Jeffrey Robinson, a fifth-year graduate student in the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) program in the Department of Biological Sciences, is the founder and chairperson of the Dartmouth Graduate Outing Club (DGOC). DGOC organizes events throughout the academic year, including hikes, ski trips, canoe trips, and camping. Recently, Robinson organized a leadership series to promote the essentials of outdoor leadership so that other grad leaders would benefit from this perspective.
The leadership series ran from October 2012 through January 2013. Robinson planned several incrementally more complex sessions, beginning with short sessions on the basics of wilderness safety, clothing and equipment, group dynamics and risk management, and logistical organization for trips. Classroom knowledge was then put to practical use in an ascent of Mount Lafayette in November, during which participants practiced managing group safety in icy and snowy mountain conditions. The final event was a wilderness survival overnight to the Class of ’66 Lodge in January, where students learned how to start fires and build shelters in snowy and wet conditions, along with some basic avalanche safety. Participants in the course were considered officially qualified as graduate student outdoor leaders.
I met with Robinson for a question and answer session to learn more about his experiences as a leader and how these experiences have shaped his life.
Gilbert Rahme (GR): When and how did you get trained as a leader?
Jeffrey Robinson (JR): It takes a lot of experience to be a good leader. I was active in the Boy Scouts. Our troop focused on outdoor skills and fieldcraft, and I found that I excelled at this. In the Scouts, leadership is something that you learn by watching as a younger scout, and then start to put into practice as you advance in rank. I learned the fundamental skills in the Scouts, and I put them into a lot of informal practice post college by encouraging friends to go hiking, camping, backpacking, and rock climbing. In 2004, I took the National Outdoor Leadership School’s (NOLS) Pacific Northwest Mountaineering Course. I learned technical mountain skills and wilderness expedition planning, group dynamics, and risk management. In particular, the NOLS course instilled a lot of confidence in my outdoor leadership capabilities and was a real turning point in my life; this experience was a major motivator for my decision to go for a PhD. Last, I volunteer with the Upper Valley Wilderness Response Team, a local wilderness search and rescue group. These guys are real professional wilderness rescuers and working with them has been the final step as far as taking my outdoor leadership knowledge to the level where I felt comfortable teaching others.
GR: What encouraged you to start the DGOC?
JR: A few different things. I went to a policy fellowship info session led by alumnus, David Lukofsky, who received his PhD from Thayer in 2009. Lukofsky mentioned that it is great professional experience to do some kind of community organizing activity or project, which got me thinking about what I could contribute. I had also been attending some Dartmouth Outing Club (DOC) trips my first summer here. I met some exceptional individuals and made friends with some of the undergrad leaders, but I was always a little sad that grad students did not have some DOC equivalent. On a trailwork trip, Lauren Lesser ’10 suggested I start a graduate version of the DOC. I got some interested grad students together, and we became a recognized Graduate Student Council (GSC) organization. We also had some meetings with the Outdoor Programs Office and Graduate Studies Office to talk safety protocols. Dartmouth is small enough that, with a little effort, you can make a difference in the community.
GR: What do you think it takes to be a leader?
JR: Real leadership takes faith, vision, determination, and flexibility. Otherwise leadership will break down in times of hardship and difficulty. I admit feeling a little uncomfortable pronouncing on leadership when I still struggle in many areas not relating to outdoor leadership. Objective self-appraisal is very important; most of us prefer not to admit our weaknesses, especially to ourselves, but recognizing them is the only way to overcome them.
GR: You have graduation on the horizon. What advice do you want to give to future graduate student leaders at Dartmouth?
JR: People should find something they are good at and that they like to do. Remember that being successful at anything worthwhile does not happen overnight: it requires multiple iterations of planning, executing, evaluating, and trying again. Set short, intermediate, and long-term goals, and periodically re-evaluate them.
GR: Where do you see yourself in the future and how has being a graduate student leader helped you realize your future goals?
JR: I have considered science policy work with the government or in international development. I have also considered continuing in an academic setting because I really enjoy teaching at the college level and potentially would like to develop a research program. It would be great to combine biology (as well as earth and environmental sciences) and outdoor leadership into an integrated curriculum at an institute that has that sort of perspective.
Being a grad student outdoor leader has been among my most valuable experiences at Dartmouth. I have learned as much about myself as I have about working with other people. I look forward to applying those principles to my future career.
GR: Anything you want to add?
JR: Enjoy and value the outdoors for the challenges and benefits it can provide. When times have gotten hard, being outside has always provided perspective. Also, join the DGOC! It’s a great way to experience the outdoors around Hanover while hanging out with your friends. E-mail us at graduate.outing.club@Dartmouth.edu
Anyone is welcome to join!
by Gilbert Rahme