Written by Robin Rose, First Director of BOLT
The history of BOLT is a story of creativity, collaboration, evolution, risk taking, and hard work. But most importantly, it is a story of good people who have contributed countless hours to something they have believed in and enjoyed. When I look at the pictures of over 350 former leaders, I am always moved by their dedication to this program. For almost every one of them, there is a funny story, an adventure, a recollection of good conversations, and memories of terrific people who worked together to shape BOLT.
The idea for the program came from a conversation I had with a student named Deb Gore, in the fall of 1986. She wanted Brown to have a program similar to what other schools had, a wilderness experience as part of orientation for first-years. I was intrigued by the idea; in fact I had always wanted to start such a program, but I lacked the technical skills needed to lead such an effort. And so a partnership began, with the students providing much of the technical expertise and me providing the group facilitation and leadership skills. As the conversation broadened to include other students, we realized that there was plenty of support in place for first-year students, between freshman units, counselors, Meiklejohn advisors and CAP fellows. However, we thought that the second-years might benefit immensely from the extra boost and guidance provided by an outdoor leadership program and its upperclassman leaders, and so we decided that BOLT would be for sophomores.
In the winter of 1987 we formed the first Steering Committee. This group worked for three full semesters to define the philosophy and goals of the program, and to work out thousands of logistical details regarding routes, equipment, permits, leader training, recruitment of participants, and transportation. During the winter of 1988 we selected and trained our first group of leaders, 18 of them in all. That fall, we took our first trip; it was a three day excursion over Labor Day weekend. We had 40 participants in six groups. There was no talk of a year round program, we were just thankful to have survived the first trip. With limited equipment, one bus, and inadequate gear, we were lucky to have no accidents or incidents.”
Over the years, the program has evolved from 6 groups to 16; one bus to four; 18 leaders to over 40; from 3 days over Labor Day Weekend, to five days prior to the holiday; from a focus on the trip, to a focus on the year-long experience; from an almost all white group, to a much more diverse group; and from a high percentage of participants with wilderness experience, to a high percentage of inexperienced people. Our training program has been lengthened considerably. We have added a required session with SOLO to cover Wilderness First Aid issues; we expanded the number of sessions on leadership and group facilitation; we are giving leaders more concrete tools for working with their groups; we have strengthened our emphasis on risk management and, of course; and we now are strengthening the on campus aspects of our program.
There have been hundreds of changes over the years: the relocation of our training trip from New Hampshire, to Western Massachusetts, to New Jersey, all in pursuit of warmer temperatures; the acquisition of equipment, the creation of an alumni newsletter and electronic network which enables us to stay in touch will almost all alumni leaders; the generous donations of former leaders to our budget which enables us to offer financial aid to participants; the refinement of our base camp and evacuation procedures; the inclusion of several specialty groups; and the evolution of BOLT on campus.
“Every year the program changes in small ways and significant ways. Every year, based on the evaluations of our leaders and participants, we make changes in an effort to make the program more meaningful and safe. BOLT continues to work hard to attract a wide diversity of students. We struggle to make the teaching of leadership more explicit. However, some things never change: we continue to attract outstanding leaders and enthusiastic participants who are committed to making this a great experience for everyone involved. I have total confidence that this creative partnership between the administration, the steering committee, the leaders, and participants will continue this year.”