Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) members are taking their passion for the outdoors outside of the BOC to explore Maine and beyond and to develop their leadership skills. 

Jennings Leavell ’17 is currently taking time off from Bowdoin to work as a full-time staff member with Kieve-Wavus Education, a camp in Nobleboro, Maine that runs experiential learning programs that aim to bring students outside of the classroom through summer and school year programs.

“I needed a break, a time to step back from Bowdoin, from the culture and the community to learn more about myself—to think, generally, to breathe, do something else,” said Leavell, who first took a semester off in the second half of his first year and decided to do it again as a senior.

A BOC leader and Wisconsin-native, Leavell has always had an avid appreciation of the outdoors. His raft guide training through the BOC launched him into a summer of leading raft trips commercially for New England Outdoor Center, which eventually connected him to the job with Kieve-Wavus.

 “I had visions initially of getting out of Maine,” said Leavell. “I realized that Maine is not just Bowdoin. Bowdoin can become very central in a Bowdoin-ite’s conception of Maine. I just saw a lot of people who also loved Maine for reasons that are totally unrelated to Bowdoin. Then this opportunity to come to Kieve was presented to me.”

At Kieve-Wavus, Leavell would find different places outside to play games that teach the kids how to communicate. “[The activities] push their buttons and make it hard, and then we step back and debrief it,” said Leavell, who is interested in pursuing a career in education.

Leavell is not the first BOC leader to further his or her outdoor learning after training with the BOC. Bowdoin currently has two other students who have worked as commercial raft guides and one as a commercial sea kayak guide.

Niklas Bergill ’18, Jack Mitchell ’17 and Uma Blanchard ’17 all trained to be raft guides with the Outing Club, later getting their licenses—Blanchard for sea kayaking—through their respective guide companies. All three participated in BOC Leadership Training and are now trip leaders.
 Blanchard, who has been sea kayaking for seven years and was a commercial guide for one summer, trained through the Midwest-based wilderness leadership program Camp Manitowish.

 “I really love leading and not [professionally] guiding. With guiding you really have to deal with clients who just want the ‘perfect outdoor experience,’ and you can never give that to them,” said Blanchard. “It’s also a very sexist industry, so I had a terrible experience guiding in terms of sexism.”

Citing the experience as her first “real” confrontation with sexism, Blanchard pointed to the raft guide outfitters as culprits of sexual harassment as well as other forms of sexism.

“If you’re leading a session with a male guide, everyone is going to automatically look to the male guide as the source of authority, even if you may have more certification, more years of experience, et cetera,” said Blanchard.

Bergill, after practicing rafting in the Kennebec River with the BOC his sophomore year, decided to guide professionally at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, NC this past summer.

Mitchell sought out a guiding position with Northeast Whitewater, a Maine-based company, after meeting one of its guides through the BOC’s Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training run out of the BOC over winter break.

“I had fallen in love with white water my freshman year through kayaking and learning how to kayak with the Outing Club. Then sophomore year I was thinking about trying to find a job where I could be outside all summer and live out of a tent. So I was thinking about working as a raft guide,” said Mitchell.

After enduring a rigorous ten-day training this May to lead raft trips, moose tours and swift water rescue courses, Mitchell guided with the company throughout the summer down the Kennebec River and West Branch of the Penobscot.

“The customers are great and these rivers are so beautiful and so wild, especially the West Branch of the Penobscott—it is a full, incredible Maine experience. You have Katahdin in the background and we’ll see a moose and everyday we’ll see three bald eagles and it’s just gorgeous,” said Mitchell.