold back,” Lowry commented. 

Upon arrival at the start of the semester, the students are split into groups of eight and are sent on a five day trek. “Right off the bat, you are thrown together and immediately sent out to the field to backpack, so everyone bonds really quickly. Everyone becomes your family and you learn to rely on each other,” said Lowry. 

One of Lowry’s favorite things about the Outdoor Academy was the community. “Everyone there is your friend. The adults, the students, the animals,” Lowry explained. The whole community grows extremely close throughout the semester, as they live, eat, take classes and spend their free time together.

The Outdoor Academy focuses on connecting to the natural world. Every morning, the day starts with a short hike to the top of a mountain to watch the sunrise and have time to reflect. Additionally, there is no technology allowed, which gives students a break from screens and the stress that they can cause. 

At the end of the semester, every student completes a 48-hour solo reflection. This time alone in the woods is used to think about the semester as a whole and about yourself going forward. Lowry spent this time journaling, writing letters to her friends and thinking about her time at the Outdoor Academy. “I had so much time to reflect on my experience and try to figure out how I was going to reintroduce myself into the world,” said Lowry. 

Upon returning to Pace, Lowry has ideas from her classes at the Outdoor Academy that she would like to implement at Pace: “I wish we had more classes outside. I really love interactive classes where it is more like a conversation with the teacher rather than a lecture. It really makes you want to learn and gets you invested in the topic.”

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