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Event: SOU grad students present from trek in former Yugoslavia

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On Tuesday, December 3, 6 – 9 pm, Art Building: Meese Auditorium, there is a short film, multimedia presentation, and exhibit by 12 SOU graduate students who recently returned from a 35-day backpacking and cultural expedition taking them through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Albania.


Chad Thatcher is the professor who started the program.

“It started as a dream to offer outdoor professionals a graduate degree in a field they were passionate about,” he explained to the Messenger. “For so many years adventure practitioners had to cobble together bits and pieces of some kind of education or recreation graduate degree which never really delivered the experience required for next level education on Outdoor Adventure Leadership. With a strong 10 year history in Outdoor Adventure Leadership as an undergraduate degree, SOU was poised perfectly to take the lead in providing a unique Master of Outdoor Adventure and Expedition Leadership degree. In 2015 Dr. Chad Thatcher moved to Ashland to work with long time OAL SOU instructors Adam Elson and Erik Sol to develop the master program. After creating the curriculum, writing a lengthy proposal, and conducting internal and external reviews, the program launched in the Fall of 2017. SOU was a natural fit for the master program with seasoned instructors and professors in the outdoor industry. Adam, Chad, and Erik bring over 80 years of combined adventure experience including extensive time as professional guides, educators, outdoor program directors, and international expedition leaders. Ashland’s backdrop as a world class outdoor adventure location provides the perfect “classroom” for taking theory to the field. Graduate students have ample opportunities to hone their leadership skills while designing and implementing the undergraduate Spring Immersion quarter where OAL majors plan and execute several multi day expeditions all over the Northwest. In addition, graduate students test their skills on the world stage, spending over 5 weeks completing an international expedition. There really is nothing quite like it, and SOU is proud to help shape the face of adventure.”

RVM: Why was this trail and geography chosen? 

We explored many different expedition ideas in the fall and winter of our program. We split into groups and came up with expedition ideas, including locations and activities. We then presented our ideas to the large group and voted on the different ideas. This expedition to the Balkans won the vote. We liked the idea that it was a little known trail still in the early stages of development- this felt like a Masters level challenge. We all wanted to go to a region of the world that none of us were familiar with in order to all have the opportunity to explore something new. 

RVM: I imagine that most of the students on the trek were too young to remember the wars in the former Yugoslavia during the early 90s. How much did that history play into the journey?   

When we decided on this region for our expedition, as a group we realized that most of us were not too familiar with the history of the region, to include the Balkan wars and the former Yugoslavia. The older members (myself included) of the cohort were young adults during the wars and while we remembered them, we did not fully understand them. In researching the Via Dinarica trail, we discovered that it was created as a way to reunite some of the countries of the region around a shared love of nature and the outdoors. It was also a way to increase tourism to the region and to begin to build a trail that would bring people from around the world to see the region as a place of natural beauty, and not as a region only of war. Furthermore, the trail is being created as a way to bring pride and jobs to the people of the region in hopes of encouraging young people to stay and work in meaningful jobs, rather than leave looking for a better life. Although when I say “build a trail”, that is not exactly accurate. For the Via Dinarica is made up of already existing trails, many ancient shepards’ paths, and roads in variousconditions, that are connected together to form the Via Dinarica, which traverses some of the highest peaks in the Balkans.





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