December 15, 2016 10:00AM
When Marcus Yoakam arrived on the Pitt State campus, he and some like-minded friends decided to start a club based on their love of the outdoors. He didn’t expect it to build bridges around the world.
Yoakam and two friends, Joe Kolarik and Tanner Cronister, all classmates at St. Mary’s Colgan High School, founded PSU’s Outdoor Adventure Club, hoping to connect with other PSU students who also love hiking and camping.
“We really didn’t know if we’d get much interest,” Yoakam said. “We started last spring with eight members. Then we went to the Student Activities Fair and I think we signed up 70 that day.”
The club took an unexpected turn when Yoakam was introduced to Pitt Pals, a program that connects American students with international students at PSU.
“I really have to thank Brenda Hawkins (in the International Student Programs Office),” Yoakam said. “Through Pitt Pals I became friends with lots of international students.”
Yoakam learned from his new friends that they struggled finding activities beyond the campus and community.
“I thought, ‘We can do a lot of good with this club,’” Yoakam said.
Yoakam and the other members of the Outdoor Adventure Club encouraged the international students to consider joining and the response surprised them. Suddenly, the club swelled to more than 240 members.
Over the past year, members of the club have hiked and camped in Northwest Arkansas, Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas.
“We’ve met so many interesting people along the way,” Yoakam said.
For the international students, the club has introduced them not only to the natural beauty of the Four State area, but also to American camping and camping cuisine.
Robert Gorsch, from Germany, said he has particularly fond memories of exploring a cave in the Ozarks.
“(One memorable moment) was when I and another member explored a cave until we could not get any further,” Gorsch said “The others were already continuing the hike, but we crawled on our knees to get as far as possible. Then we turned off the lights and were in complete darkness. The only sound was the ripple of some water. It was a magical moment. We spent about five minutes in silence before we made our way out and joined the others.”
Yinghua Wang, from China, said she had never gone camping before joining the club, but the experienced campers in the group taught her to set up a tent.
“In my country, in the mountains or by the lakes, all the scenic spots are paved with roads with many hotels all over the place,” Yinghua said. “Seldom does someone go camping. At least I have never heard of it before.”
Yinghua said it was a wonderful experience.
“The first time we went camping, after setting up our tents, we sat by the fire to introduce ourselves and share some ghost stories. Someone even saw a shooting star passing by! When we woke up the next morning, we were surrounded by beautiful wild flowers and horses from the nearby stable. Marcus and a girl called Kinlee were singing songs by his guitar. It was really a refreshing morning and I just loved it!”
Gorsch said the club introduced him to some new American food.
“The food on our first trip of the semester consisted entirely of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Gorsch said. “Pb&j's became a running gag on our hikes. Actually it was the club that first introduced me to this fabulous camping cuisine.”
Phillip Harries, a member of the faculty in PSU’s Biology Department and adviser to the club, said the organization has helped bring American and international students together.
“Spending a weekend camping with someone really gives you a lot of time to talk and bond over some of those unusual shared experiences that you just won't get hanging out on campus,” Harries said.
He said he’s proud of the work the club’s organizers did to build it so quickly.
“I can't speak highly enough of the job that Marcus and the rest of his leadership team have done in building this club,” Harries said.
For the next semester, at least, the Outdoor Adventure Club will be hiking and camping without Yoakam, who leaves in January for a semester to study in France. Yoakam, a biology and French language major, will be working on his French in Reims, where PSU has an exchange program with the University of Reims.
Yoakam said he’s leaving the club in good hands.
“Grace Geiger is the secretary and keeps the club afloat by reminding me of what I need to do,” Yoakam said. “Nate Flood has helped us secure some partnerships with outdoor outfitters and is an invaluable part of our team and Jacob Guiot will be the president next semester and is a recreation major. They’ll do a great job keeping things going.”
Below: American and international students watch the sun rise at Whittaker Point near Ponca, Arkansas. Outdoor Adventure Club President Marcus Yoakam said “It’s like we all spoke the same language.”