This past February, 54 Stevenson sophomores and more than a dozen faculty and alumni leaders headed out into the backcountry of Henry Coe State Park for 11 days, marking the 25th year of the Stevenson Sophomore Wilderness Expedition. Introduced to Stevenson in 1993 by English faculty member (and later dean of students) Peter Fayroian, “Expo” was modeled after a similar program at Cranbrook Kingswood School in Michigan. The concept was a hybrid of the National Outdoor Leadership School and Outward Bound pro- grams, with the premise that the sophomore year is the ideal time for students to have “a rigorous and significant wilderness experience that would benefit both the individual and the collective class’s consciousness.”
“We try so hard in our schools to level the playing field and allow young people to be who they should be, not who we want them to be, or who their parents, their cultures, or society in general thinks they should be,” says Fayroian. “The Sophomore Wilderness Expedition is the most egalitarian experience possible: Everyone has the same gear, same environment—it doesn’t matter who you were before you arrived on that first day; what matters is what you have inside. And in that manner, kids learn so much about themselves and about each other. Stereotypes are shattered, gender lines dismissed. The quarterback becomes the pro in the kitchen and the girl from Taipei is the expert in knots and tarps; small bodies carry weight unimaginable to big bodies, and different leadership qualities are drawn out because of the varied and unpredictable circumstances. Fears go away, confidence grows, and they share a bond with each other that they just can’t make in their daily lives of comfort and convenience.”
Led by Fayroian and co-leaders Lisa Perry ’94 and Nick Kummer ’94, the first Expo was comprised of ten intrepid sophomores and teacher Cole Thompson and Honey Beeman ’94, who together maintained basecamp. They covered over 75 miles of the Ventana Wilderness, with a two-day solo in Pine Valley. After a successful trip, they returned to school and proposed quadrupling the numbers and going with four crews to two base camps the next year. By the third year, the program grew to eight crews and, after that, Fayroian says, “the rest is history.”
Fayroian led Expo for seven years. “Then there was that fated day when Erik Olson came to interview for a science position and I found not only a kindred spirit and dear friend, but someone I knew would eventually take it over completely.”
In 2000, Olson, now dean of students for the upper division, began leading the program. “I see one of the most powerful parts of the program being that every single person is learning and being challenged—even the adults. Teacher learning is on full display.” With the increased responsibilities of the dean of students position, Olson handed over the reigns to Bob McCormick in 2007, who calls the program “the B.T.A.S.—the Best Thing at Stevenson.”
OUTDOOR EDUCATION AT STEVENSON
The Sophomore Wilderness Expedition is part of the expansive Outdoor Education program. Led by Sarah Howard ’09, the program includes hiking, overnight backpacking, whitewater rafting, sea kayaking, surfing, and rock climbing.
Expo continues to thrive, and many feel it’s more important than ever. “Getting out in nature and away from daily relationships,” says Liz O’Hara, Expo comms director, “allows us to learn about those relationships. In more recent years, one of those relationships is with our devices.”
For decades, Expo participants have proclaimed the transformative nature of the experience. This excerpt, shared from a 2018 participant’s journal, sums it up:
“Getting home will be exciting, but being out here is such an amazing, joyful feeling that is hard to come by at home. I’m in a state park, with people I was barely friends with before this, sleeping under flys while it snows, hiking through the biggest storm of the year, and I’m somehow the happiest and most free I’ve been in awhile—how weird is that?”
Stevenson is premised on a vision of education as the means by which we discover the world and contribute to its transformation, and the belief that one’s education is best pursued in the company of others, for others’ benefit as well as one’s own. Read more about how these guiding principles inform the student experience in our Upper Division.
As a school located on the central coast of California, our students have the unique opportunity to explore the local environment regularly. A new curriculum in the upper division science department is allowing students to thrive on campus and beyond with an emphasis on being active.
Our dormitories are places where our boarding students learn to mature intellectually, emotionally, and physically, and live well with others in order to prepare for, most imminently, the greater liberty of college life. Find out more about the unique opportunities for connection afforded to our boarders by clicking below.