Zayd Andre doesn’t consider himself outdoorsy, but the second-year computer science and engineering major from Fullerton caught the exploring bug in elementary school.
“I believe my first trek was with the Cub Scouts in first grade to Holy Jim trail in the Cleveland National Forest. This sparked my passion for nature and hiking, and since then I've tried to go on a hike at least once a month,” he said.
At UC Merced, Andre has found an outlet for his yearning to be in nature through the campus’s Outdoor Experience Program (OEP).
OEP adventures include hiking, camping, horseback riding and more about every other weekend to places such as Yosemite, Monterey, Santa Cruz and other destinations. The program also offers custom trip planning and outdoor equipment rentals to students, staff, faculty and community members. Sleeping bags, backpacks, stoves, snow equipment and more are available. Costs for each trip start at $30 depending on which category a participant falls into and are included on the trip calendar.
Andre has participated in at least 16 excursions so far and when asked which was his favorite, he said, “I would pick the Pinnacles camping trip. I had a blast! It was my first time visiting the national park and my first time camping with OEP. Some highlights were getting to see California condors for the first time, going bouldering through the caves and getting to know everyone.”
Mina Lawson, a second-year cognitive science major from Milpitas, went on the Mariposa Grove hiking trip during her first quarter at UC Merced. She was so inspired by the experience, she joined OEP as a student worker and is now a trip supervisor.
“It’s super rewarding to take people to Yosemite for the first time and see them experience the magnitude of the mountains and Mariposa Grove for the first time,” Lawson said. “I believe that nature can bring people together.”
For Ximena Ramos, a fourth-year cognitive science major from Downey, it’s gratifying to expose participants to a new environment.
“Many of our students are from So Cal and haven’t been to Yosemite yet. Even some of the locals haven’t,” she said. “The fact that our job is to take them and introduce them is rewarding and a great exposure for everyone.”
Ramos started working at OEP in 2020 but hadn’t had the opportunity to participate in an excursion yet because the trips were canceled due to snowstorms and then COVID-19.
“According to our past supervisor, OEP used to be a big and active group. When the pandemic hit, it put a pause on everything,” Ramos said.
In Fall 2021, the program started doing trips again and is expanding its participation base again.
One of Lawson’s favorite trips to lead is WOW — short for Week of Wilderness. The week before the fall semester begins, OEP hosts a weeklong backpacking orientation especially for incoming first year and transfer students.
“You don’t have to be experienced at all; it’s not an advanced backpacking trip and we train everyone,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for new students to meet new people who are going to the same school.”
Registration for WOW opens in July and participation is selected by a lottery.
For the first time since the pandemic, OEP offered its Spring Break Road Trip in March. OEP staff members provided the transportation, meals and equipment, and participants — including Andre — had the opportunity to enjoy camping, hiking and beach time in Big Sur.
“What I like best about OEP treks is getting to know and talk with the other participants and leaders. I love the beauty of each hike and trip, but the aspect that stays with me the most is all the conversations I had with everyone,” Andre said.
For more information on the Outdoor Experience Program’s offerings, stop by the Outdoor Center located in the Student Activities and Athletics Center (SAAC), call 209-228-2231 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.