Simpson University Outdoor Leadership Offers Experiential Learning

REDDING, Calif.—When he’s not in the classroom—or exploring the beautiful North State mountains and rivers close to campus—Simpson University professor Scott Barnett might be found overseas, helping train local leaders in outdoor leadership.

Dr. Barnett, who runs the Outdoor Leadership Department at Simpson, works with an organization called Global Outreach Group, whose mission is to train local leaders to use camp programs in their cultural context.


Dr. Scott Barnett, Simpson University Outdoor Leadership professor, far right, spent time in China this spring running outdoor leadership training for campus.

In May, Dr. Barnett traveled to Beijing, Qingdao and Yangshuo in China to run outdoor leadership training for camps. During spring break 2018, he taught Chinese church leaders in Shanghai how to use experiential learning principles in their camp programming. He has done similar trainings in Russia, South Africa and Kenya.

“Outdoor programs are blossoming in China and many other countries around the world,” he said. “Since they have very few people experienced in the field, they are eager to have people come to train them.”

Dr. Barnett used his relationships in China to connect Simpson University Outdoor Leadership student Sean Tiner, who spent a few weeks of his summer helping run camps. Tiner’s experience is just one of the many hands-on opportunities for Outdoor Leadership students to learn outside the classroom.

Outdoor Leadership majors are required to participate in an Immersion Semester, where they practice facilitating growth through adventure as they spend approximately 40 days of the semester on wilderness excursions. The semester also includes an exercise in intentional Christian community as classmates live together in a cabin east of Redding.


“A unique Simpson University focus is not just training students for the outdoors, but also training them through the outdoors,” Dr. Barnett said. “We aren’t just preparing them for vocations in the outdoors, we use the outdoors as a classroom to help shape and mold them into better leaders and people who will make a difference for the kingdom of God, no matter what field they are called to work in.”

This semester six students are participating in Immersion. They have already gone backpacking in the Marble Mountain Wilderness west of Redding and done a whitewater rafting and kayaking trip on the Klamath River. Students who complete the Immersion Semester can earn a Certificate in Wilderness Leadership. This program is open to Simpson students regardless of major, as well as to students studying at other colleges.

“Simpson University is in a nearly ideal location to teach in and through the outdoors,” Dr. Barnett said. “National parks and wilderness areas are easy day trips away. We have lakes, waterfalls, myriads of hiking trails and access to some of the most beautiful natural areas in the country.”


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Beyond its location, he notes, Simpson University Outdoor Leadership stands out in its emphasis on community. “Simpson is a place where the relationships you build, the community that you develop, is a core component of your overall learning experience,” he said.

Experiential learning is a key element of the Outdoor Leadership program, which weaves theory and practice together. “This goes not only for hard skills like wilderness navigation and group facilitation, but also for soft skills like learning to serve others, be a good leader and follower, and seeking ways to care for God’s creation,” Dr. Barnett said. “It is very hard to learn to be a better leader and follower of Christ just by hearing about it in the classroom. We feel these things need to be learned by doing them.”

Simpson University is the only Christian college on the West Coast to offer an outdoor leadership program. In its 11th year, the program has graduated women and men who are working as leaders at adventure companies, universities, camps, recreation centers, and more.

Learn more about the Outdoor Leadership program.


Simpson University, founded in 1921, moved to Redding 30 years ago and will celebrate its centennial in 2021. In addition to offering 25 majors in its traditional undergraduate program, the university has graduated more than 4,000 North State adults from its ASPIRE degree-completion program, and nearly 3,000 from its School of Education. It has a No. 8-ranked School of Nursing, a seminary, and master’s programs in counseling psychology and organizational leadership. Simpson University is recognized nationally by Colleges of Distinction.

Simpson is launching new athletics programs in track and field, swimming and diving, women’s wrestling, and men’s volleyball, as well as a bass fishing team. The university is also working to better serve transfer students from community colleges through its commitment to Associate Degree for Transfer agreements, and it is offering new scholarships.

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