While nervous first-year students gathered around The Puddle learning about their upcoming four-day trip into the wilderness, 108 upperclassmen leaders prepared to welcome the incoming class with a downpour of water balloons and intense screaming. A symbolic opening to the start of AESOP, 498 first-year AESOPers met their trip leaders with open arms and icebreakers, learning about their trip and meeting other first years.

“This was my first moment at Bates where I truly felt the energy of the students and I just remember pure happiness and excitement,” Lizzie Ottenstein ‘20 said.

Fifty-four trips departed the following day with two leaders accompanying the first-years throughout different parts of the Maine and New Hampshire wilderness. Trips ranged in outdoor experience from the Level 1 “Maine Coastal Chillin’” trips to the Level 5 “Franconia Notch backpacking” trip. In addition, this year AESOP conducted additional backpacking and farm trips and also led an all-new mountain biking trip.

“I led the Mountain biking trip which was a trip new this year. I think besides being an overall blast, it was really cool to see kids challenging themselves and succeeding,” Paul Phillips ‘18 said.

Leading up to the departure of the trips, head coordinators Nate Diplock ‘17, Jamo Karsten ‘17, and Audrey Puleio ‘17 spent the previous school year and summer gathering supplies and preparing for the arrival of the first-years. With the help of the three assistant coordinators, Adair Andre ‘18, Katie Harnett ‘18, and Kurt Niiler ‘18, the coordinators were tasked with gathering permits, buying food and supplies, and preparing leaders for their future trips. In addition to the tedious preparation that went into this year’s AESOP organization, there was also a week of leadership training that included Wilderness First Aid certification, outdoor workshops, and leadership trips, meant to prepare leaders for the environment they are about to be placed in.

Following the return of all fifty-four trips and true to the mission of the AESOP program, first-year students expressed a greater sense of comfort among their classmates and in pursuing their own social and academic endeavors at Bates.

“I was able to test my limits and challenge myself due to my fear of heights. It felt really good to push my abilities and reach my full potential. It was also a great opportunity to meet new people and make a lot of friends who I wouldn’t normally know,” Akari Stimler ‘20 said.

Puleio ‘17, who helped organize and prepare the trips, commented on the lasting effect that AESOP has on first-year students.

“It was super wonderful to see the fruition of all of our hard work over the summer. It was great to see the transition from the awkwardness of the beginning of the trips to going out and seeing how those relationships change. AESOP is a wonderful way to see how people change in uncomfortable situations.” Puleio ‘17 said. “It really is a program created by the students for the students and that is taken with enormous responsibility and respect.”

The Bates Outing Club remains one of the oldest and most esteemed clubs on campus, and the AESOP program since its genesis has been a testament to the success of the Bates Outing Club in fostering a communal environment. “It was a really unifying moment for our class because we had been hearing about AESOP, and it not only lived up to our expectations but exceeded them,” Lizzie Ottenstein ‘20 said.

It seems that the 2016 campaign of AESOP proved to be another successful and worthwhile venture, proving that the student-run program is just as valuable as every in helping first-years transition into the busy, stimulating, and at times overwhelming campus environment here at Bates College.