TUSCULUM, Tenn. (WJHL) – Students at Tusculum University and members of the community can take on a new kind of program this fall: Wilderness Experience.

“We had a group of people, an ad hoc committee of faculty members that was really led by Dr. Peter Noll, who is an outdoor enthusiast here on campus,” Dr. Suzanne Byrd, Wilderness Experience program coordinator said. “He wanted to see if we could develop something that would get our students in the outdoors where they could experience the Great Smoky Mountains and what East Tennessee has to offer.”

With wetlands, mountains and extensive hiking trails in its backyard, Byrd said Tusculum’s new minor has a lot to offer fans of the wild.

“We’re going to go over to the Appalachian Trail about 15 miles from here,” Byrd said. “We’re going to go over here to the Nolichucky River and do some canoeing, we’re going to go out to the Great Smoky Mountains and do some camping and hiking, backpacking.”

The minor consists of both classroom content and fieldwork, but Byrd said much of that classroom time could be spent in nature like in the campus’s on-trail classroom.

“Part of our mission is experiential learning, and this would certainly fit that bill,” Byrd said. “We met over a year’s time and created some new courses related to academic content that we wanted students to know about.”

From the history of fire use and survival in the region to more recreational experiences like whitewater rafting, Byrd said the program offers something for everyone.

“Perhaps an international student who has never been out on a trail or in a tent or by a campfire, we want to expose them to that as well,” Byrd said. “But at the same time, this is open to anyone in our community.”

Classes also offer lessons in CPR and wilderness first aid, a crucial part of any outdoor enthusiast’s skill set.

Byrd encouraged those who are interested but not enrolled to consider auditing specific courses without credit. Those that attend for credit and receive the full minor can wear a raccoon tail to graduation in place of their cap’s traditional tassel, which some could argue is worth the tuition on its own.