This past Wednesday, January 20th, students applied to lead trips for the Class of 2020 during next year’s Annual Entering Student Outdoor Program (AESOP). The AESOP coordinators, all students, are now gearing up for the difficult decision process.

The application process began with a general information session, followed by an online application asking applicants about their extracurricular activities, leadership and outdoor experience—what kind of trip do they want to lead? Following fifteen-minute interviews held in the red room at the Ronj, decisions will be made by the Head Coordinators and the Assistant Coordinators (who are poised to take over for the Class of 2021’s AESOP). Two coordinators currently studying abroad this semester, Audrey Puleio and Jamo Karsten, will also give their input before accepted applicants will be notified.

John Fletcher, a first-year, recently submitted his application to lead a trip. His enthusiasm rings true when stating his goal: “to give incoming first-year students a taste of what the Bates community is really like!”

Accepted co-leaders will be notified of their trip placements sometime in late February or early March.

The trip selection process is always very difficult. According to Nathan Diplock, one of AESOP’s three Head Coordinators, “we have yet to have a year where we would feel comfortable giving almost all applicants a trip.” Typically around 100 pairs apply to lead AESOP trips and this year 54 trips are scheduled.

In order to be a trip leader, students must be on campus early on the week of August 22nd for a “leadership week.” Applicants cannot be Junior Advisors (JAs), as their training would coincide with this week, nor can they be graduating seniors.

Don’t consider yourself outdoorsy? No problem! All necessary skills are taught during leadership week; everyone is Wilderness First Aid trained by the end. Also included in leadership week is a diversity dialogue, a risk management talk, and a Title IX discussion (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex).

AESOP trips vary greatly. The majority of the trips are actually “front country” trips, or base camping, which involve short, beginner day hikes or relaxing on a beach to try your hand at surfing. Leaders also frequently lead community service, art, and farm-based trips in order to appeal to a wider audience of incoming students. The only criteria is that all students, except certain fall athletes, be off-campus for three days and two nights; it need not be a typical “outdoorsy” trip.

For Emily Dean, a first-year who participated in a backpacking trip this fall, AESOP gave her “a group of people that even if I don’t hang out with them, I can still nod to them when I see them around campus. The familiar faces make me feel more a part of a community here.” Her leaders were crucial in making her experience a good one.

To Diplock, being able to “make decisions as a unified pair” is key to a successful trip, as is remembering that “trip leaders are ‘leading’ students who will become their peers at Bates.” The activity is not as important as getting to know each other and forming lasting relationships that will be maintained throughout each student’s time at Bates.

Anna Setzer, another first-year, also has fond recollections of her base camping trip. Being from North Carolina, she explains, “AESOP allowed me to see some of Maine’s stunning landscapes and also gave me the opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t have met through my classes.”

Another crucial aspect of AESOP is that it is, and always has been, as much for students as it is by students. Upperclassmen plan every aspect of every trip year after year, coordinating activities and learning their trail maps. Although time-consuming for the coordinators, it is “an excellent example of what our team of Bates students is capable of accomplishing,” Diplock said.