Bridging adventure with academics: WVU outdoors program expands to engineering

Adventure WV, an outdoor orientation program for first-year WVU students, this summer rolled out its first events geared for the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

For 22 incoming freshmen, the vast, picturesque landscapes of the Mountain State – and not the enclosures of a stuffy laboratory – may be all that they need to morph into engineers.

Adventure WV, an outdoor orientation program for first-year West Virginia University students, this summer rolled out its first events geared for the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

In other words, Adventure WV took a group of strangers and tossed them into the West Virginia wilderness before they first set foot in a college classroom.

Students got to engage in the WVU canopy tour, rock climbing at Coopers Rock and rafting down the New River.

To top off the trip, the group walked – gingerly, at times – 870 feet above the river on the New River Gorge Bridge catwalk.

So, what exactly is the connection between the outdoors and engineering?

More than you think.

Jimmy Wriston, engineering advisor for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, owes his livelihood to the New River Gorge Bridge.

“The bridge is the reason I’m an engineer today,” said Wriston, the bridge go-to historian.

Harnessed in for protection, students experienced the buzz and the tremors unleashed by the vehicles whizzing across the bridge above them.

The bridge is the world’s fourth largest steel, single-arch bridge.

Wriston gave his 251st tour of the bridge to the Adventure WV group. He explained that before it opened in 1977, the only way across the gorge took 45 minutes.

The New River Gorge Bridge turned a 45-minute trip into 45 seconds, Wriston said.

In a presentation to students, Wriston threw out these impressive statistics: Engineers checked 1,490 shop drawings and analyzed more than 75 erection procedures and 1,200 sheets of calculations for the design of the bridge.

“The engineering of the bridge represents our ability to challenge and overcome nature’s barriers,” he said.

Torie Miller, of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and Blake Sprague, of Warren, Ohio, were among the 22 incoming freshmen who now know all about the bridge’s design and structure.

“This tour really showed us how engineering and research went into the construction of the bridge,” said Sprague, who plans to study mechanical and aerospace engineering.

The excursion also acclimated students with one another – their future classmates.

“The best thing about Adventure WV is that it gives us 20 friends heading into our freshmen year,” Sprague said.

Sprague and Miller had plenty of time to make new friends on the Engineering Adventure WV outing. The group first gathered for a picnic at the University Forest, where they also met with faculty and staff.

New students also learned about the physics of ziplining at the Canopy Tour. They got to develop mathematical predictions for their speed down the zipline, which they tested with GPS and radar guns.

The following day, the group went rafting on the New River, followed by the bridge walk.

Adventure WV, initiated in 2002, also has programs for the College of Business and Economics ; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design ; Honors College ; Reed College of Media and student veterans.

Adventure WV Director Greg Corio helped develop the program as a graduate student. It began as a small, outdoor orientation program that has since expanded to a challenge course facility, International study abroad programs and leadership training opportunities

Corio said the program is also geared to support adjustment to college life, retention and career success.

“This is their first college experience,” Corio said, “and going to school will be one of the biggest transitions in their life. Adventure WV helps the students know that they belong at WVU.”

Story by Jake Stump
University Relations/News

Photos by Greg Ellis
University Relations/News



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