History of BOLT

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."

Over the course of spring semester 2002 Dean Robin Rose began the process of stepping down as director of the program she started 15 years ago. Although she was still directly involved in the trip that took place in August 2002 she turned over much of the responsibility to the new Director of BOLT and Leadership Coordinator Fran Lo who graduated from Brown in 1997 and was a former BOLT participant and leader.

Updates - November 2006 on

Fran moved on in the summer of 2003 to work with the Pipeline Project at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. Tommy Hayes '98 was the next in line to have the honor of serving as BOLT's "director." The position moved over to the Student Activities office and became part of Tommy's duties as Interim Coordinator for Student Activities. Tommy, like Fran, was a BOLT participant and leader in his time at Brown. He served in this interim role for a year. With the Appalachian and Continental Divide Trails, under his belt, he set out to finish the "triple crown" by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Tommy is currently teaching high school science in Charlestown, MA. Both he and Fran are doing well.

In July of 2005, Shelley Adriance came on board for BOLT as part of her duties as the Coordinator for Student Activities and Leadership Programs. If you ask her, BOLT is what drew her to Brown. Over the years, her portfolio of work within the Student Activities Office has changed. She is currently the Associate Director for Leadership Programs and BOLT has been an aspect of her role at Brown that she greatly values.

Since May of 1998, BOLT has maintained a high standard of being one of 13 College and University programs that are accredited through the Association of Experiential Education (AEE). As the standards in the outdoor and experiential education industry have grown by leaps and bounds, we have been successful in incorporating the new standards into our trainings and practices in the field. We currently meet 102 best practice standards! Instrumental in these efforts has been the support of leaders, alums, our risk management advisory committee, and Dean Rose.