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Updated 12:00 noon February 16, 2004



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Spotlight: Outdoor adventurer creates leaders during break

A typical spring breaker in Costa Rica might spend the week swimming, tanning and shopping. This year, one woman will lead a group of students, faculty and staff through Costa Rican farms, ocean waters and lush rainforests in hopes of teaching environmental conservation and leadership development.

(Photo courtesy Jeannette Stawski)

Jeannette Stawski is the director of the University's Outdoor Adventures (OA) program and assistant director in the Department of Recreational Sports in the North Campus Recreational Building. For the past four years, she has been overseeing trips like next week's journey to Costa Rica.

"I think people turn to the outdoors to reflect and appreciate, and [the program] offers people a chance to grow," Stawski says. "If you go on a trip with us, you'll have a chance to meet people you would never interact with."

Stawski is responsible for overseeing trips taken during spring break and throughout the year, ranging from day journeys to weeklong excursions. Past outings have included white water rafting in West Virginia and rock climbing in Wisconsin, but this year's spring break excursion to Costa Rica is the farthest Stawski has taken her adventurers. Other outings scheduled for next week include an Everglades Canoe Safari, dog sledding in Canada and backpacking in Florida.

As an alumna of the School of Natural Resources and Environment, Stawski is an experienced environmentalist who thinks it is important to expose everyone to the world's natural surroundings. During her time at U-M, she spent summers as a white water rafting guide in Glacier National Park, as well as a volunteer in the Smokey Mountains and a guide in Alaska with various environmental organizations.

"Outdoor Adventures is a niche that doesn't exist anywhere else on campus," Stawski says. "We just want to give people opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have."

When she's not exploring the world, Stawski focuses on other projects, including the construction of a climbing wall in the Intramural Sports Building, which she has led from the beginning. It is scheduled to be completed in fall 2004. For the past four years, she also has worked with the Banff Mountain Film Festival of outdoor movies, brought to Ann Arbor by OA.

Stawski teaches wilderness education classes, offering a national certification for wilderness first aid training and wilderness first responder classes. She is an instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School, an outdoor education school that emphasizes outdoor skills and leadership development.

It's this kind of education, combined with countless excursions around the world, that helps her teach others the importance of outdoor safety and respect for nature.

"The best thing I like about being a leader out there is empowering people," Stawski says. "I'd like to think I'm a much better coach of individuals than just serving as the director of a program. I'm trying to be a good role model and give people a chance to do what they can do."

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