Aviation student gains valuable survival skills from ETOL course

The ecotourism and outdoor leadership (ETOL) program in the Faculty of Health, Community and Education at Mount Royal University is one of the most unique majors in Canada. Students in the ETOL program are provided with the skills needed to become professional “adventurists” as they work to receive a Bachelor of Health and Physical Education Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership.

“Students have to be creative with their degrees,” says ecotourism and outdoor leadership instructor Paul Jessop, who is an ETOL alumnus. “It’s not a specialist degree, but the four-year degree gives students the chance to combine their passion for outdoor leadership with an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Another reason why the ETOL program at Mount Royal is so different is the practical experience students gain. The program includes two expedition requirements, which allow students to put the knowledge they learn in class into practise in the real world. 

An example of the classroom experience being put to the test came to the forefront this past September for Mount Royal aviation student Nick Lourens. 

Aviation students are required to take a wilderness survival techniques course (HPED 2872) to complete their diploma. Lourens took this class with Jessop in the Winter 2020 semester. 

“Most (aviation students) wonder why we’ll ever need to take HPED 2872 for our careers, but I guess I’m living proof of how easily and quickly one can get into a situation where it makes a huge difference,” Lourens says. 

Out on an elk hunt in northern B.C., Lourens and his party ended up beaching their boat 100 kilometres away from the nearest civilization. With the sun setting and their boat too sunken into a sandbar to move it, their hunting trip turned into a survival situation. 

The trio set up camp for the night made a fire and began to await rescue the following day. 

“Because of (Jessop’s) class, I had my survival kit, which came in very, very handy that night being wet and in near zero-degree temperatures,” Lourens says. “Not only was my kit useful, but also the many lessons I learned from (Jessop) in addition to my pre-existing knowledge. For example, since I’d been sweating trying to free the boat, I needed to dry my base layers ASAP or I’d freeze overnight.”

Lourens said that during the weekend his HPED 2872 class spent “in the bush,” temperatures dropped to minus 35 degrees Celsius, so he had learned the lesson to keep his clothes dry to avoid hypothermia before his hunting trip took a turn for the worse. 

“I never want students to have to use the skills that we learn,” Jessop says. “But I’m very proud and grateful that a student was able to learn it, retain it, practise it and see it come out in a positive way.” 

Lourens was thankful for the way that Jessop approached teaching the course. 

“One of (Jessop’s) goals when teaching the course was to simulate solitude during the bush weekend,” he says. “This helped me because I had already previously experienced that specific emotion that most don’t get to in their lifetime, so I was a little more accustomed to the feeling once it rolled around in a real-life situation.”

Although not in the ETOL program, the skills and knowledge Lourens gained from the program helped him through a real-life emergency. 

“The program can be challenging and it puts students outside their comfort zone,” Jessop says. “But because of that there is a lot of growth from their first year to their last and a lot of students find that to be really rewarding. Which helps them find and pursue their passion during their time at Mount Royal.”

ETOL students get thrown into many different situations during their time at MRU, as they get extraordinary opportunities in classes that are unparalleled at other universities. 

For Jessop, the selling point for the program is the outdoor experiences that students get. “I’ve never seen another university with a mountain biking course,” he says. “Students can canoe, they can kayak, they can backcountry ski, no matter what level they’re at. To me, that is so unique.”

He also points out that ETOL students are so well versed in the industry that they are able to jump into the field as decision-makers because they already know first hand what it takes to be successful. 

As he says, “It’s experiential education at its finest.” 

— Zach Worden
December 5, 2020

*Photo provided Nick Lourens.